7 Strange Table Manners Around The World: Burping, Farting+

7 Strange & Unusual table manners in France and around the world

We all like to think we have good table manners but what you consider appropriate table manners may actually be considered rude in another country and vice versa! let’s explore some strange table manners around the world.

Why Bother With Table Manners When You Travel To Other Countries?

SLURP…SLURP…SLURP!!!.

That was the sound all around us.
I had been living in Japan for a few months and one of my roommates at the time was a beautiful blond girl from Carmel California.  Let’s call her Jenny.

Jenny was raised like most westerners to believe that you “SHOULD NOT SLURP” and you “SHOULD NOT hold your soup bowl up to your mouth”.

Although Jenny claimed she didn’t want to slurp her noodles because she thought it was disgusting, I think the real reason was that she was self-conscious— We were all pretty young back then, 19 and 20 years old. 

Because we were all standing huddled around a street food cart, Jenny was struggling to hold her bowl in one hand and pick up her slipper noodles with her chopsticks using the other hand. They kept slipping off her chopsticks back into the bowl.—she didn’t really know how to use chopsticks.

Meanwhile, my other girlfriends and I were slurping our delicious and savoury Japanese street and loving it. Even the girls who didn’t know how to really use chopsticks were doing ok because they weren’t averse to holding their soup bowls right up to their mouths and slurping their noodles, which by the way, is a much quicker and easier way to eat hot noodles.

We were all pretty much done eating but Jenny didn’t even make a dent in her bowl of noodles and she was feeling more and more self-conscious and anxious and probably hungry.

Oh Well!

Adapt, adopt, and overcome “or suffer”

Jenny never did adapt to the food, the etiquette or the culture. She ended up returning home shortly after that having had a terrible experience. As for me, I stayed in Japan for a little over 3 years—loving every second of it.

7 surprising & Strange Table Manners From Around The World

If you don’t try to adapt to the local food customs of your host country, you’re missing out and or could end up like my friend Jenny.

The point I’m trying to make is that eating among the locals is going to be one of the most memorable parts of your trip.

Your experiences with the food will give you as much insight into a foreign culture as say going to see the local sites of that country so you had better adapt!

With that said, here are some table manners from around the world which you might find peculiar.

1-  Never, ever leave your chopsticks sticking vertically in a bowl of rice

strange table manners, never stick chopsticks straight up in a bowl of rice

Growing up, my mother used to tell me it was bad luck to stick your chopsticks into your rice. Even to this day, if I see someone sticking their chopsticks in their rice bowl, I have to hold back the urge to grab them and lay them flat on their bowl or plate.

This belief that sticking your chopsticks into your rice when not in use is believed in many Asian countries including Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, China and Korea to name a few.  And the reason it’s considered taboo is that, during funerals, bowls of rice with chopsticks sticking straight out of them are offered to the dead. Passing food between chopsticks is also taboo because this is how the bone ashes are transferred to an urn or bone pot.

2- Slurping is good

Strange table manners from around the world: slurping noodles is not rude

One of my favourite things about Asian food is noodles. Pho, ramen, Udon, Soba, Pad thai….I could go on.

As I mentioned in my story about Jenny in the beginning of this article, slurping noodles in Japan is considered polite. It’s also an indication that the food is good. You’ll probably look weirder for not slurping your noodles.

But be careful, slurping is not considered polite in all Asian cultures. In Thailand and in parts of China it is accepted to slurp but not really encouraged.

Know before you go.

#3- Should you finish all the food on your plate?

in some cultures in not polite to finish off your plate completely

You might be surprised to learn that in some cultures, finishing all your food on your plate is a sign that your host didn’t provide you with enough food and in many cases, your host will continue to serve you each time you clear your plate and drink your entire beverage.

Filipinos, Cambodians, Koreans, Egyptians and Thais will all think this. For Japanese people, finishing one’s plate and rice bowl signifies to the host that the meal is complete and that you appreciate the meal.

When in doubt, observe what other people are doing.

#4- Is it ever polite to fart after a meal?

is it ever polite to fart at the dinner table?

