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Today’s post on etiquette tips for dining out in Europe is contributed by ex-pat, Merry Lynch Pavlak. She is a well-traveled, valued member of my private Facebook group (newly renamed!) Celebrate Life After 50.


Photo credit https://www.getyourguide.com/

I was a picky eater as a girl. No, wait! That is an understatement. My diet consisted of two things, scala bread from Uncle Andy’s Bakery and Jiff creamy peanut butter. Notice I wrote creamy; chunky was not acceptable.
It was miserable to take me anywhere, let alone stay overnight at a friend’s house, which I rarely did by the way … sigh.
Unfortunately, my granddaughter is the same way. Now I see what my parents went through first hand. It’s miserable to be with someone that will not try new things. Do you think being a picky eater can be hereditary, passed down through my genes somehow? Is anyone doing research on this?
Now, fast forward fifty-five years, I live in Poland. An amazing country with a rich history both devastating and inspiring. Poland sits in the middle of Europe.


Here’s a random fact for you: Poland grows seventy varieties of apples and is the largest exporter of apples in Europe. Who knew there were so many different kinds of apples? Poles love to get their hands dirty. They are amazing farmers with a deep history in growing food organically. I digress … back to the table.
Sit at any table around the globe and you can pick out an American just by the way they eat. Enter; the cut-and-switch. The Polish table is set very much like it is in the US but that is where it ends. The fork is on the left-hand side of the plate. The knife and spoon are on the right of the plate, dessert spoon and fork are above the plate.
As an American, you can feel good about grabbing a seat and indulging yourself in some fabulous Polish cuisine. You understand how to navigate the table. Here is where the great divide begins.
Do you zig-zag, the so-called cut-and-switch, as it was first named by the etiquette expert, Emily Post? Americans and Europeans may hold the knife and fork in the same way but the tell-tale sign is what happens next.
Europeans (and everyone else, basically) will keep their fork in their left hand and knife in the right. Not only as they cut but also when they eat their food. The utensils never move from hand to hand.
Many American starts out the same way but then after cutting their food. (Multiple, bite-sized pieces at once, when Europeans cut one bite at a time.) They then lay the knife on the plate and switch the fork to their right hand picking up a bite of food to eat.
Most people, somewhere around 85% around the globe are right-handed. So you could argue that the American zig-zag is easier because you eat with your dominant hand.


Honestly, after living in Europe for seven years and adopting the European style of eating, I never want to return to the American cut-and-switch. Yes, I am right-handed. Somehow it just makes sense to keep my utensils in the hand they started with. It is also less cumbersome.
One other interesting dining difference is eating soup. In America, to get the last drop of broth from the bowl you tip the bowl toward you. Europeans tip the bowl away from themselves hence the dreaded spill ends up on the table and not on your lap. A brilliant move, don’t you agree? Which way do you tip your bowl?
With all this switching or not switching, what do you do with your hands in between bites? Aha! Another tell-tale sign of the American. You never see the American’s hands. Where are they exactly or with whom are they with?
In Europe, hands must always be visible. You might think of having hands on the table as a sign of peace. There is no weapon that you are holding or hiding and therefore are regarded as a friend instead of a foe.
When traveling, my motto is, ‘live like a native.’ I prefer to blend in with the crowd rather than stand out. It makes me feel safer and therefore I can be more independent and enjoy my surroundings more.
‘Living like a native,’ provides me the opportunity to experience a snapshot of another person’s daily life. And also to make a comparison to mine. Cultural nuances, like learning to dine a different way, has helped me to set aside judgments and criticisms of others. I can just enjoy the experience and try new things.
So, if your travel plans find you leaving the beautiful stars and stripes of America for foreign lands, may I make a suggestion? Practice dining a different way before you begin your journey. You just may find yourself more comfortable at the table.

Do you eat in the typical, American way? Or have you picked up on the European style? Please let me know in the comments!

Hi! I’m Merry and I specialize in igniting human potential.

We all have dreams, and it’s my professional passion to help you achieve the life you’re dreaming of. Through vision boarding, 1:1 coaching, or my unique in-depth life envisioning courses, we’ll get you started on your brave new second act in life. Find me at BravingMidlife.com

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July 5, 2022


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  1. Margo says:

    Really? You think using my fork with my left hand is going to help me live up to my potential? I’m not ashamed to be a U S citizen and if my eating habits are of that much interest to others it’s their problem not mine.
    There are a lot of issues needing attention in our world today, but I don’t think this is one of them. I’m surprised, Miss Good, that you think this is worthy of attention.

    • Honey Good says:

      A contributor wrote the story and my editor put it up. I trusted her judgement. I am an American and I eat like an American.Like you! And, proud of it. God Bless the USA.And, yes there are more important topics. Warmly, Honey

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