Heritage is a complicated thing. Hard to define. This year the theme for Heritage Week is a question. “Where do you find heritage?”

Heritage BC tells us we can find it anywhere. In our community, in the stories our elders have told us, in our cultural institutions, in our favourite food, in striking views and vistas, on hikes through our trail system, and, last but not least, deep inside each of us.

Curators think about this sort of big picture idea a lot. I think about heritage as something that gets passed down, sometimes knowingly, sometimes not.

I’ve long been curious about manners and how, when we gather, a coded behaviour gives us away.

Think about Eliza Doolittle and Professor Henry Higgins. Eliza’s behaviour  and manner of speech were part of her heritage.

For all my married life I have been quietly observing how my in-laws eat. My better half was raised with a set of manners that should have seen him able to sit at anyone’s table. He was told how to hold his fork, what foods to eat with a spoon, and how to manage a plethora of silverware should it be arranged by his plate.

My husband was a quick study. He loves to eat.

When we first dated, he told me that the proper way to eat with your fork was with your right hand, off the front of your fork. He explained that you cut your food with the fork in your left hand and knife in your right, but then transferred the fork to your right hand. I always thought it was odd that he used his fork like a tined spoon.

Hard to visualize?

I tried to fit in. I modified my behaviour thinking I was experiencing a class difference between my (then) boyfriend and me, like Doolittle and Professor Higgins. It didn’t do much for my confidence, but I was modifying my eating habits to avoid detection.

Like Doolittle, my father was Cockney. He immigrated to Canada in his twenties, but I didn’t hear his accent. I know he practiced passing as a Canadian. When he called his family in England unexpectedly, his niece answering the telephone said, “there’s a foreigner on the telephone for you,” to my Auntie.

If my father had passed, I would too!

Fast forward to me, dining with my future in-laws. I knew how to transfer my fork from left to right hand. I passed.

Sometime afterwards, I was visiting my Godmother in her home and I asked about the right way to hold one’s fork. Auntie Peggy was born in Campbell River but she sounded English. I knew her sister sounded even more English. Their parents were from Sheffield.

Auntie Peggy’s response was explosive.

“You don’t want to hold your fork like a BLOODY CANADIAN!” was an expression she grew up with.


I felt relief. I knew the difference wasn’t based on Canadian class. Auntie Peggy was one classy lady.

I continued to hold my fork the Canadian way when eating with my in-laws. They didn’t know I was faking it. Everywhere else, I rebelled.

Fast forward to 2021 and Heritage Week. I thought about how we pass down our unspoken rules of etiquette. At least they were unspoken when I was growing up.

“I wonder how the Queen eats?” I asked myself. My father always said he used to date Princess Elizabeth before coming to Canada, when he wasn’t dating Vera Lynn of course.
I consulted the Internet.

The Queen takes dining etiquette very seriously, I read. She holds her knife in her right hand and fork in her left with the tines facing down, like me.

Instead of stabbing her food, she balances it on the back of her fork and brings it to her mouth.

“I wonder if Meghan Markle had to learn how to use a knife and fork the royal way?” Was the next obvious question.

It turns Americans hold their knives and forks, switching their forks from their left hands to their right, very much like my Godmother’s “CANADIAN WAY OF EATING.”

I found my heritage in how I hold my knife and fork!