Articles have been circulating around the web that the Inuit people of Canada fart after a meal to express thanks and appreciation after a meal.

As interesting as this sounds, I could find no proof of this whatsoever. I included it on my list but I’m calling bull shit on this one.

5- Yes, You should Belch and Burp:

Is it ever polite to burp at the dinner table?

As strange as it may sound, burping is not considered rude in certain parts of India, China and in Bahrain- A small island country located in the Middle East, just south of Kuwait.

Burping after a meal can be a sign of appreciation and satiety.

6- Don’t Cut Your Salad With A Knife In France!

in France, don't use your knife to cut your salad leaves. Just as you were probably told from an early age to never put your elbows on the table, most French parents teach their children to never cut their salad.

If the leaves in your salad are too large to comfortably put in your mouth, you should gently fold the salad leaves with your knife and fork into a little portion that can be picked up with your fork.

Why is it impolite to cut your salad leaves?

The ironic thing about this French table manner is that most French people have no idea why it’s considered proper etiquette to not cut your salad, however, there is a very practical reason which dates back to a time when knives were made of ordinary steel or iron instead of the stainless steel knives we use today.

Because steel and Iron knives tend to react by tarnishing from vinaigrette or citric juices of the salad dressing, cooks or the person preparing the meal would cut the salad into bite-size pieces before serving guests so the person dining would not need to cut their salad.  (source in French)  The knives were also known to discolour or brown the edge of the cut lettuce.

If the cook saw you cutting your salad after it was served to you, it meant he/she didn’t cut the salad properly and voila a table manner is born.

Do people follow the “no salad cutting etiquette” in France?

In a practical or everyday setting, people in France do in fact cut their salad from time to time. This is from my personal observations eating out in France and at the homes of my friends.

So what’s the right answer?

Keeping your elbows off the table and putting your napkin in your lap is considered proper etiquette in many cultures but people don’t always follow these rules of good manners. The same is true of cutting your salad in France. It’s considered proper etiquette to refrain from cutting your salad leaves but people still do it.

If eating out in a fancy restaurant or if you’re invited to someone’s home to eat in France and your not sure what to do, just use the folding method. You can’t go wrong.

Unlike Americans and Canadians who serve salad as an appetizer or before the main course, in France, the salad is always served after the meal (unless it’s the main course). A salad after the main course serves as a refreshing end to a meal or as a way to cleanse your mouth before serving cheese which is always eaten before the dessert.

7- Use your spoon, not your fork to eat in Thailand

In Thailand, the spoon is the main utensil. The fork is only used to manipulate food onto your spoon and into your mouth

Have you ever gone to a fancy restaurant and weren’t sure which fork to use first?

Fear not. It’s the fork furthest from your plate.

In Thai culture, the fork is not used to shovel food in your mouth. In fact, it never goes in your mouth, or rarely goes in your mouth. Instead, the spoon is the main utensil and it’s usually held in your right hand while the fork is used like a rake to push food from your plate onto your spoon.

You may, however, use your fork to eat anything that is not served with rice like fruit. Got it?

As far as knives go, Thai dishes are usually already in bite size pieces or easy to cut with a fork, such as fish so you usually won’t find or need a knife at a Thai table.

Chopsticks are usually for stand-alone noodle dishes in Thailand, not for rice dishes.

In the northern provinces of Thailand, where sticky rice is predominantly served, you can use your fingers. Simply take a clump of rice in your hand and compress it with your fingers using it to pick up food and sauces.

During the Renaissance period in Europe, there were no forks. The custom of using forks began in Italy but it took a while for it to catch on. Forks were initially viewed almost to a fault as excessively refined. In the case of men, it was even considered a sign of effeminacy.  Even then, only the wealthy could afford them throughout the 17th century.

Don’t take these rules too seriously

Just as you don’t adhere to all the table manner you were taught to follow, not everyone in other countries adheres to their table manner rules 100% either.

When in doubt, look around and see what other people are doing and just follow suit.

