I had a very long day at work yesterday, so I went out for lunch as a treat, and had a salad and a single-sized margherita pizza. I love pizza. Pizza was a staple food in my house growing up. We ate pizza far more religiously than most nuclear families: every Wednesday evening and every Sunday at lunchtime (frequently while watching American football games) with additional pizza occasions added to the regular twice-per-week schedule. Pizza was always preceded by a small bowl of ripple potato chips (crisps in the UK!) and as a kid, for me the pizza had to have pepperoni and no other toppings. The cheese had to be not just melted but sufficiently cooked to start to turn brown and crispy.
In America, pizza is eaten with one’s hands, with a few quite reasonable exceptions including Chicago-style deep dish. The slices may be wedges or squares, but either way the crust was designed with sufficient structural integrity for lifting without cutlery. Even if you were given a fork, it was the rare pizza that required the use of silverware. Floppy crusts could be folded in half “New York style” and still consumed with no requirements beyond a napkin.
In the UK, I have ordered pizza in several restaurants, and it comes on a plate as an undivided circle. One is then–apparently–meant to stab it with a fork in the left hand and saw at it with a butter knife in the right hand. This seems remarkably silly to me, not to mention inefficient. The crust is difficult to penetrate with a butter knife, and the sawing action that is then required to get through the crust completely ruins both the texture and asthetics of the toppings by smearing them around. (Thus my ordering a plain margherita pizza on this occasion–it has the fewest toppings to disturb with this farcical effort.)
Anyone who has cooked a pizza at home in the US knows that the proper implement for cutting pizza is, in fact, far sharper than a butter knife. Whether the implement of choice is a pair of kitchen shears (which were in our household called the “Pizza Scissors”) or the more traditional wheel cutter, the tool is chosen to have sufficient bite to get through the chewey crust without disrupting the toppings. A skilled master with a sharp wheel cutter can dice a pizza into manageable slices with only a few careful motions, leaving the toppings perfectly intact.
As I sat in Pizza Express yesterday, as has happened on the few occasions I have dared to order pizza in public in the UK, I once again started with my cutlery in hand and the best intentions of blending in with UK culture. Again I gave up and reverted to my American ways–I made it through just over half the pizza before I abandoned ship and started cutting it into wedges (still an inefficient proposition with the wrong cutting implements!) and picking it up with my hands. Quelle horreur! Here I am, trying not to stick out as an expat with poor (and thus terribly American) table manners but the best of intentions would have left me hungry and abandoning a half-eaten and terribly mangled pizza on a plate. I give up: from now on I’m sticking with pizza consumed in the comfort of my own flat… with my hands.