Poland’s major publications are suddenly delving into the history of cutlery, after Bartosz Kownacki, the country’s deputy defense minister, caused an international scandal by scoffing that the French “were people who learned how to eat with a fork from us several centuries ago.” Kownacki was incensed that France, after the French company Airbus lost a contract for Polish military helicopters, disinvited Poland to a defense fair. “Maybe this is the way they behave today,” he said in an interview with Polish broadcaster TVN24 (link in Polish).
Kownacki’s interesting way of calling the French sore losers comes after his party, the conservative Law and Justice party, scrapped a multibillion-dollar contract initially won by Airbus in a tender conducted by the previous government. Poland is now buying US Black Hawks, and Airbus has threatened to sue the government.
“Forkgate,” as the BBC dubbed it, stems from the legend that a 16th-century French monarch, who served as Poland’s king before becoming Henry III of France, brought forks back with him to France after his Polish reign. Joanna Paprocka-Gajek, an expert on cutlery, told Polish news site natemat.pl (link in Polish) there is no evidence that this was the person who introduced the French to the fork. If anything, it could’ve been his mother, Catherine de Medici, who was Italian—but that claim is also disputed.
Kownacki’s comments drew criticism from his political opponents, who accused him, ironically, of lacking etiquette. The Associated Press quoted Jan Grabiec, spokesperson for the opposition party Civic Platform, as saying, “Deputy minister Kownacki not only does not know history, he doesn’t know the basic facts and he also does not know the basic rules of diplomacy.”