Even better, just ask someone. Most people will understand you are in a foreign land and happily help you understand their culture.

And the next time you’re sitting next to someone who slurps at the table, just smile and feel happy that you know, they’re showing their appreciation for their meal.

About the Author

Annie André Is a half Thai, half French Canadian/American freelance writer, digital marketer and author of THE LIVE IN FRANCE GUIDE: an expat travel and lifestyle blog featuring destination guides, inspiration, travel tips, personal advice and anecdotes on working, living and playing in France. ( Equal parts weird, wacky and wonderful).

Lindsay

Japanese noodle bowls are my favorite! When I was there for a month, I quickly adapted the habit–it makes eating them so much easier.

I always try to observe others before I jump into a new culture’s habits, but it’s really interesting how different each country is with what’s considered rude, acceptable or just weird.

    Annie André

    Lindsay,
    I love Japanese noodles too. So delicious and healthy too. Plus super easy to cook.

    And you are so right. IT”S WAAAAAY easier to slurp your noodles than any other way. So much more efficient too.

    Sounds like you are conscience traveler too. I’ll travel with you anytime..

Adrienne

Oh my goodness… I would so mess all of that up I’m afraid.

I can’t eat with chopsticks Annie, I’ve tried and I’m a failed mess. If that’s all I was given I’d probably starve to death.

I worked part time for the Census Bureau a couple years ago. I went into this one home to get the people’s information and I have no idea what culture they were.

They invited me in and they were so warm and welcoming. Only one of them spoke English. They offered me food but I declined. Every 2 minutes she was offering me food again and finally she came over and set it down beside me.

She kept telling me to eat it and I had work to do so I continued to decline. I finally took a bite and then took the rest with me. I later learned that it’s rude to not eat what they had given you but I swear I didn’t know any better and was just trying to get my work done before dark.

I’m an American for goodness sakes and I live in the US. I don’t know other people’s cultures because I don’t visit foreign countries very often at all. I would probably break every rule in the book girl.

I’ll just claim ignorance but I’m NOT licking the plate!

    Annie André

    Oh Adrienne,
    you are adorable.

    Don’t worry, that family probably never considered you rude. They were just doing what they thought was polite. Believe it or not, they are very tollerant of other cultures not understanding their customs.

    Just like, if you had an Inuit over for diner and they kept farting at the table to let you know the meal was amazing. Would you tell them to stop or just chalk it up to their customs? It’s a funny scenario to think about isn’t it. LOL

    I’m find with you not licking your plate. But i’ve been known to lick my ice cream bowl and cake mix bowl with my daughter.
    I have photos to prove it. 🙂 Yes i have no shame…

David W

Cool post! I like to learn these things, but I also like breaking rules.

So, you gotta know em if you wanna break em!

    Annie André

    Funny, you don’t seem like the type to break rules.

Meg

WOW!!! I learn something new everyday. I know David will be happy about the farting one! 🙂 I am awful with chopsticks. I always just use my fingers to eat sushi which I also learn was the proper way to eat sushi…..rice on the other hand, I think I am going to have to practice. Thanks for sharing these. I would have ate all my food on my plate and held in my burps if it wasn’t for you!

    Annie André

    Meg, you are too much. I think you could get away eating any way you like no matter where you are. And i never want to see or smell David Fart 🙂

    You are so correct about how to eat nigiri sushi. (with your fingers). You should also only dip the fish into the soy sauce. Sashimi should be eaten with chopsticks.

    I have found that i make some people uncomfortable when i pick up my sushi with my hands. Mostly because they don’t realize this is how it is to be eaten. So sometimes i use my chopsticks depending who i am with. Thanks for your comment. it’s always appreciated to have a conversation.

Jack

I try to make a point to watch the “locals” and do what they do, as best I can.

I have been fortunate to travel many different places, but I also know that no matter what I do I still look “American.”

Not that it is a bad thing, but my dress, speech and movement give so much away…

    Annie André

    There is nothing wrong with looking or being American.
    In fact, if you do make a faux pas in table etiquete while travelling, most likely people will forgive you because they know and see that you are not from around there. In my travels, other countries are very tolerant to foreigners.

