“SLURP, SLURP!” That was the sound all around us.
I was 19 years old. My girlfriends and I (all foreigners living in Japan) decided to get a bite to eat at a Japanese food cart (Yatai) after a night out on the town. We found a ramen stand and all agreed it looked delicious so we each ordered a bowl but had to stand and eat because all the seats were taken.
Most of the girls I was with were not very talented with chopsticks so they had to hunch over and bring their ramen bowls close to their lips with one hand and quickly transport the noodles into their mouth and slurp ferociously before they slipped back into the bowl. It was hilarious because noodles were getting whipped everywhere.
Jenny refused to slurp
Jenny was a beautiful blond girl from Carmel California and she refused to hold the bowl up to her lips. She insisted on holding her bowl low to her chest which meant that she had to carry her noodles with her chopsticks a long way up to her mouth.
Each time she grabbed a few noodles between her chopsticks they would slide back down into the bowl with a plop before she could get them to her mouth. This happened over and over again.
We all encouraged her to just raise her bowl closer to her mouth and slurp the noodles but she just couldn’t, she wouldn’t even though the other Japanese patrons were all slurping away.
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”.
Improvise, adapt, and overcome or be miserable!
Jenny never did adapt to the food, etiquette or the culture in Japan. She ended up returning home shortly thereafter. As for me, I stayed in Japan for a little over 3 years—loving every second of it.
The point I’m trying to make is that eating local cuisine among the locals is going to be one of the most memorable parts of your trip. If you don’t at least try to adapt to the local food customs of your host country, you’re missing out and could end up like my friend Jenny, miserable.
You might be interested in reading: Holy Crepe! Why Do French People Eat Crepes on Groundhog day in France
7 surprising & Strange Table Manners From Around The World.
Your experiences with the food can give you as much insight into a foreign culture as going to see the local sites of that country. Rather than judge other countries eating habits, try to understand their origins and try to adapt.
Here are seven table manners from around the world which you might find peculiar but are perfectly normal in other countries.
1- Slurping is good
In Japan, slurping noodles is perfectly fine. It’s an indication that the food is good. You’ll probably look weirder, like my friend Jenny for not slurping your noodles.
But be careful in Thailand and in parts of China where it’s accepted to slurp but not really encouraged.
Know before you go.
2- Never, ever leave your chopsticks sticking vertically in a bowl of rice
My mother used to tell me it was bad luck to stick your chopsticks into your rice.
In some Asian countries like Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, China and Korea, sticking chopsticks in your rice is bad luck or taboo because that’s exactly what you do at some funerals.
When a beloved passes away, the family members prepare a bowl of rice with chopsticks standing vertically inside in the rice bowl. So you could say your tempting death.
Another chopstick taboo: Don’t pass food with your chopsticks to another person’s chopsticks because this is how the bone ashes are transferred to an urn or bone pot.
#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 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?
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:
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!
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.
You’re supposed to gently fold the salad leaves with your knife and fork into a little portion that can be picked up with your fork. Voila!
Why is it impolite to cut your salad leaves?
Although most French people have no idea why they should fold rather than cut their salad, there’s 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 and tarnish the knives with the vinaigrette. (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, I’ve seen French people cut their salad. At fancier get-togethers is when people bring out their best table manners. So go ahead and cut your salad if you need to.
7- Use your spoon, not your fork to eat in Thailand
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 rarely goes in your mouth. The spoon is the main utensil, usually held in your right hand while the fork is used like a rake to push food from your plate onto your spoon. In other words, you use your fork as you would a knife.
The exception is when eating something that isn’t served with rice, like fruits. Got it?
As far as knives go, Thai dishes are usually already cut into bite-size pieces or easy to cut with a fork, such as fish so you don’t really 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 just eat with 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.