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Italians To New Yorkers: 'Forkgate' Scandal? Fuhggedaboutit

In this image taken from video and provided by New York City Hall, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio eats pizza with a fork at Goodfellas Pizza on Staten Island on Friday.
In this image taken from video and provided by New York City Hall, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio eats pizza with a fork at Goodfellas Pizza on Staten Island on Friday.

Over the past week, two high-profile leaders in the New York metropolitan area found themselves at the center of unfolding political scandals. At least one, it seems, has some plausible deniability.

In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie's political future is in doubt over the ever-widening "Bridgegate" fiasco, as emails revealed that members of his closest inner circle were involved. But just across that bridge, New York City's newly installed mayor, Bill de Blasio, became embroiled in another kind of drama: "Forkgate."

As our friends over at the Two-Way reported over the weekend, de Blasio ignited a minor media firestorm on Friday after he was spotted eating pizza in Staten Island during a business lunch with — gasp! — a fork and knife. Self-respecting New Yorkers, multiple news stories noted, eat their slices with their hands.

"The mayor of New York City," the New York Daily News lamented, "eats his pizza like a tourist."

We here at The Salt were interested in de Blasio's self-defense: As an Italian-American, he said, he was merely honoring his heritage by eating pizza the way they do back in the homeland — start with the cutlery, then finish off with your hands.

"Of course, de Blasio is absolutely right," says NPR's longtime Rome correspondent, Sylvia Poggioli.

"The story made headlines here, too, with everyone scratching their heads, wondering if Americans don't have more serious issues to deal with," Sylvia tells us. She adds:

"Italians cut their pizzas with fork and knife and then eat the slices with their hands. One reason is that pizza is served piping hot, too hot to rip apart with your hands.

"Another issue altogether is pizza cooked in long rectangular shapes and sold at bakery or cafe counters by the slice, then it's wrapped in paper and eaten like a sandwich.

"And one last thing: Pizza would never be served in Italy at a business [lunch]."

Oh and, for what it's worth, it seems that Miss Manners is also in de Blasio's corner. Back in 1989, the etiquette expert responded to a reader's question about the proper way to tackle a slice by noting that, while hands are fine, dignity also matters.

"Grown-ups with strings of cheese all over their faces look a lot worse than young people in the same condition," she noted. "They should therefore employ forks on which to wind any hanging parts."

Update: Still, one wonders whether any of this will help de Blasio avoid the kind of savaging that Donald Trump got from comedian Jon Stewart when he dined on a slice with a fork.

"Donald Trump, why don't you just take that fork and stick it right in New York's eye?" Stewart decried. His profanity-laced response to Trump's faux pas is worth a watch.

(A hat tip to commenter Joseph Christian for reminding us of this video's existence.)

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Maria Godoy is a senior science and health editor and correspondent with NPR News. Her reporting can be heard across NPR's news shows and podcasts. She is also one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.