What is it about folk with those tiny little knives? I understand that some people have small hands, and it’s easier for them to wield a smaller knife, but there comes a point when you’ll need more than a paring knife to do the job. Mind you, the cook him/herself will make the food work regardless of what tools there are to work with. I’ve seen some perfectly lovely spreads of food created by people who are working with a tiny little paring knife, no cutting board (they’re cutting on the counter instead), and plenty of care and attention to detail.
However, these people also tend to take a rather long time to get the cutting finished, because each little piece of food must be chopped inidividually, rather than en masse. If you’re not a fan of those enormous 10 inch, 8 inch, or even 7 inch chef’s knives that weigh a half ton, and cost the same as your mortgage payment, you can still snag a pretty nice Kuhn Rikon knife from the Amazons for about $20. Those things are wicked sharp, and stay sharp for a good long time. I had mine about a year before having to sharpen it. Best part is that it’s got a non stick surface, so when you’re chopping vegetables, they tend not to stick to the blade.
If you have a bit more money to spend, consider getting your hands on a ceramic knife. They’re also on the small side, and weigh as much as a postage stamp (or at least the ones I’ve used are). It’s a little awkward for me, because my hands are large. I’m typing this on a 12” iBook G4, and my hands dwarf the keyboard/bottom of the computer. For me, the 8 inch to 10 inch steel chef’s knife is ideal. For someone with smaller hands, however, the ceramic knives are an excellent option.
The only thing you have to watch for with ceramic knives is that they’re brittle, meaning that they’ll snap in half. You don’t want to do too terribly much banging and bashing of a ceramic knife.
If for no other reason than you’re going to have a faster time of it, get yourself a decent knife, and get a cutting board. The difference is noticeable, as the students in the classes I teach will let you know. Trying a nice knife exactly once (and I don’t mean the $100+ ones, I’m talking about the Kuhn Rikon ones) is enough to convince you that it’s worth the small investment.