    On the flip side, I’ve seen and heard some horrible things that people have said about Asian, Indian, middle eastern table manners. But that’s another issue.

    I think most people will and do try to respect local customs when travelling. It’s impossible to know everything. The best one can do is try.

Brasilicana

I love this! So fascinating. Today I read a post by a Brazilian blogger living in the U.S. who commented on the fact that Americans eat foods like pizza, sandwiches, and fries with their hands – and to Brazilian eyes, that’s really unsanitary! People here will eat pizza with a knife and fork, fries with a fork, and wrap a napkin around a sandwich or burger so as not to touch it directly with their hands.

    Annie André

    Brasilicana,
    I actually read about certain countries that wold not touch food with their hands but i didn’t believe it. It must be true though….

    I wonder, i would love to find out if any Brazilians have gone to a country where they only eat with their hands and if so, what did they think. How did they deal?

Lenia

Hey Annie,
Haha really great and funny this article. After reading that I feel hungry 🙂
I did not know all these details about Japan. I have never been there. I didn’t know that detail for salad in France. I know that in France they usually do not cut the salad but they put the whole “salad leaf” in the plate. That is a big difference because in Greece we cut the salad leaf in small pieces…

Personally, I have not problem to slurp the noodles but I think my boyfriend will have a big problem. He is getting nervous when other people around are slurping !

My boyfriend has recently visited Birmania, Vietnam, Nepal…in some of these countries people don’t use forks to eat…they use their hands!
That is all I know!
thank you for sharing 🙂

p.s. Annie, if you have sometime time please check out my new WordPress blog. I would appreciate to have your feedback. Thanks!

    Annie André

    Hungry? Lenia you are so funny. Hopefully you ate something and quick. Was it the chicken feet or the thousand year old egg that made you hungry.

Noch Noch

ahahhahahahaha i was rolling with laughter on the floor. i completely see all that and experienced it all, esp the slurping noodles in Japan and not cutting my salad in France. so true, some of these culture sensitivities seem so obvious but not many of us actually realize them beforehand. and the chopsticks in the bowl, big No No!!!!
🙂
Noch Noch

    Annie André

    Noch Nock,
    I knew i would make someone laugh with this post. Customs and table manners were some o the most obvious differences i noticed when travelling. Some people love the difference, while others have a hard time. It’s not for everyone. AND i agree, DO NOT STICK chopsticks in Rice. NO NO NO.. 🙂

Sarah O

This was so entertaining and true! I think the key take-away is Watch what the locals are doing! (At least if you don’t want to look like a clueless tourist.) On the other hand, it’s true that you will probably be forgiven for your faux pas table manners too. But you’ll get extra points if you make the effort.

I can remember being so flummoxed by all of this as a kid – when we lived in Belgium for a few years. I’d had it drilled into my head that I had to switch my fork from my left hand to my right after cutting my food. But over in Belgium that was considered totally weird and inefficient. Everyone just bit off the fork while it was in their left hand! And don’t even get me started about how the kids teased me when I returned to the U.S. and was cutting my pizza with my knife and fork!

Great info – and so important for folks planning a stay in a foreign land.

    Annie André

    Ahh Sarah, the fork thing. I know exactly what you are talking about. Pizza thing too.

    It seems so trivial but can make the experience abroad so much more enjoyable as you already know from the teasing you experienced from your school mates.

Morris

Watching other cultures eat is interesting. Chinese have no problem filling your bowl if you don’t put something in it fast enough.
Cultures affect the way we conduct business as well.
Enjoyed the article.

Hajra

I am an Indian and yes, some of them hold true for us. In most parts of India, burping is seen as a sign that the host prepared delicious, sumptuous meal. When I visited a particular place in India; I was supposed to lick my fingers clean after the meal. And yes, I did it! What is normal for one is abnormal for others! But farting on the table… I might have to be paid to try that custom out! 🙂

    Annie André

    Hajra,
    i think i’ll do great in India. I love licking my fingers.. I don’t like farting at the table.

