Fingers or Forks – Local habits & table manners

Don't mind my foot (by Juhan Sonin)

Don’t mind my foot (by Juhan Sonin)

Oh boy oh boy, farting and belching at the table? Surely not? But yes, in some cultures it’s considered acceptable ánd a nice gesture towards the chef of your meal. On your travels, have you ever been on the receiving end of astonished looks while consuming a meal? Or were you the one giving others the eyeball? We’ve decided to list some facts and habits we’ve come across online or whilst traveling. Some of these are quite unusual, but you’d best heed them if you want to truly travel -and eat- like a local.

“Bring the spoon to your mouth, not your mouth to the spoon.” – My Dad

Dining out

Don’t assume that bringing gifts for your host is appropriate across the globe, in Portugal it’s considered rude to bring wine as a thank you while in Germany it’s almost mandatory. Do not bring red roses though, because that’s just too romantic.

In America and in most European countries dinner at 19:00 means dinner at 19:00, but it’s been noticed that in Greece and Canada there’s some leeway. So yeah, fashionably late is definitely a thing there. And once you’re finally sitting down for dinner, do not even think of taking a bite before your host does, or any senior member at the table for that matter.

Licking the plate

That’s probably only okay in informal settings, but did you know that finishing off all the food on your plate is not always acceptable? In Russia it’s considered polite to leave a little behind as tribute to your host’s hospitality. In other cultures it implies that your host did not serve you enough and you’re actually still hungry (Asia). But in Europe and America leaving food on your plate is wasteful.

This is where it gets confusing, leaving some food on your plate suggests you want more in some places while in others it implies you’re full and satisfied. It’s a safe bet then to place your cutlery at a 4:20 position with the fork prongs facing down to show you’re done.

Fingers or Forks?

In some places, like Chile, touching food with your hands is a sign of bad manners. You use utensils for everything, while in Mexico that’s actually considered snooty. In France you use two hands at all times and you can use bread as a utensil too. But the two hands are important in Europe, it shows disinterest if you leave one hand on your lap which is common dining etiquette in the U.S. In Russia it’s also considered impolite to rest your hands on your lap. I think we can all agree, that while dining, elbows on the table are always a no-no. And if you’re ever dining in the Middle East, India or some parts of Africa, don’t use your left hand as that’s considered unclean.

When it comes to cutlery there are many different accepted ways. In some places you cannot eat off your fork, you merely use it to build a pile on your spoon and then eat from said spoon. But if you’re eating pasta in Italy, a fork is the only acceptable tool. In America you may use your fork in your right hand to eat the softer foods on your plate. It goes back to your left hand when you want to cut meat though.

Speaking of cutting, in Italy, The Netherlands and France you do not, I repeat you do not, cut your salad (or your pizza in Italy)! And using a knife to cut your potatoes in Germany implies your chef or host did not cook them properly.

Things you shouldn’t ask for

Yep, there are ‘rules’ in that aspect too. In Italy it’s considered rude to ask for extra cheese, unless it’s offered to you. Thinking of asking for extra cheese for on your pizza? Think again! And if you’re in Portugal, don’t ask for salt and pepper if it’s not on the table. Asking for that is tantamount to saying the chef doesn’t know how to use seasoning.

It’s late morning and you’re in Italy. Craving a cappuccino? Too bad, that’ll have to wait until tomorrow. A cappuccino after a meal is bad for your digestion. Some people say Italians think of a cappuccino more as a (breakfast)snack between meals, and one that is never ordered in the afternoon.

There are many more table manners out there that I haven’t even begun to mention here. But this is probably enough to get you started. Common sense works in most cases though. Now I’ve used a lot of “do this” and “don’t do this”,  but it goes without saying that if you feel like eating with your fork in your right hand, with your elbows on the table, and chewing with your mouth open, well… I tried.

Over to you, what curious table manners have you come across on your travels?

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Last Changed Date: 2016-05-19 11:45:13 +0200 (Thu, 19 May 2016)