In the Netflix movie 1922 we see the father and the son eat dinner right after talking with the sheriff about the missing wife.

I noticed that they were holding knives in their right hands and forks on their left. Then the father finished cutting up a piece of steak maybe, before switching the fork to the right hand. I wouldn't have though much about it if the son didn't do the same.

Was it a common practice back in 1920s for people to keep switching knives and forks while eating?


After seeing the numerous comments posted to this question, I would like to point out one thing: I know that most people are right handed and it would make sense for the dominant hand to exert force to cut the food using the knife, so it is logical for the knife to be held by the right hand and the left hand transfers the food from the plate to the mouth, which is a simpler task compared to cutting up food.

I also should point out that, from where I come from, we only use the right hand to transfer food from the plate to the mouth for cultural/religious/transitional reasons. But the majority of the foods don't require cutlery (or if it does require, people use their bare hands anyway) -- again, that is from where I come from, but some do use cutlery, and when they do, they use hold the knives with the left hand and spoon/fork with the right hand for the reasons above.

Now some "modernized" people follow the European style strictly, meaning: knives only in the right hand and fork on the left hand. But they are looked down by the majority of the our society for using the wrong hand to eat. Some of the "modernized" people will appease both parties, by holding the knives with their right hand, and right after cutting up the food, they switch fork to the right hand so that only the "righteous" hand does the feeding, and it's a win-win.

That last part is what triggered me to ask the question, because that's just what happened in the movie. Although, I doubt that the father and son switched forks to their right hand for social or religious reasons. Maybe it's something to do with something else.. I don't know.

  • I don't know about America in 1922, but if these articles are anything to go by, this practice is still common in America today. (Anecdotally, I'm not American, but I also do this.)
    – F1Krazy
    Jun 13, 2020 at 9:08
  • I does seem to be an American cultural thing. [IIRC] in The Great Escape it was the give-away sign that led to the re-capture of one of the escapees.
    – Tetsujin
    Jun 13, 2020 at 9:52
  • 2
    Knife in your weak hand? Only if you're left-handed. The knife is what does the cutting, the fork does the transferring of food to your face. Keeping them in the culturally "correct" hand relies on practise at getting the fork to your face using the weak hand, with your fork the right way up, not turned over like e spoon, without spilling your dinner down your front ;) These practises are considerably less insisted-on than they were even 50 years ago, but that was the 'rule' back then.
    – Tetsujin
    Jun 13, 2020 at 10:58
  • 3
    @F1Krazy .... I live in the midwest of the USA where the practice of switching to hold the fork in your right hand after cutting food remains the most common practice I see locals use.
    – iandotkelly
    Jun 13, 2020 at 19:22
  • 1
    @morbo That technique would only be acceptable for small children where I come from, not for adults. And it works only with soft rice, but you will frequently also encounter dishes with harder corn, which would just flip away if you try to eat it that way.
    – Polygnome
    Jun 13, 2020 at 20:03

3 Answers 3


Specifically addressing the question.

The practice of cutting food such as a steak with a knife in the dominant hand (more commonly the right hand in the USA), and fork in the non-dominant hand, then switching to just a fork in the dominant hand to eat is a common practice in USA dining today, not just in the 1920s.

Both this style and the current common European style of keeping the knife in the dominant hand are acceptable etiquette in USA dining. In my personal experience the 'switch' style is more common today in the midwest USA where I live.

The following article suggests, without evidence, that Americans are slowly abandoning this practice. However the article does at least substantiate that the practice is common.


  • i dont see americans ever eat without switching and when i see it in the usa, it is done by non-natives. it is more than custom -- i would not be able, without a lot of practice, to stop switching. and i always thought it was done the american way because the most complex operation at the time is done by the right or dominant hand -- i could not cut with my left at all.
    – releseabe
    Jun 18, 2020 at 10:52
  • @releseabe ..... I'm being cautious that my experience of living in 1 state isn't transposed to the entire country - but I agree.
    – iandotkelly
    Jun 18, 2020 at 11:43

As other posters have said, the use of a knife and fork is a cultural artifact. How they were used will vary by culture. As some have not pointed out, culture is a very regional as well as generational thing. So are manners, gentility, and hospitality to name a few. In a country as diverse as the US, it varies greatly and changes over time. In some areas, the above method is still taught, but not always applied.

There once was a time in or before the antebellum era wear wearing white gloves to eat at formal dinners was the cultural norm. The cleanliness of your gloves after the meal was testament to how cultured you were.

Conversely, there are still older, native Texans who subscribe to the long held Texas tradition of “Never put your knife in your gun hand.” This is done whether eating or fighting, regardless of which hand is your gun hand. This goes right along with the belief in Texas that having a dull knife (or none at all) or a tough steak is uncivilized.


Eating and other customs change with geography and time.

On the subject of eating utensils, my answer to this question shows how some persons reacted to the use of different ones:


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