In the United States, we have a general set of rules to follow when dining out and enjoying meals. Like most American customs, dining etiquette changes drastically when you’re in another country. There are specific rules of etiquette to follow when dining abroad. Expectations shift depending on the foreign country.
By remembering these different etiquette rules from around the world, the next time you are dining abroad in one of the countries and continents below, you will blend in like a native.
The majority of restaurants expect you to eat with chopsticks. If you don’t know how, ask your waiter or waitress to assist you. Beware that you do not place your chopsticks upright in the rice. This is a practice reserved for Japanese funerals. Tipping is not customary in Japan and may be viewed as an insult. In contrast, slurping your noodles or soup shows appreciation to the chef. Similarly in China, making a mess at the table or belching shows the chef you enjoyed your meal.
The Middle East
Alcohol is not highly favored as it is in the United States. In general, Muslims do not drink alcohol, therefore you should avoid asking for alcoholic beverages. Drunkenness is considered very distasteful, even if drinking is allowed during your meal.
India and some parts of Africa and the Middle East
Eating with your right hand is the only way to go. The left hand is associated with bodily functions and is considered dirty. If you are a lefty, be sure to avoid using your right hand all together to show that you are not using your left hand out of disrespect.
Late dinner times are not a problem. Sitting down to eat any time after 9 p.m. is customary. Also, you should keep your hands above the table and pass the food with your right hand.
Splitting the bill is not a common practice when dining with others. Bread is generally served with the meal and not considered an appetizer. It is eaten during the meal, not before. Don’t be surprised to see the bread lying on the table versus being placed on a bread plate.
You are expected to use your hands to eat tacos. It is viewed as snobby to use utensils. In Chile, however, touching your food is a violation of etiquette. Chileans are strict about their table manners.
Don’t ask for extra cheese if it is not offered to you. Adding that extra Parmesan cheese to your pizza or seafood dish can be viewed as a sin. When dining in Italy, don’t feel strange about asking for the bill. The waiter will not automatically bring it; this gesture is considered rude.
Be prepared to have a “sip.” Drinking, especially vodka, with a Russian is associated with friendship and trust. If you are offered a drink, you should not turn it down.
They practice a more continental style of eating. This requires holding your fork in your left hand and knife in your right. Keep both hands above the table at all times. You do not want to be seen as someone hiding something, or worse, “touching yourself.”
Know before you go! If you are planning to travel outside of the United States, it is best to research the country’s customs for mealtimes to make sure you abide by the proper rules of etiquette for that location. Always be polite and ask questions if you are unsure.
Safe travels and happy dining!