I consider myself a fairly well traveled person, my countries visited list is above 10 and some of those places I have spent at least several weeks in giving me a feel of the culture. To top this, I am an Intercultural studies major, who is bent on discovering new places and new foods all the time. In my experiences, though they are few compared to some, one must not only learn to cope with new tastes and smells when it comes to food, but also must be willing to change how eats one eats food. Each country/culture/place has its own way of how the food goes from the plate (if you are indeed eating from a plate) to one’s mouth.
In the United States (the country from which I am born and raised), the cultural mishmash that it is makes it hard to pick just one way to use utensils, so I will go with the way I was raised, in which the fork is the dominant tool for consumption. In the US, you must learn to become acquainted with this object, for a knife may be present, nicely seated to the right of your plate, yet, it will often remained unused, needlessly being washed again despite this fact (unless of course tough meat is in the meal). The fork takes on the duty of the knife and one must learn to cut with its edge before stabbing with one of its four prongs. Only having one utensil can at times be frustrating, especially when beans or rice are one’s opponent for dinner, as you must figure out how scoop them up against the edge of your plate. Nevertheless, as an American I can say I have become quite skilled in the one-handed combat that takes place during American meals.
In Sweden (and I can imagine other European nations as well), the fork is a prominent member of dining as well, but ask any Swede and they will tell you that they feel quite naked while solely sporting a fork. Yes, in Sweden the knife is used for more than mere decoration, it becomes a necessary instrument akin to the guitar in a Rolling Stones song or the trumpet in a Louis Armstrong song. This may seem like it is a part of high culture, the ‘proper’ way of doing things, but the knife is coupled with the fork on nearly everything, from smoked salmon to sandwiches and pizza. Alternating back and forth, scooping and cutting and aiding in balancing morsels the fork and knife are truly a team.
China chooses chopsticks as its utensil of choice and they are accompanied by much of Asia as well as other Asian influenced places (like Hawaii) in using chopsticks. The two wooden stick like objects held in one’s hand like an extension of the fingers used to hold and scoop noodles, stir-fried vegetables, and rice. Chopsticks take care of the lone fork’s problem of picking up things that cannot be stabbed whilst only using one hand leaving the other unoccupied for whatsoever one desires. For a beginner chopsticks can be difficult to maneuver and to grab ahold of smaller objects, such as morsels of rice (which is strangely a staple of most Asian cultures), but upon repeated tries one quickly learns how to get by (and quickly get over hand cramps that might occur).
In Kenya (at least for some meals) they take utensils out of the situation completely. Instead they use what is called ugali to help scoop up foods with their hands. A mix of maize made into large clumps to grab at meats and sukuma wiki. Largely flavorless, the slightly chewy texture adds to the taste of fatty goat meat. When it’s hot holding it is painful to the fingers, every bite is worth the numb appendages. Every dinner becomes an almost mathematical process in which one must consider ugali management; checking his or her sukuma wiki to ugali ratio to ensure that one does not lose one’s utensil prior to the meal being finished. It is only a fool who runs out of ugali prior to the other dishes.