Every now and then a news story comes along that puts perspective on the 24-hour news cycle that simply doesn’t have enough “news” to fill it. Enter New York Mayor Bill de Blasio whose bow to tradition ended up in the news cycle for the wrong reason. Apparently there’s a tradition of sorts in New York politics to eat pizza at Goodfellas Pizza on Staten Island. Certainly, considering his Italian roots, eating pizza at Goodfellas should have been controversy free.
But it wasn’t.
Mayor de Blasio committed the cardinal sin of pizza eating, at least the cardinal sin of pizza eating in New York City. While the ten or so other people with him manhandled their slices into their mouths, de Blasio picked up his fork and knife and proceeded to cut bite-size pieces and raise them to his mouth on the fork.
The shame of it.
Reading the good-natured ribbing de Blasio took from such culinarily refined institutions as the New York Daily News, one might wonder if de Blasio will ever live down this dining etiquette slap at pizza eating New York-style.
So what is the etiquette of eating pizza?
The answer lies in why we have dining etiquette at all. Basically, dining etiquette helps us limit the grossness of the act of eating. Think about it. You cut, scoop, or pick up food on a utensil (or in your fingers in the case of New York pizza), put it in your mouth, chew it into a mushy pulp, swallow it and then repeat the process twenty or thirty times—all while trying not to gross out the people you are eating with. That’s dining etiquette in a nutshell.
The de Blasio supposed infraction of New York City pizza eating rules smells very similar to the great dining etiquette debate of whether using your utensils to cut food American or Continental style is more appropriate. In American style you cut a piece of food with fork and knife, then put the knife down and switch the fork to the hand that held the knife and lift the food to your mouth. When eating using the Continental style, after cutting a piece of food you immediately lift the food on your fork to your mouth without switching. The Emily Post take on this etiquette issue: It doesn’t matter which method you use; use the one that you are most coordinated eating with, the one that allows you to get the food to your mouth without grossing out your dinner companions.
So, Mayor deBlasio, here's my advice to you: Eat your pizza your way, even at Goodfellas. Whatever way is most comfortable to you, do it. You’re less likely to walk out with pizza splatter all over your shirt. And I suspect if you did mess up your shirt, that would be a whole new story for another slow news day.
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About the author
Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers' questions in The Boston Sunday Globe's weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business" and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book "Essential Manners For Men" was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of "Essential Manners for Couples," "Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf," and co-author of "A Wedding Like No Other." Post is Emily Post's great-grandson. His media appearances include "CBS Sunday Morning," CBS's "The Early Show," NBC's "Today," ABC's "Good Morning America," and "Fox News."