Let’s face it, right now Americans are not the most well-received tourists when we travel abroad. Maybe it’s just that other countries actually feel bad for us. Whatever their stance is, we should try our best to defy stereotypes and be respectful when in others’ home countries, just like we want people to be when they’re in our cites, eating at our favorite places.
Someone once explained traveling as learning things about the world you couldn’t read in a book. However, there are certain things you can learn by reading, for instance, about food etiquette. Let’s all take a second to learn some rules of dining experiences across the globe. The next time you’re jet-setting around, you’ll at least have some basic principles to follow at the dinner table, which will hopefully earn you the respect from the locals.
Amanda Ruggeri, a writer for CNN Travel, shares some food etiquette to follow in a few countries around the world. When it comes to Thailand, she says, “Don’t put food in your mouth with a fork.” The Thai use spoons to actually eat their meals, which are often based with rice and meats. You should use the fork to merely push the rice onto the spoon and then eat with the spoon. There are a few exceptions, of course; for instance, if you don’t have a rice-based meal then you can use a fork, like for noodles or cooked meats.
The other thing to do is eat with your hands. In Southeast Asia you’ll often find sticky rice, which as Alison Spiegel defines in a Huffington Post article is, “Glutinous rice [the proper name for sticky rice] contains just one component of starch, called amylopectin, while other kinds of rice contain both molecules that make up starch: amylopectin and amylose.” It’s used in quite a few Thai dishes and is pretty unmistakable; it’s a must-have when available, plus you get to eat with your hands!
And lastly, don’t use chopsticks in Thailand just because you think you’re supposed to; chopsticks are mostly used in noodle soups, so don’t think it’s rude if you aren’t given chopsticks when you order Pad Thai.
FoodBeast tells us to try and avoid asking for cheese on any meal in Italy. It can be a sign of disrespect to the chef by suggesting that he didn’t add enough in the first place. Now if the server comes around and asks if you’d like some grated Parm, then it’s up to you, but don’t go all Olive Garden with it.
The same can be said with most restaurants in Italy, you’ll notice they don’t usually keep salt, pepper, ketchup, or any other condiments on the table. The food is prepared a certain way because the chef wants you to taste the food exactly as it was prepared, not covered in red pepper flakes and Parmesan even though that is what we are used to. You should always try the food first before you start asking for things to add to it, though that goes for pretty much everywhere, not just Italy.
As for tipping, while you don’t have to tip as much as you would in the States, tipping is still appreciated in Italian eateries.
China and Japan
There are many rules that differ between these countries but a few are the same, one of those being the tradition of slurping your soup when you eat. Chrisanne Grise writes for Parents.com with her article, “Dining Manners Around the World,” in which she explains, “In Japan and China, slurping your noodles shows appreciation for the meal. The host takes all the noise as a compliment.”
Don’t go overboard but have some fun if you’re really enjoying the meal. If you’re super hungry, then go ahead and finish your plate, but if you are getting full then it’s customary tradition to leave a small amount of food on the plate. This lets the host know you enjoyed your meal but are full. If you clear your plate they’ll keep bringing out more food and it’s rude to waste food in any culture!
As for your drink, it’s considered good luck if you fill someone else’s and they fill yours, so let your friend know if you need a refill and then you can do the same for them.
Lastly, don’t leave your chopsticks upright in any dish, like a soup bowl for instance. That’s how they present an offering to the spirits of the dead and isn’t really the message you want to send on vacation. If you need to set your chopsticks down, just lay them flat on the table or back on their holder. If you’re terrible with chopsticks, try practicing with this tutorial, or these images, but you can also ask for a fork if you’re just getting it. Be prepared, though; people may chuckle.
Much like Eastern Asia, there are dozens are rules that differ from country to country in the Middle East, but there are a few that are shared between nations. Jodi Ettenberg writes about her travels in Fluent In Three Months and shared that one part of her journey was in the country of Jordan. There, she learned that in order to stop being served coffee or tea, a simple “thank you” won’t suffice; rather you should physically shake your cup side to side to show the host your do not want any more.
Lonely Planet also offers up some sound advice for eating in the Middle East, like:
“It’s polite to be seen to wash your hands before a meal.”
“Always remove your shoes before sitting down on a rug to eat or drink tea.”
“Don’t sit with your legs stretched out – it’s considered rude during a meal.”
“Always sit next to a person of the same sex at the dinner table unless your host(ess) suggests otherwise.”
“Use only your right hand for eating or accepting food.”
A few more quick tips for Middle Eastern dining: Don’t reach across the table. Meat is usually served last so save room during the earlier courses. When you’re done eating, leave a bite or two on the plate to show you don’t need more, otherwise your host may think they didn’t serve enough. Stay seated until you’ve been offered coffee or tea at the end of the meal. Lastly, if you have to blow your nose at some point, get up and go outside; it’s rude to do so while people are eating. Some Americans could really learn from that rule actually.
Some Quick Tips
China: We talked about some things, but a few other notes are that it’s okay to burp, but not okay to tip.
France: Keep your hands on the table; it’s not polite to have them under the table. Use bread to help your fork gather the food and then eat. Tear the bread as well; don’t bite directly into the baguette. And try to never split the check; have one person pay for it and then everyone can pay them separately.
Spain: Business Insider says we should not rush off after our meal, but rather enjoy sobremesa which “literally translates to ‘over the table.’ It’s the period after a meal to digest, converse, and relax.”
Germany: Business Insider shows us that we should never use a knife to cut our potatoes. Simply use a fork to mash them and then eat.
Britain: The best fish and chips come from a chip shop at the seaside.
Predominantly Muslim countries: Eat with your right hand, never your left. This can also apply to underdeveloped countries where toilet paper may be a rarity.
Korea: Accept dishes using both hands, not just one.
India: Finish your meal, but eat slow. Enjoy the meal. Also, make sure your hands are clean, and try to only use your right hand as well. Utensils are often not provided.
Chile: Use a fork and knife when eating most everything; manners in Chile are very highly regarded.