Would you believe there is an international debate on this subject? Google the topic and you will get several pages of "authorities" offering varying views on the proper etiquette of eating spaghetti. Some even provide a video with step-by-step instructions from wrapping the stringy pasta around a utensil to protecting the freshly cleaned white shirt. A few turn to the country of origin, Italy, for proper instruction; but even the Italians seem to have differing opinions on the subject.
Most agree that cutting pasta is a huge no-no. Apparently, cutting spaghetti into manageable bites is improper pasta etiquette and quite offensive to all foodies, including the Italians. Then, of course, there is the spoon issue: use it, or lose it? Many who have traveled or lived in Italy hold steadfast to the belief that all Italians artfully use the spoon in twirling the spaghetti around the tongs of a fork. While others say, Americans popularized the technique.
Another arguable practice is the use of the napkin as a bib. Even though it is forbidden to cut the long strands in an attempt to avoid sauce splashing across yourself and your dinner guests, the etiquette purists most certainly condemn the use of a napkin for the purpose of a bib. Many agree that this is an unforgivable exercise in Italy as well.
A surprising number of people believe it is acceptable to allow strands of spaghetti to hang from the mouth, as it is virtually impossible to neatly twirl 11-inch strands of al dente pasta around a fork. It is what happens at this point, however, that sparks the greatest debate: what to do with the danglers. Some say, use the fork to bring the strands up and into the mouth. Others say, break the strands with the teeth and let the loose ends fall back to the plate. Yet, it is almost unanimous that slurping the strands is absolutely forbidden and highly repulsive.
My own observations throughout Italy do little to clear up the matter. Some use spoons; others only utilize forks. In one rare instance, I even saw a talented young woman use a knife in lieu of a spoon to aid in her twirling efforts. I've witnessed both men and women using the napkin-bib method for splash protection. While others are so skilled in the art of twirling, I'm convinced they could perform the act with chopsticks and leave behind no evidence of pasta or sauce. I've seen the dangle vs. the chew-and-drop; and, yes, I've even heard a few slurps.
So who is correct? In my quest to find absolute truth on this subject, I went directly to the source of which most Americans base their standards of etiquette, Emily Post, and to my friend and longtime maitre d' of Rome's 5-star Hotel Majestic, Antonio.
According to Ms. Post in her book, The New Emily Post's Etiquette, the fork is used to spear a few strands of spaghetti and then twirled with the aide of a spoon held on its side to wrap the spaghetti around itself. Additionally, Ms. Post reserves the napkin/bib wearing for those under the age of three. And, well, I'm sure you can guess where she stands on slurping!
On the other hand, Antonio does not provide a spoon with a plate of spaghetti. He will, however, quickly provide one for those less competent in the art of twirling. Antonio supports the tucking of the napkin to guard against splashing, and admits that slurping is a form of compliment to the chef.
Needless to say, the debate on pasta-eating protocol lives on. So, in the presence of such obscurity, I'm choosing to do the following:
1. When in Rome, I will do as the Romans do. If served a bowl of spaghetti with only a fork, then I know I'm meant to eat it with only a fork. If I have been given a spoon as well, then by all means, I will stab the pasta with the fork and twirl it neatly in my spoon with great confidence.
2. I will peruse the dining room for napkin enlightenment. I seriously doubt I will ever actually do the "tuck", but it's nice to know when and where I have the option!
3. At home, I will give an all-out effort for an A-one performance in twirling to avoid the dreadful strand dangling -- even if it means I have to re-twirl 3-4 times to get the perfect pasta swirl. In Italy, I will let it dangle.
4. Compliments to the chef, or not, I will NEVER slurp!
Simply put, I will enjoy my spaghetti and all those who share it with me!