Perhaps in America it was only ever the well educated and comfortably affluent that observed practices such as the proper fork to use and the correct placing of silverware on the plate when finished. Most Americans probably felt fortunate to possess a single silver fork for each person at the table. We chide the stuffy affluent for being snobs for insisting on proper table manners - but then, what do we have as humans if we don't have a proper way to do things? The proper way to do things is something that endears me to Europe. It is what I would appreciate in the tradition laden culture of Japan, or for that matter most anyplace in the world - the art of living is what stands out. The means by which we do things is what life is about. This is the art of life, the highest form of art - living with thoughtfulness and intention. Our table manners says something about our eating habits and our way of being: slow or fast; appreciated and shared or quick and meaningless; prepared and wholesome or hasty and unhealthy.
A friend of mine had a family that dressed for dinner every evening. Men in ties, cloth napkins and probably candle-light. This might be a tad overkill, but you can be sure of one thing: dinner was an event. Table manners were expected, conversation was too, and shared food together was the crowning moment of a day lived with intention and attention to the means.