Have you ever wondered whether any of the dining customs you grew up with would be considered strange or rude in a different culture? For most of us, the rules of dining etiquette we learned as kids are so ingrained in our minds that it seems odd they could differ wildly in another country. For a look at customs as varied as different ethnic cuisines, we’ll explore general dining manners around the world along with the dining etiquette rules of specific countries.
Table of Contents:
African Dining Customs
Africans are known for being extremely hospitable and generous. It is a treat to be invited to dine at someone’s home in Africa because hosts delight in entertaining and taking care of their guests. To show gratitude, a guest can follow their host’s lead and try to abide by their traditional dining customs.
These basic guidelines for countries in various regions of Africa can help you dine respectfully during a visit:
Kenyan etiquette begins before you even enter the home because it’s essential you take off your shoes before walking through the door. Once inside, be sure to wash your hands both before and after the meal. Take your seat so that your feet and toes are not pointing toward any of the other guests or the food. Like many African countries, Kenya doesn’t use utensils so be careful to eat with only your right hand throughout the meal.
Much of Morocco’s manners revolve around communal eating in which guests are to eat from the portion of the communal bowl closest to them. Only eat with your right hand, as the left hand is considered unclean, and never put your hand back in the communal bowl if you put it in your mouth. If you take a bone from the food, be aware that you’ll be expected to suck the marrow from it.
Because of its British colony roots, urban South Africa is largely westernized and follows the same dining etiquette as most Western cultures. Utensils are normal and typically held in the same hands for the entirety of the meal. Although much of South Africa follows Western eating habits, it’s best to know the basics of traditional South African dining manners for communal eating before traveling to the area.
Asian Dining Customs
As the largest continent, Asia contains a variety of dining customs. In general, you should brush up on your chopstick skills if you’re going to dine in Asia. Those who cannot master chopsticks can use them together as a scoop and hold their bowl close to their mouth to catch any crumbs.
Here are some more country-specific tips for Asian dinner etiquette:
There are lots of different dining customs across China, but it’s always safe to assume that seniority rules — follow the eldest diner’s lead for seating and when to begin eating. In between bites, guests should never rest their chopsticks vertically in their bowl, as this is considered to bring bad luck. Instead, you can use the chopstick stand that will likely be placed beside your plate. Be prepared to drink some tea and remember to tap your fingers on the table a couple of times after being poured a cup to express your thanks.
As an island country, Japan is known for its fresh seafood, especially sushi. While eating sushi, be careful not to use your chopstick like a spear to stab a piece, and don’t douse it in soy sauce. It’s also important to finish all the food on your plate in Japan to avoid “mottainai,” which is the feeling of having wasted something or regret.
When ordering with a group in Thailand, be aware that the dishes will be shared among everyone at the table. Although there will be a lot of chatter while passing the dishes around, chew your food quietly. Do your best to not eat with your fork, using it only to push food onto your spoon. If you are the guest of honor, be ready to deliver a short toast to wrap up the meal.
European Dining Customs
Compared with America, European countries are a bit stricter about tableside etiquette and keeping elbows off the table. Avoid this blunder by resting your wrists on the dinner table’s edge. Most of Europe’s dining etiquette follows the Continental style, in which the knife is held with your left hand and the fork with your right the entire time you’re eating.
Meals tend to last longer in European countries, so guests will need to sustain these etiquette practices through multiple courses:
To enjoy a good fish and chips meal, you have to know proper table manners. The English never switch the hand their fork and knife are in and always pass the serving dishes to the left in a clockwise rotation. The head of the table is the most honored position, usually reserved for the host, with honored guests seated to the left and right of the table’s head.
Unlike in the U.K., in Greece the table placement of the highest honor for dinner guests is in the middle of the table, flanking the host who is at the center. You should not begin eating until your host invites you to dig in, but once you begin, don’t stop. Taking second and third helpings is a huge compliment to your Greek host, so don’t be surprised if more food is offered insistently.
When you walk into most German restaurants, seat yourself instead of waiting to be directed to a table. Once you get dinner rolls, you should break them apart by hand, but that is the only time Germans allow eating with your hands — even fruit and sandwiches are eaten with a fork and knife in Germany. If you’re eating fish in Germany, never cut it with anything but a fish knife. Use two forks to eat your seafood if a fish knife isn’t offered where you’re dining.
North American Dining Customs
Table manners in North America are largely based on European customs, meaning the Continental style is widely accepted. Dining customs in North America are more relaxed than other countries, but there are still some dining etiquette rules to adhere to.
Here’s how dining etiquette may vary by country in North America:
At a dinner in Canada, wait to begin eating until your host starts eating. Follow your host’s lead on whether or not to eat a dish with your hands, which will be an extremely rare occurrence. Make your host happy by eating everything on your plate and expressing your enjoyment of the meal. If you are served a type of food you don’t particularly care for, try to avoid it discretely and most likely no one will draw any attention to it. Be aware that dining etiquette rules are a bit more formal in Quebec than the rest of Canada.
After being seated in an American restaurant, immediately place your napkin on your lap and wait to start eating until everyone has received their food and the host has taken their first bite. While eating, either the Continental or American style of holding your fork like a pencil is permissible. Americans tend to eat more quickly than those from other countries, as dinner is often more about eating than lingering and socializing. This means that guests are expected to arrive on time so the meal may begin promptly.
In Mexico, the meal starts the moment your host says, “Buen provecho!” Once your host has invited you to eat and the meal has officially begun, it’s looked down upon to leave the table or dinner party until it has concluded. Don’t be surprised if a salad is served after the main course, as this is common practice in Mexico. To be polite, try to leave a small portion of food on your plate after you’ve finished eating.
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