Awkward Arms: What is the Proper Dining Form?

Q: When sitting at a casual dinner table must you keep your left arm by your side and on your lap or can you rest the side of your arm on the edge of the table? Can you use your knife to help food onto your fork?

A: Your arm is best by your side with your hand in your lap when you aren’t using the hand to eat, rather then resting your arm on the table. Yes, you may use your knife to assist when eating things too difficult to pick up with a fork alone.


  1. Winifred Rosenburg

    Actually, using the knife to push food on to your fork is only acceptable in parts of Europe. (In other parts of Europe bread serves that purpose.) In America you have just be persistent with your fork.

  2. Jody

    I disagree with the last part of Winifred’s statement. It’s quite proper in the US for a diner to use his knife to “assist” food onto the fork. I find it easier to use my knife than to chase a piece of food around the plate with my fork.

    • Winifred Rosenburg

      Rules of table manners are not designed to make eating as easy as possible. The rules are what they are.

    • Jodi

      Hi Jody,
      To clarify, if you are using the Continental style of dining, it is appropriate to use your knife as an assist.

  3. sannece

    Wow! How things/etiquette can differ around this small world. (I know, and every country has it’s right to have own etiquette).
    In a big part of Europe, we find it really disgusting, unpolite and utterly uneducated/insulting if people just use one hand to eat and leave the other one under the table…! Nobody who is not him/herself directly from the back-streets wants his son or daughter to come home with someone who is eating like that…or wants to have neighbours like that…
    And: In Europe you don’t take your fork in your right hand to shovel up the food like they do in U.S.A.: that’s only tolerated for little children who cannot eat properly yet. For older kids, teens and adults fork is in left hand, knife in the right one; last one not used to “push”, but to cut things when necessary or to lightlly assist with pricking – not shoveling! – it on the fork.

    Anyway, enjoy good food, however you want to eat it.

  4. Heather

    The only thing we find “really disgusting, unpolite and utterly uneducated” is using such harsh words to refer to other nations’ dining customs… I assume you wouldn’t use that terminology to talk about, say, Indian people eating without silverware?

    I do remember visiting Wales as a child, and the host asking my mother if something was wrong with her left hand! She was keeping it under the table, as most Americans do, and he thought she was injured, hahaha.

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