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” It just wasn’t civilized. Jenny thought it was absolutely disgusting that everyone around her was slurping and would not lower herself to slurping. I think she was self conscious.
We tried to explain to Jenny that slurping was a sign to the chef or in this case, the street vendor where we were eating the noodles that the food was delicious. NOPE! She wanted nothing to do with any slurping. Oh Well!
Adapt and adopt or suffer
Jenny never did adapt to the food, the etiquette or the culture. She ended up returning home within a month with a terrible experience while I continued on with my travels for a total of 3.5 years… loving every second of it.
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!
7 surprising examples of some strange table manners around the world
Don’t be a Jenny. If you don’t try to adapt to the local food customs of the country you are visiting you probably won’t fully enjoy yourself. With that said, here are some table manners from around the world which you might find peculiar.
1- NEVER, EVER, NEVER leave your chopsticks sticking vertically 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, 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 because 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
One of my favourite things about Asian food is noodles. Pho, ramen, Udon, soba to name a few.
As you just read in my story above, in Japan, slurping is considered polite. It’s also an indication that the food is good. You’ll look weirder for not slurping your noodles. Trust me.
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. Just know before you go.
#3- Should you finish all the food on your plate?
You might be surprised to learn that in some cultures, finishing all your food on your plate is a sign that your host did not 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 ones 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?
I heard that farting was NOT rude in certain cultures but I wasn’t really sure if was true or not so I did a little research. Turns out Farting after a meal is an expression of thanks and appreciation to the Inuit people of Canada? I’m not sure if I believe this one so if you know otherwise, please let me know. I’m really curious.
5- Yes, You SHOULD Belch and Burp:
As strange as it may sound, burping is not considered rude in parts of India, China and in Bahrain- A small island country located in the Middle East, just south of Kuwait. Burping after a meal shows a sign of appreciation, satiety and being well fed.
6- Don’t Cut Your Salad With A Knife In France!
Proper etiquette in France when eating a salad is to fold the salad leaves onto your fork if they are too big to put in your mouth. Never are you to cut your salad with a knife. This rule of etiquette is taught to many French children from an early age just as you were told never to put your elbows on the table. Most French people have no idea why it’s considered rude but I know.
The belief that cutting your salad is rude originates from a very practical reason. In the days when utensils were not stainless steel, the vinaigrette in the salad dressing would tarnish the knife. To avoid this from happening, the cook would cut the salad into bite size pieces before serving it.
If she saw you cutting your salad after it was served to you, it meant that the cook did not cut the salad properly. Don’t worry though, loads of French people cut their salad and you won’t be judged whatsoever.
The only time you may want to think twice about cutting your salad is if you are in a fancy restaurant where they had in fact cut your salad for you. By the way, salad is always served after the meal in France and not before.
7- Don’t eat with a Fork please
Have you ever gone to a fancy restaurant and weren’t sure which fork to use. Fear not. It’s the one furthest from your plate.
In Thai culture the proper way to enjoy Thai food is with a spoon in your right hand and a fork in your left. The fork is not used to shovel food in your mouth, in fact it never goes in your mouth. Instead the fork is used like a rake to rake food from your plate onto your spoon. Chopsticks are usually used only for stand alone noodle dishes. You may however use your fork to eat anything that is not served with rice like fruit. Got it?
Some countries don’t even use forks but rather eat with their hands like Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan.
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 like Americans and Canadians who don’t adhere to all their table manner rules, not all people in other countries adhere to their table manner rules 100%.
For instance, it’s generally believed that you should not put your elbows on the table or a napkin on your lap but not everyone adheres to these rules 100 percent.
When in doubt, look around and see what other people are doing and just follow suit. Better yet, just ask someone. And the next time you are sitting next to someone who slurps at the table, just smile and feel happy that you know, they are showing that they are enjoying their meal.