In this modern world we are used to getting what we want, whenever we want and sometimes this means ignoring what is seen as acceptable and not. When it comes to food, it is important to understand the cultural meaning behind certain traditions and be wiser to them, especially whilst travelling. No matter how good you think your table manners are, there is bound to be someone, somewhere that will feel offended by them so know your stuff.
A general rule of thumb is to observe those around you. Take a look at the locals and see what they are doing or, more importantly, NOT doing and follow their lead.
However, if you’re still in doubt then here are a few of the more well known food etiquettes that you should observe from across the globe.
Japan – In most countries it’s really rude to make slurping noises whilst eating. In Japan, however, the noisier you are, the better. It shows your host that you truly appreciate their food.
It is also important to note that, if you’re eating with chopsticks, you must not cross them or place them into your rice bowl once finished. The placing of chopsticks into a rice bowl is only a practice observed at funerals whilst making offerings to hungry ghosts. At any other time this is considered rude.
Always finish your meal, as this is a sign to your host that you have enjoyed it and are satisfied.
Thailand – Forks must never be used to place food directly into the mouth in Thailand. Instead, use your fork to push food onto a spoon and eat off that.
Korea – Elders are always respected and observed in Korea. You must never start eating a meal until the eldest person at the table has begun and you may not leave until they have finished. Try not to eat all of your food (no matter how delicious it is!) as this signifies to the host that they have not provided enough and will encourage them to bring you more. The same rule applies to drinks. Try to leave a bit to show your appreciation for the meal.
Italy – Expect to be frowned upon if you order a cappuccino after noon. There is a biological reason for this. Coffee aids digestion so is served black after a meal in Italy for this reason. However, milk slows down digestion, which is why cappuccinos are not generally drunk or served after noon. Also, never ask for extra cheese. It is considered a sin in Italy to put extra cheese on pizza and even worse to add it to seafood.
France – We have already touched on food etiquette in France, but here is another tip. Never suggest splitting the bill in a restaurant. Generally, if you invite someone out for a meal in France it means you are going to pay for it. It is rude to think otherwise.
UK – When eating soup you should always tilt the bowl away from yourself and sip from the side of your spoon.
Bulgaria – Never take yellow flowers to a dinner party in Bulgaria. They symbolize hatred so won’t go down very well (unless that was the message you were trying to portray!)
Russia – Offering someone a drink in Russia is a sign of friendship and trust so it is really rude to turn it down. Vodka is traditionally drunk neat and without ice.
Chile – Don’t eat anything with your hands. Yep….even junk food like burgers and chips are eaten with a knife and fork!
Mexico – It is seen as snobby to eat tacos with anything other than your hands so ditch the cutlery and get stuck in!
India – Always eat with your right hand (this is true throughout the Middle East and northern Africa too). The left hand is considered the one you use for the toilet and, as most food is eaten communally and using hands, it is seen as more hygienic to eat with your right hand.
Ethiopia – Individual plates are thought to be wasteful in Ethiopia. Most food is served from a single plate and no cutlery is used, just hands.
Remember that not everyone in these countries observes these cultural practices, but they are worth being aware of.
Images sourced via Olives for Dinner Flickr Creative Commons. Credits: M M, Dennis Tang, Salomé Chaussure, Joshua Bousel, Shreyans Bhansali