A restaurant in Russia has a live camera, so anyone in the world with Internet access can go to their website (schastie.club), scroll to the bottom of the page, and watch their customers eat. There seems to be a sign under the camera announcing its presence, for people will sometimes look up at it and pause for a second.

Occasionally, if the time is right – early morning in Maine is lunchtime there – I’ll load up the restaurant’s webcam and do some people-watching.

The other day I saw two women (a mother and her daughter?) who caught my eye because of their relaxed manner. Many of the diners were shoveling down food and scrolling on cell phones. These two ate slowly, clearly enjoying their meal and each other’s company.

They both had excellent table manners, but there was a subtle difference between them.

The older woman ate Russian style, which is also called Continental style. She ate with the fork in her left hand, and when she cut her food, she picked up the knife with her right, used it, and set it back down at the top of her plate.

The younger woman ate American style. That is, she ate with her fork in her right hand, and when she cut her food, she shifted the fork to her left hand, picked up the knife with her right, and made the cuts. She then set the knife down and shifted the fork back to her right hand to eat. When she needed to cut more food, she’d switch hands as before.

American style is sometimes referred to as the zigzag method because the fork keeps changing hands depending if you are eating or cutting.

I noticed that neither woman ate the last bit of food on her plate. In Russia, to eat the last bite is considered rude because it says to the host (though there was none in this case) that not enough food had been served.

When done with her meal, the younger woman set knife and fork on her plate, both implements pointing diagonally to the left from the four o’clock position. Her fork was on its back, the tines pointing upward. The older woman did the same, except her tines were down. Both of these actions were in perfect keeping with their eating styles.

There was a time when Americans and Europeans both ate zigzag style. Around 1850, however, it became unfashionable among the upper classes in Europe (and then Russia) to shift your fork back and forth between hands.

As a child, I used the zigzag method, maybe because it was easier to both eat and cut with the dominant hand. At some point – I have no idea exactly when or why – I switched to Continental style. Except I eat right-handed, not left-handed as the style dictates.

The restaurant, by the way, is called Schastye Est, which means There Is Happiness. It certainly brought me happiness to see these two leisurely women, tranquil in a sea of phone-style eaters.

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