Travellers are bound to commit “blunders” while dining in some foreign destinations. While it can be an innocent mistake, your action may still be misinterpreted and taken as rude or offensive. It pays to be conscious of the local dining rules or etiquette to be able to seamlessly blend with the crowd.
You may find it funny in movies – actors doing offensive violations of local dining rules and getting away with it in some hilarious way – but in real life, it can get awkward. These blunders are to be avoided, particularly when being invited at homes or on special gatherings. “Not being aware” is not a valid excuse.
If you are eager to start off on the right foot, you may want to begin by observing the other diners/guests. Better yet, try to research in advance. In this case, you may want to check Joy Corkery’s Curious Customs from Dinner Tables Around the World at Wimdu. She writes:
“Table manners which you may define as polite and proper at home might come across as unrefined, snobbish or rude elsewhere.
Shared meals are a ritual all over the world, so it’s no wonder that each country will have its own take on what’s considered proper etiquette.
Before we reveal customs abroad – how much do you know about etiquette at home? Let’s have a quick look at the history of table manners.”
Corkery takes you down the memory lane when in the 17th century the use of the fork was regarded too “refined and effeminate.” So, people generally used their bread and hands to scoop up and ear their food. But it was not acceptable to use both hands; it was considered “refined” when they use only their three fingers. Eating utensils with elaborate designs and costly materials were introduced later, but this was only adopted by the people of wealth and affluence. The use of fork was initially rejected being seen as too “refined and effeminate.”
The Book of Household Management by Isabella Beeton was published in 1861. It painstakingly pointed out a complex body of guidelines on dinner table etiquette. Take this example:
“The guests being seated at the dinner table, the lady begins to help the soup, which is handed round, commencing with the gentleman on her right and on her left, and continuing in the same order till all are served. It is generally established as a rule, not to ask for soup or fish twice, as, in so doing, part of the company may be kept waiting too long for the second course.”
Corkery observes that certain dining rules are still being practiced today, yet with the evolved lifestyle of modern diners, much have been changed already. For instance, is it proper to leave your phone or tab on the table while eating? Is it acceptable to excuse yourself from the table when your phone rings?
She also pointed out that with the efficiency of modern travel and technology, as well as globalization, ethnic foods can be had at home or in a local restaurant. This means, you don’t have to travel in Japan to eat sushi and use a pair of chopsticks. How do you use them without causing furor in the process as leaving them upright is thought to be offering food to the dead?
Corkery’s infographic teaches you basic dining etiquettes from 10 countries around the world:
#1 – FRANCE
DO: Keep both hands on the table.
DON’T: Keep your hands on your lap.
When not using eating, you must rest your wrists or forearms on the tabletop for everyone to your hands.
#2 – GERMANY
DO: Smash potatoes with a fork.
DON’T: Use a Knife to cut potatoes.
When you use a knife instead of a fork, you are sending as message that the potatoes are not tender enough. Smashing your potatoes is also practical as it adds surface to be smothered with gravy.
#3 – SPAIN
DO: Enjoy “sobremesa.”
DON’T: Rush off straight after your meal.
In the land where siesta and relaxation are held with esteem, taking your time after a delicious meal or “sobremesa” is enjoyed. Spend it conversing and relaxing while digesting your food.
DO: Use your fingers when eating asparagus
DON’T: Eat asparagus using utensils.
Pick the asparagus from the end of the stem with your fingers, dip it to the sauce or dressing and take a bite. Leave the tough part on your plate.
#5 – HUNGARY
DO: Clink glasses with any other alcoholic beverage (but never beer).
DON’T: Say cheers with beer.
History has it that toasting with beer started when the Austrian celebrated their victory over Hungary in 1848. So, the Hungarians vowed not to make a toast using beer for 150 years. That became a tradition in Hungary.
#6 – MEXICO
DO: Use your hands.
DON’T: Use a knife and fork to eat tacos.
Locals use their hands to eat tacos. It will be snobbish not to use your hands.
#7 – GEORGIA
DO: Down it (the drink) in one (gulp) during toasts.
DON’T: Sip your wine during the “supra.”
Toasts are common during “supras” or large celebratory parties to be initiated by a “tamada” or toastmaster.
#8 – JAPAN
DO: Keep them (the chopsticks) horizontal.
DON’T: (Never) Leave your chopsticks sticking upright in a bowl of rice.
It’s considered bad luck. Putting the chopsticks upright is taken to mean “offering the food to the dead.” In order not to bring bad luck, put your chopsticks flat over the bowl or on the side of your plate.
DO: Accept a dish or glass using both hands.
DON’T: Accept a dish or glass with one hand.
It’s respectful to use both hands, especially when receiving it from an elder. By the same token, don’t eat ahead of the elders.
DO: Use fork only to push food onto a spoon, which then goes into your mouth.
DON’T: Use a fork to transfer food to your mouth.
The spoon is considered the principal utensil to eat properly. The fork is used to aid the spoon. Thais used to eat with their hands, until King Chulalongkorn went to Europe in 1887 and introduced the spoon and fork upon his return. Eating with chopsticks is a no-no unless you are eating Chinese food.
Travelling around the world is a fulfilling adventure. Like any adventure, you must come prepared to step up the level of fun, pleasure and safety. Can there more satisfaction than being invited to a local’s home” It is a testimony of acceptance and friendship. You wouldn’t want to mar the moment by committing blunders during the dinner, so come prepared.