Table manners of the world: in some countries smacking and belching during dinner is a token of appreciation, while in others it is considered normal to clear your plate silently. If you are going to another country or continent, it is a good idea to do some research on the table manners of your destination.
We eat most of our food with cutlery. In Thailand, they do this too, but in a slightly different way. They consider it rude to bring the food to your mouth with your fork. The Thai use the fork to place food on the spoon, only then can only bring the food to your mouth. Although this may sound a bit cumbersome to some, in Thailand this is quite normal and you’ll get strange looks if you don’t comply.
In many countries, slurping is seen as rude and irritating especially while eating or drinking. I am sure you remember hearing your parents say so when you were little. Japan is a country where everyone slurps especially while eating certain delicious food, such as soba noodles and other bowls of noodles, including ramen and udon. According to the Japanese, slurping improves the taste of the food and you could eat it faster especially if it is very hot.
In some parts of the Middle East, certain tasks are assigned to one of your hands. You must try to keep your right hand clean so you can use it to pick up food and other “clean” things. The left hand is generally only used during visits to the restroom and is therefore not suitable for eating. For the left-handers among us, it will be a bit of a challenge when you are visiting certain parts of these regions.
Empty cups can also cause misunderstandings. The Bedouins are Arab desert dwellers and coffee is a common drink for them, as it is with us. However, if your cup is empty and you try to return it, it will be filled repeatedly. In the Middle East, it is the custom to shake your cup when you give it back, so the host knows that you have had enough coffee. If you do not do this, you will be drinking coffee all day.
Eating at the table has more footing in South Korea than some other countries around the world. Generally, we wait until everyone has his or her food so everyone can enjoy the meal together. In South Korea it happens slightly differently as everyone waits until the oldest person at the table has started eating. Only then, can the rest of the company start eating.
During your trip in Italy, it is natural to want to go out for dinner. Just make sure that in a restaurant, you can never (and we mean really never!) ask the waiter if he wants to sprinkle cheese over your pasta with seafood. The combination of fish and cheese is not done in Italy.
In Canada, you will find many different cultures; this can also be seen in the variety of eating habits. In some cultures, for example, it is quite normal to fart as a token of appreciation. Check, in advance, where you can do this, sometimes people have gone along with the times a bit more and they find it downright disgusting that you fart in front of other people.
The food in China is very different from what we are used to. For example, similar to a few other Asian countries, they eat with chopsticks instead of using folks and knives, which is quite a challenge if it is something you are not used to. These chopsticks also have many guidelines attached. For example, you cannot stand them upright in your rice bowl. This is very similar to a ceremonial meal in which sacrifices are made to the dead, which is a link you would rather not make during dinner. Waving them at other people, putting the sticks on the table so they point at someone else, or playing with your sticks is also not appreciated. The bottom line is that you can only use the sticks for what they are made for.
Emptying your plate of food also has different meanings in certain cultures. In India and Japan, it is a sign of appreciation when you eat everything on your plate. Whoever prepared the food knows that you liked it, so it is a compliment to the chef. In China, you should not do this as they think you have not eaten enough. Therefore, it is wise to leave a tiny bit when you are in China.
Tip: Are you going to a foreign country? Do some research on the table manners of your destination, so you will not get any nasty surprises and you know how to behave in a dining environment. Enjoy your meal!