Dining etiquette around the world: the dos and don’ts

When travelling around the world, you’re bound to end up in a local restaurant somewhere along the way, and then what? Fork, spoon, or chopsticks? To tip or not? As many may have discovered, a country’s dining etiquette can leave you walking on the eggshells of the safe and steady omelette you’ve ordered. When customs vary so widely from place to place, it can be hard to know if you’re unknowingly offending anyone. To help you avoid upsetting the chef, we’ve got a quick round-up of dining dos and don’ts for five potentially tricky destinations.

Escargot

Escargot – a popular dish in France and other parts of Europe

France

French cuisine is synonymous with perfect pastries, crusty bread, delicious wines and excellent cheeses. It shares a love for escargot (land snails) with other parts of Europe, and its penchant for frog’s legs with Southeast Asia. But how to eat delectable delicacies such as these without a hiccup? For a start, keep your hands above the table – you’ll need them anyway to tear the bread, which you can use to help put food onto your fork. When you’re done, keep the bread on the table (not on your plate) and don’t split the bill, it’s considered uncouth.

Snapper topped with sauce

Thai dishes are often decorated with flowers made from raw vegetables

Thailand

Forks can be put in your mouth without a hitch in France but not when you’re in Thailand. Here, a fork is used as a tool for pushing food onto your spoon, which can then be safely lifted to your mouth. There’s no customary need to use chopsticks either, unless you’re eating a Chinese-style dish served in a bowl. Thai food is all about sharing, with dishes served all at once rather than in stages, spread around the table. So tuck in but be warned, it’s considered impolite to take the last portion from the sharing bowl.

Ramen

Ramen noodles – make sure you slurp them

Japan

Roll over from spooning in Thailand and you’re faced with chopsticks alone in Japan – spoons are uncommon here. So, how do you eat Japanese favourites like miso soup or ramen noodles? You slurp them up straight from the bowl. Slurping is a sign of appreciation and if it’s loud enough to reach the chef’s ears back in the kitchen, then all the better. When you are wielding your chopsticks in confident strokes, be sure not to cross them or lick them, and don’t put them upright in a bowl of rice – this is how food is offered to the dead in Japanese Buddhist ceremonies and so can bring about bad omens. Passing food using chopsticks is also frowned upon as it’s reserved for funerals only. Tipping in Japan is extremely rare and is often considered rude.

Indian-style curry

An Indian curry, packed with flavour

India

From cutlery conundrums to the puzzle of no cutlery at all, India’s dining habits call for eating with just your right hand (the left hand is considered unclean) and it’s important to wash them thoroughly first (fingernails and all). It’s not as messy as it sounds if you use your fingertips to mix the food on your plate, lower your head to bring your mouth closer, then scoop up your food with your fingertips and push them into your mouth using your thumb to help. Pace is important when dining in India, too – try to keep it moderate, it’s also best for digestion. Finishing your entire meal is considered polite, as wasting food is disrespectful, so do be sure not to bite off more than you can chew when ordering.

Dried shredded pork chinese food

Dried shredded pork – a popular dish in China

China

In China, it’s a different story when it comes to leaving food behind – a small amount of food left on your plate is considered a polite gesture, as it shows your host that you’ve been given more than enough, denoting their generosity. Just as well, as you won’t be able to express it through tipping – it’s not the done thing here (some restaurants even adopt a ‘no tipping’ policy). Keep your eyes off the prize when eating, as picking your favourite ingredients out of dishes is a big no-no. And be sure to dress neatly – it’s a sign of respect to other diners. Finally, break every rule you know and belch – it’s a great compliment to the chef and signifies that you’ve enjoyed a satisfying dinner.

Spaghetti - an Italian speciality

Spaghetti – an Italian speciality

The rest of the world…

When it comes to the rest of the world, there’s a whole menu of at-the-table tips to digest. In Italy, asking for Parmesan cheese to sprinkle on your food is as much of a faux pas as asking for salt and pepper in Portugal (it’s considered an insult to the chef), but tipping up to 10% is common in both. In Germany, you should crush your potatoes with your fork, rather than cutting them with a knife (if suggests you think they’re undercooked) and, if you’re eating tacos in Mexico, you can forgot the cutlery altogether and just use your hands. If you wind up at a traditional dinner party in Georgia, don’t sip your wine throughout – down it during toasts instead (don’t worry, there are plenty!). And, in Korea, if an elder hands you a dish, accept it with both hands, and don’t start eating until they do as a sign of respect.

Images: Thinkstock.

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