We have all seen the wrong way to handle silverware. People holding their silverware like a spear or some other weaon or like they are playing the violin or cello. Here are the two acceptable ways to eat (American and Continental/European), and how to handle one's silverware with confidence and ease. If you don't think it is important, think again. Many view table manners as a proxy for being well-mannered in general.
When you eat American style you start off holding your fork in your non-dominant hand, and your knife in your dominant hand. To properly hold your fork while cutting turn it over and put your index finger on the back of the fork (right where the joint) for leverage in securing the food while you wrap your fingers around the handle. To properly hold your knife place your index finger on the joint where the blade and handle meet. You can go up about an inch if you want - but no more - for leverage in cutting. After you cut (one piece only at a time) you lay your knife across the upper part of the plate and switch your fork to your dominant hand and eat with the tines up. Some call it the "zig-zag" way of eating because you switch your utensils from hand to hand. While eating, place your free hand in your lap. Many like to eat this way because it is the oldest way to eat, and it forces one to eat a bit more slowly than the Continental/Euoprean way.
When you are at "rest" - not eating - you place your fork and knife on the plate parallel to each other but with some space in between. The knife is laying across the top of the plate while the fork is at the 10:20 position (if your plate were a face of a clock the fork tines would be at 10 o'clock and the handle would be at the 20 minutes). When you are "finished" with your meal place your fork and knife at 10:20 with the tops at 10 and the handles at the :20 spot. The knife blade faces in and the tines of the fork are up.
When you eat Continental/European style you keep your utensils in the same hands - never switching off. The fork goes in your non-dominant hand. When you are done cutting you keep hold of the knife but lift your hand with the fork up to your mouth and pivot your wrist to convey the food into your mouth. This is an initially more difficult way to eat since your fork is always tines down - so the food has to be packaged on the back of your fork. Talk about an adventure! Your knife is the "pusher" and its job is to create a little package of food on the fork. Your meat is the anchor, then the veggies and sides are added onto the back of the fork. Many like to eat this way because it is efficient and quiet. But if you have trouble eating slowly, you need to be doubly mindful because there is no natural break in eating like with the American style. For the "rest" position, place the knife and fork down so you create a little "X" on the plate with the tines of the fork down over the knife blade, which is facing in. When resting, wrists are on the edge of the table. The "finished" position is also 10:20 but the tines of the fork are down.
Eating either way is being marvelously well-mannered - as long as you also sit up straight, eat quietly, and chew with your mouth closed. Elbows off the table. The best thing, one can practice each and every day until you don't have to think about your silverware at all.
Have a marvelous week - Catherine