When growing up your parents used to bark instructions over your spaghetti bolognaise at you: “elbows-off the table”, “chew with your mouth closed”, “don’t lick your thumbs or fingers or plate”, “don’t eat while talking”, “put your serviette on your lap”, “wait until everyone has been seated and served before eating”, “never leave the table while someone is eating”, “put your knife and fork together when you are finished”, “don’t put salt on your food before tasting it”. And something, ALL PARENTS should be saying now – no cell phones or devices at the table.
These may have been drilled into you as youngsters, but cultures differ and so do faux paus! So, here are some bizarre, as in, different, table manners across the world.
In Italy, don’t ask for cheese like parmesan or mozzarella unless it is explicitly offered. And never place extra cheese on pizza or seafood.
In many cultures, it is rude to start eating your meal before everyone is served. In Italy, this is the case unless your dish is pasta; if it is, it is absolutely acceptable to tuck straight-in.
Also, never order a cappuccino or milky drink after the meal as it doesn’t aid digestion. Stick to espressos or non-milky drinks or be branded a tourist.
In Thailand, don’t use your fork when placing food in your mouth; only use it to push food onto your spoon. It’s also rude to eat the last bite in the sharing bowl. And generally, in Thailand chopsticks are a no-no and a give away that you are a foreigner.
In India, it’s rude to eat too slowly or too quickly; also, you only eat with your right hand (not your left) and be sure to finish your meal as it is rude not too.
In Japan, it is perfectly acceptable to audibly slurp your food and this, in fact, indicates you are enjoying your meal.
But there are some Japanese etiquette no-no’s. For example, never cross or lick your chopsticks or stick your chopsticks vertically in your food bowl (all of which is seen as extremely rude). Also, don’t pass food with your chopsticks (this only happens at funerals).
Oh, and while we are all about what is right and wrong in Japan. Sushi has its own etiquette:
1) You can use both your hands or chopsticks (hashi) when eating sushi.
2) You lightly dip the fish (not the rice) in soy sauce.
3) Put the whole piece of sushi in your mouth (fish-side-down on your tongue).
4) Use the back/blunt end to remove sushi from a shared plate (remember the funeral thing).
5) To indicate you are finished eating, place the chopsticks across your soy sauce bowl.
6) Never rub your chopsticks together to “remove splinters”; this is seen as rude as good sushi bars will never offer crappy chopsticks.
7) Never: bite the sushi in half (open wide 😊), place the ginger on the sushi and eat it (eat the ginger between sushi as a palate cleanser) and never throw the wasabi in the soy sauce (as a soup-sauce dip).
In China, it is rude to finish all the food in the serving bowls as it implies the host didn’t give enough food or wasn’t generous enough when serving; but don’t leave rice in your bowl – that’s rude too. It’s also a no-no to dig through the food for something in particular (like a cashew or something yum).
But it’s acceptable to burp after a meal. It is also, acceptable to mess food on the table (which indicates you enjoyed the meal).
In France, it is etiquette to keep your hands on your table (not on your lap) and it is seen as beyond common to split the bill – one person always pays.
Bread is also used to assist food to your fork (like a knife would) – so tear a piece and usher the food on the fork. Bread is even placed directly on the table where the knife would be.
While on the topic of France – be careful how you eat your lettuce. The proper way is to fold the leaves around your fork and then eat it – no knife in sight!
In Chile, it is extremely rude to eat anything with your hands. Everything must be eaten with cutlery – even fries.
In Afghanistan, if you drop the bread on the floor you don’t bin it; you lift it and kiss it.
In Canada, it is good manners to arrive fashionably late to dinner. Being on time or early is seen as rude.
In Egypt, it is a big no-no to fill your own glass. You have to fill your neighbour’s glass and they have to fill yours. The glasses always have to be over half full or they need refilling and if your neighbour has forgotten you, you can remind them by filling their glass.
Also, when filling tea in Egypt, it is not uncommon that the cup is filled until it overflows onto the saucer.
If you have a heavy hand when it comes to salt – you may not want to visit Egypt. Adding salt to your food is seen as a massive insult. The reason is that the person who cooked your food wanted it to taste in a certain way – by adding salt you are changing that and essentially saying you don’t like their cooking.
And in Portugal, they are also as sensitive with the seasoning. If there isn’t salt or pepper on the table – don’t ask for it!
In Ethiopia, it is good manners to only eat with your right hand. Hey, it’s a righthanded world. It’s also deemed wasteful to eat with utensils and on more than one plate. Communal eating is a biggie.
In Russia, vodka is consumed clean (no mixes); not even with ice because it “pollutes” the vodka’s purity. There is one exception to the rule – beer and vodka can be mixed to create “yorsh”. In addition, offering someone a drink is a sign of trust and friendship – and saying no is seriously offensive.
So enjoy that very neat drink with a stranger when offered in Russia, da? 😊
In Tanzania, it is customary to hide the soles of your feet/shoes when you eat. Even though eating on the carpet or mat is routine.
In Nigeria, the women in the Kagoro Tribe are not allowed to use spoons when eating.
#16 PERU, ARGENTINA, CHILE AND BOLIVIA
In countries like Peru, Argentina, Chile and Bolivia it is completely acceptable to spill a few drops of your drink and say the phrase: “Para la Pachamama”; this is part of a ritual known as “ch’alla” and is done as a homage to the goddess of fertility and goddess of harvest.
In certain parts of Spain, there are tapas bars where diners and staff are encouraged to drop items like napkins, cigarette butts, and food scraps on the floor instead of the bin. The logic behind this is: the messier the establishment, the busier and successful it has been; therefore, attracting more customers.
In Mongolia, it’s not bad table manners to flick several drops of your drink (like vodka) in the air, on the floor and on your head before starting to drink it.
In Korea, the elders give the cues. So, it is good manners for you to wait until the elders start to eat and then to keep pace with them during the meal. And like the Egyptians, it is polite in Korean culture for your neighbour to top up your drink.
#20 BRITAIN… (AND AMERICA)
In Britain and America, the “proper” way to use a teaspoon when stirring a cup of tea is not to touch the sides; also, never leave the spoon in the cup and place the spoon on your saucer parallel to the teacup handle.
In Britain, it’s polite to eat your soup tilted slightly away from you and then you scoop away from you and sip daintily from your spoon.
What weird table etiquette have you encountered over the years? Or what basic table manners that people get wrong irritates you to the bottom of your toes and heart?
Don’t forget to please like and/or share this blog to support a South African blogger in need of readers. 🙂