What dining customs have you encountered in your travels that differ from the ones you use at home?
Has anyone come across instances where table manners or eating etiquette differs vastly from what they're used to, or have you ever accidentally done something considered rude and offensive to locals?
I'm trying to come with a list (not a complete or comprehensive one) of various international dining customs and habits that readers in the U.S would find interesting - you'd be surprised how difficult it can be to locate detailed information on these sorts of things. Plus, it's always fun to share stories.
To start, I don't think that in the states we have much of a standard dining culture - it's kind of an "anything goes" attitude unless you're at a high end restaurant. It is considered rude, though, not to place your napkin on your lap while eating, to burb/belch or make other noises, and to place your elbows on the table (although this one goes ignored constantly). But as to who gets served first (whoever is closest), what hand the fork is in (either), do you eat all your food or not (depends on how hungry you are), there is so set rule. If you don't want to eat/drink something, just say so, no explanation needed. And usually the patriarch of a family will pick up the tab if it's a family affair, but otherwise the tab is split between guests or groups. Whoever doesn't pick up the bill is usually responsible for leaving the tip (guess that's our big cultural difference when dining).
And when I was in France I didn't realize that if you're drinking and socializing with friends, you glass will be refilled every time you empty it - so that if you don't want to drink anymore, best to leave a little in the bottom. And then it was considered impolite to turn down the offer of more....so I ended up drinking way more sangria than I needed. But at least I wasn't rude about it!
In Japan probably the biggest breaches of etiquette you could make are 1) leaving chopsticks standing upright in a bowl of rice, and 2) passing food directly from your chopsticks to another person's chopsticks.
Both are related to funeral customs; 1) incense sticks are placed upright in a bowl of rice, and 2) cremated remains are passed between guests using chopsticks.
When eating noodles, it's normal to slurp away :-) Also you don't pour your own drinks, and are supposed to keep your neighbours' glasses filled.
I find Thailand one of the most difficult places to eat, without discusting all Thai people around with my ''bad'' table manners. You are not supposed to put a fork in your mouth. You are not supposed to put more than a couple of spoonfuls of food on your plate and then you are supposed to eat that couple of spoonfulls slowly and delicately. In company where you are not the one paying, you are supposed to be sure to take more of the cheaper things like rice and less of the more expensive items, when selecting what you will put on your plate. You are not supposed to lick anything. You are not supposed to put something in your mouth with your left hand. And there are some more.
Morocco was quite a challenge for my husband, especially while staying in the Berber villages, eating traditionally with hands, or helping to cook with the people we were staying with. The left hand is considered 'dirty' and cooking, eating etc is done with the 'clean' right hand. My husband is left handed and also has a poor memory 😊 I was constantly having to remind him, and always knew we were offending the people we were eating with when he forgot yet again from thier reactions, even though he would not dream of being disrespectful, he's just very forgetful!
We kept having to remind my little boy not to stick his chopsticks up right in his rice while in China, even though it seemed to him the most logical place to stick them! We had to explain the funerlal coustom to him a few times, but he's only six, so nobody seemed to mind him making that mistake.
We also have quite a few Indian friends here in the Uk who eat traditioally with their hands, when they have dinner parties etc, it always annoyes me when other guests demand forks and spoons and are quite rude about it.
... it always annoyes me when other guests demand forks and spoons and are quite rude about it.
I tried that eating with hands just once in India, before asking for a spoon. Rice and curry on my fingers and getting under my finger nails just did not feel good.
I think sometimes things that are considered good manners make sense, and other times they are invented to embarass and exclude others. For example, the upper classes take part in certain rituals that others dont understand and this makes them somehow superior to those that dont understand.
There are so many eating rituals that have been abandoned in Europe, because as the class system in society became less acceptable, so did imposing illogical dining rules(and other social rules too) on people. Thing like putting elbows on the table during dinner is no longer considered to be a social gaff, except in the most snooty groups.
Oh yes, elbows on tables! I went to a rather snooty school and was forever getting my elbows snapped with a ruler at lunch for commiting such a crime against etiquette.
I only get annoyed when people are so unessicarily rude when asking my Indian freinds for cutlery. They genuinly forget to put out cutlery for people who don't like eating with thier fingers, and are only too happy to give people a spoon if they want one, but I have seen some cases where other friends of theirs have been really rude and made some nasty comments or taken the micky out of them, rather than just asking politly for a spoon. I just think you have to be very aware of other peoples coustoms, especially when they have been so kind to invite you into their home and cook for you, and to to be polite if you want to do something else.
...other friends of theirs have been really rude and made some nasty comments or taken the micky out of them, rather than just asking politly for a spoon.
Geez, I think I would stop inviting people like that for dinner.
To start off, I believe 'ranch dressing' only exists in the US. Most people who grow up in Midwest States dip their pizza in ranch, so imagine how weird to ask for some ranch dressing at a Roman pizzeria (yes, we did this too).
The same analogy with eating spaghetti with ketchup, as I did grow up doing this back in Indonesia. In fact, it seems that anything westerner food should be eaten with only one condiment: ketchup.
In the US, people pour in soy sauce on top of their plain white rice, which I suppose considered to be a weird thing to do for most Asians (again, the same analogy of putting different things on food).
In Indonesia, a lot of local dishes with plain white rice are eaten with your hands, or perhaps dinner spoon (NOT knife and fork). And parents feed their children by mashing small balls of rice and meat on the kids' plate, while the kids running around pretend to be a plane and being fed by balls of 'fuel' - or at least this was my favorite childhood memory growing up, LOL. And yes, left hand is considered unholy, so don't eat with your left hand - not so much problem in Indonesian culture, since all left-handed kids always been 'corrected' to use the right hand while growing up, anyway. That's why there are not so many lefthanded people in Asia.
In part of China and some other Asian cultures, people need to slurp their soup with loud noise - and along with loud burb/belch after meals to complement the chef. If not, then it could be considered rude (although most of people from these cultures also have high tolerance for foreigners and understand the 'ignorance', unlike some of us here in the western culture who consider everything else out of norm is unacceptable and uncultured).
Ditto on chopsticks on rice, a big no-no for Eastern Asian cultures.
These are all great! Thanks everyone for responding. Keep them coming!
I agree that so many social dining customs are the result of class status, probably one reason we have so few in the U.S. (although I certainly wouldn't mind if the teaching of etiquette once again became the norm).
I was also taught to keep your hands in your lap unless you're using one to eat, so left hand usually stays under the table (again, not a rule you'll see followed all that often). I believe in some areas (not sure where exactly) it's improper to hide your hands and you should always keep them in sight when food is being served. Anyone experienced this?