A large portion of the earth’s population uses the chop variety several times a day, and have been for thousands of years. For the food that easterners eat, chopsticks make sense. As in western eating utensils, there is a right way and a not-so-right way to handle them.
DOM taught her young the proper use of silverware when we grew up (she followed Amy Venderbilt’s book of etiquette). The fork is always placed on the left side of the plate, while the spoon is on the outside of the knife on the right. (The man didn’t touch his fork until the woman picked up hers first). Depending on American or European style, you ate with the fork in right hand with tines up, or left hand with tines down. Either way, proper table and eating manners dictate the utensils are held a certain way.
Fork and knife users don’t always follow the book of etiquette so it’s quite easy to pick out those who are unaware of, or simply care not to practice social table manners. But in fairness, it depends on the occasion. Some therefore hold the fork anyway that a fork can be held, just as long as it works. The same holds true with chopsticks. There is no small percentage of easterners who don’t hold chopsticks correctly.
In my late 20’s, living in San Francisco, I had a long commute down to Silicon Valley every day and carpooled with a foreign national (phd) from China. When traffic got bad, we would occasionally stop for a bite to eat at a Chinese place. He showed me the proper form of holding and using chopsticks and informed me I was lucky to be under his chopstick tutelage as there were many in China who didn’t, he said, hold them properly. Regardless, virtually all hold the chopsticks with the upper half of the sticks.
Many westerners who use chopsticks typically hold them down at the bottom half, closer to the food, as if they are choking the sticks. It looks silly and unpolished, much like it would seeing someone holding a fork down hear the base. But that is exactly how many occasional chopstick users hold their sticks.
Three days ago I succumbed to watching a Kevin Costner spy movie on the long 16 hour flight from NYC to Hong Kong. During one of the scenes, Mr. Costner, playing an experienced international CIA spy, is shown eating sushi. He was chocking the sticks. I was gasted with flabber. How could Hollywood have let that happen? How does Mr. Costner not know and all the people who edit that movie not know? Never, would an experienced spy choke his chopsticks and display such an inept manner of holding utensils. In a culture like Japan, incorrect method of holding chopsticks will brand you unrefined, which could inhibit how they interact with you.
Yesterday I finally returned to my apartment in the city of Zhangjiagang (China). The landlord conveniently forgot to install the refrigerator so this morning I went to a local noodle shop for breakfast. Lots of locals were holding their chopsticks, each, it seemed, slightly different. But none were choking them.
Moral: If you don’t choke your fork, don’t choke the sticks.