Most of us grew up being taught a specific way to eat spaghetti and other similarly shaped pasta. Some of us, unfortunately, have been misled. Italians would be surprised to hear of all the different ways that other people in the world tackle a homey plate of spaghetti.
British etiquette expert Emily Post, for instance,suggested three "proper" ways to eat spaghetti: twirling the strands on a fork, twirling the strands between a fork and spoon, and cutting up the strands with a knife (for eating with a fork). TIME Magazine even once cited a 1940s guide which stated the correct way was to pick up exactly four strands of spaghetti each time. Real Italians would say the first fork-only method is correct -- but don't bother counting the strands. Just pick up a decent amount with the tip of the fork and twirl the fork against the plate with one hand. Do this until the strands separate from the rest of the spaghetti to wrap around the fork, with only a few short ends left dangling.
So, what about the spoon? Although some believe it is the most polite and tidy way to pick up small portions of spaghetti, no adult in Italy would do such a thing. Three Italian restaurant owners interviewed by The New York Times declare "spoons are for children, amateurs and people with bad table manners."
As for chopping up spaghetti into sections with a knife and then eating the clumps with a fork... What are we, Vikings? This is as big a faux pas as cutting up your steak into tiny pieces all at once, as if you're a toddler.
If you ate your spaghetti the wrong way in public, hardcore Italians would instantly recognize you as a fraud -- or at least, a foreigner. They'd probably let you get away with it, the way they might let little kids eat pasta with fingers or twirl an entire plateful of spaghetti onto one fork. If you really wanted to show your respect for Italian culture and cuisine, however, have your spaghetti like a real Italian. Put down that spoon and knife.