Steve

Before I took my big trip through Southeast Asia, I looked up table manners so some of these I already knew. I heard once that sticking chopsticks into rice like that was bad luck because it resembled incense sticks for the dead. Or it was something like that. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I made sure that my chopsticks didn’t do that while I was there.

Something you said about finishing your plate explains one meal I had at a nicer restaurant. I finished a side dish and I was completely stuffed, but the server insisted he bring more even though I told him I couldn’t eat anymore.

    Annie André

    Steve,
    You are absolutely right about the reason why chopsticks sticking in your rice is bad luck. it’s the same explanation my step mum gave me.

    Were you in another counttry when your host kept serving you food after you finished your plate?

    Rabi

    Wow Steve, I never thought that would be the reason sticking chopsticks into the rice is prohibited.

    Hello Annie,
    I find your article is interesting to read. I’m going to use it to tell my students here in Indonesia about unique table manners from other countries. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

      Annie André

      Thank You Rabi for stopping by..

Thea

Hi Annie
It’s lovely to be here, I have popped in to read your blog a few times but this is my first comment.

Loved the article. I think I would be a good slurper, particularly when it comes to eating noodles. I can use chopsticks but I am not great with them, so it would be all about slurping and shoveling. Come to think of it not sure if shoveling is acceptable?

Interesting fact about not cutting salad in France, didn’t know that one and probably did the wrong thing a few times when I was there. Speaking of food in France I remember being in Paris years ago at a Korean restaurant. The menu was all in French (not a tourist place which was great) and we ordered Korean which we had never tried either. We had no idea what was going to come out of the kitchen. Turned out it was great though. Interesting little history fact about the forks as well.
Thanks for the informative and fun post.
Cheers
Thea

    Annie André

    Thea,
    It’s so wonderful of you to stop by. I think everyone who has ever travelled to a place where that country speaks another language must surely have a story like yours where they order from the menu and just hope whatever comes out of the kitchen is something that they want to eat.. It was very brave of you. Food can make a trip abroad extraordinary or miserable. You have to eat 3 times a day after all right?

Terri

Great post. Very interesting. I wasn’t aware of several of these. Here’s one more that I learned from my sister who lives in Sweden: in Sweden, it is bad form to take the last piece of anything. You should cut in half and take only half. The next person can cut the remaining half in half again (and so on!).

Sammy

Just to bring some insight about the salad thing.

I am french and I could say it will not be a shame to cut your salad. Sure, not doing it could be a hint of a better education. But I am pretty sure a lot french people do not follow the rule.

    Annie André

    I agree Sammy,
    there are so many manner rules that are considered “proper” but if they are not followed it’s not the end of the world.. Salad cutting included.

Lee

Hi Annie
I have spent quite a bit of time in France and never cutting your salad ever crossed my mind. Could be why I used to get the odd side ways glance now and again when eating out. May not of been but could of.

I love reading facts like this

I can remember in Japan that you never finish your drink unless you want it topping up. That took a bit of getting used to.

Great post lee

CJ

The not-cutting-your-salad thing could be a more or less regional thing too. I am French and where I’m from we just don’t do that. I’ve lived in the US for 14 years now and I still cringe when I see people cut their salad (when it’s not already been cut to bite size during preparation–which is also a huge no-no to me).

Batians

Some of these cultures are weird. Why would the host keep adding food on my plate without asking if am indeed full? And somehow i fail to understand how leaving food on the table goes well with these hosts.

Cem

Hi Annie,

Although I liked and enjoyed your article, I am really curious about where you got the idea about that burping is considered as good manners in Turkey. I am Turkish and it is generally considered not appropriate to burp intentionally. People usually apologize when they do it unintentionally. I would say, in some rural areas it may not be seen as much inappropriate, but it is definitely not considered as good manners in my culture.

El Cid

Funny no one mentioned that when in Europe you use a knife to slide all you food onto the back part of your fork rather than the bowed down side. Bowed side goes up when you eat.

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