Let’s talk about forks.
According to Wikipedia (looking up stuff on Wikipedia is my second favorite way to waste time; my first is watching old episodes of Never Mind the Buzzcocks on You Tube), forks were being used in ancient Rome as early as 200 C.E. However, it wasn’t until the 18th century that they became commonplace in Great Britain. Before that, anybody who showed up at a party with a fork–back then it was strictly BYOC (bring your own cutlery)–was considered either “effeminate,” “Italian,” or, worst of all, “effeminately Italian.”
That means that it took approximately sixteen hundred years for the idea of not using your fingers when you eat (an imminently sensible idea, if you ask me) to travel 900 miles. It thus follows, then, that if x=fork, and y=distance (and accounting for the curvature of the earth and the average air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow), I should reasonably be able to expect my children to start using forks in approximately…let’s see…oh.
Or at least that’s how it seems.
I did actually teach them to use forks at one point. I remember it well, and even if I didn’t, I have proof: it is written down in Clementine’s baby book. (Clyde, as a second child, of course has no baby book. He’s lucky he has a birth certificate. I wonder if anyone has ever done a study on whether or not second children do better in the Witness Protection Program than firstborns, since there’s so much less evidence of their previous lives to erase.)
I’ll admit that I probably didn’t really emphasize the whole fork thing hard enough: my lectures on good table manners are generally limited to the edict thou shalt not gross out thy fellow diners (meaning that elbows on the table are ok, as long as they are not up there to demonstrate to your tablemates how the big scab on your forearm has recently turned all green and puckery), but I’m pretty sure I included something about how that poky thing sitting on the table next to your plate is for picking up food, not for stabbing your sister.
And yet, somehow, in the years that we have been dining together, my children have become less likely to use a fork, not more. Heck, they can hardly even be convinced to use a spoon, and even a 12th century Englishman could use one of those without being called a nancy boy (or worse yet, an Italian).
And, before you start thinking that I’m one of those people who think that Buffalo Wings should be eaten with a knife and fork, understand this: I am so not. (Actually, I’m one of those people who think that Buffalo Wings shouldn’t be eaten at all–if I wanted to eat a basket of bones and skin covered in some amorphous goo I would fry up Paris Hilton.)
Really, I’m ok with using your fingers to eat finger food–french fries, pizza, the olive from your martini. And I realize that, thanks to our driving culture, more and more foods become finger foods every day (French toast sticks, anyone?). But the foods my kids consider “finger-worthy” go beyond even Jack-in-the-Box’s wildest marketing dreams. I’m talking about cereal (in a bowl, with milk), spaghetti, and even soup.
At this point I’m starting to think that the only way I will ever again be able to eat in public with my children without shame is if one of them someday invents a time machine and uses it to take us all back to the Stone Age.
Of course, even then I get the feeling that when we go to the big Mammoth Feast we’ll still probably be asked to sit in the Neanderthal section. Or at least as far away from the Italians as possible.