Dining etiquette (or rather the lack of it) has been known to result in many unsuccessful business meetings, bad dates, and awkward gatherings. Every culture has specific rules and customs related to food. When you are in unfamiliar territory – travelling abroad or meeting foreign clients – it helps to know about some of these rules, so you don’t come across as being disrespectful.
So, we did some research about the dining etiquette that tourists, dining and culture experts, and restaurateurs across the world recommend you to learn.
Brush up your manners when dining with the Germans. Don’t be afraid to give everyone a firm handshake – it is considered good manners to look everyone in the eye and greet them.
Also, if it is an informal meeting, don’t forget to get a gift for the host or hosts. Gifts are a great way of thanking the hosts for inviting and feeding you. If you are dining with your business associates, don’t address them by their first names. In a formal setting, Germans prefer to be addressed by their second names along with a prefix that conveys respect.
If you are unsure about the seating arrangement, wait for the host to guide you to your seat. As for toasting, wait for everyone to be seated with drinks in their hands and then toast by looking everyone in the eye. It is wise to wait until everyone is served, and the host asks everyone to start eating with a ‘enjoy your meal.’
In many Asian cultures, people are known to eat with their hands and the Americans have something called ‘finger foods.’ However, eating with your hands is a big no-no for the Germans (and for the British, too). In German fine dining, even pizza and burgers are eaten with a fork and knife.
In American and British culture, keeping your left hand under the table or on your lap will not attract any criticism. In the German culture, you must keep both your hands on the table – no elbows though. Since you’ll be eating with a fork and knife the entire time, this shouldn’t be difficult at all.
The Germans consider it impolite when people leave food on their plate. So, remember to take small portions of food and clean your plate before you get up from the table.
While in some cultures it is considered rude to offer to pay your share after finishing a meal, the Germans have been known to split the bill when dining out with friends and family. In fact, in Germany, the server might ask you whether you wish to pay together or separate. If you choose to pay the entire bill, you might have to insist twice or more – that way you won’t make others feel uncomfortable.
The Chinese are very particular (and quite unforgiving) when it comes to people not following their dining etiquette. Right from the seating arrangement to the correct way to eat with chopsticks – the Chinese have many customs they follow during formal and informal meetings. For instance, it is considered rude to use your phone, watch television, read, etc. while dining with everyone.
If you’re going to a formal meeting, wait for the host to introduce you to everyone and guide you to your seat. In an informal meeting like a family gathering, everyone waits for the eldest member to take their seat. They follow a similar rule when eating – the most senior member asks everyone to start eating.
While serving yourself, don’t dig through the food for the good parts. For instance, don’t go looking for meat chunks inside a bowl. Just take a small portion of food quickly and pass on the bowl or dish to others.
Also, if you’re looking to finish a dish, it is polite to ask everyone whether they want it. If they refuse, you can go ahead and finish the food.
In Chinese culture, people put incense sticks into a pot of rice vertically during funerals. So, if you leave your chopsticks vertically in the bowl, it’ll be looked down upon. Also, don’t play with your chopsticks or use them to point at something or someone.
There are some unsaid rules that the French follow when it comes to dining. For instance, you’ll benefit from being well-dressed for a formal or an informal meeting. Remember, it is always better to be overdressed than to be underdressed.
Taking a bottle of nice French wine usually meets the host’s approval. However, it’s always better to consult the host about it. If others are bringing home-made goodies, you wouldn’t want to be the only one who got just a bottle of wine.
The French consider it bad manners to leave the table during a meal. Even when you’ve finished your meal, you must wait for the others to finish and then ask to leave the table. Hence, visit the washroom before you start eating.
Bread is a staple item that complements various French dishes. While eating your bread, place it on the plate on your left and break it into small pieces to eat. Biting directly into your bread isn’t acceptable. If you wish to clean your plate for the next course, you can use the bread to clean the plate.
Also, remember to keep your hands on the table at all times.
You’re expected to finish all the food served to you. However, asking the host or server to give you more sends a wrong message. The French host might be offended, thinking that they failed to offer you enough food. So, be polite and don’t ask to be served for a second time.
Italian food is considered to be one of the finest cuisines in the world. So, it’s no wonder that the Italians like to follow certain dining customs. Like the Chinese, the Italians show respect to their elders or senior members. Hence, it is a custom that the elders are allowed to enter the dining space first and be seated.
The most honorable guests at the gathering are made to sit at the middle of the table – on both sides.
Italians use both knife and fork to eat. They never switch the utensils – the fork is always held in the left hand and knife in the right hand. To twirl the pasta, instead of using a spoon, use a fork and sides of the plate or bowl.
When you finish your meal, lay the fork and knife parallel to each other on the right side of your plate. This is an indication for the waiters that you’re done, and they can take your plate.
While the French find it acceptable, the Italians don’t like it when people use bread to clean the gravy or sauce on the plate. You can, however, use the bread to soak it up. Also, while passing the dishes to others, remember to always pass to your left.
Middle eastern countries have unique dining etiquette that is very different from what people follow in the western part of the world. Like in China and Japan, showing respect towards elders by greeting them first and waiting for their cue to start eating, is also considered important in Saudi Arabia.
Also, remember to wash your hands before you sit at the table and after you’ve finished your meal. Don’t be surprised if men and women are asked to dine separately.
While you may see the locals using utensils (forks, knives and spoons) to eat at a formal event, usually they eat with their right hands. If you are invited to dine at a family gathering, you might be required to eat out of a common platter.
A lot of family meals and business lunches in Saudi Arabia are arranged at the floor level. The proper way to sit is to cross your legs. Remember that the soles of your feet should never be visible – it is considered disrespectful.
If your Indian colleague or friend invites you to eat at his or her home, don’t expect to be taken to the dining table just after you arrive. Your Indian hosts will likely offer you some drinks (alcoholic or non-alcoholic) and snacks before they invite you into the dining room.
It is customary for Indians to eat with their right hand – the left hand is considered unclean. You may use your left hand to hold your drink glasses and pass the dishes. If you are having an Indian vegetarian meal, there won’t be any forks or knives. You may eat with your hands or using a spoon. Most Indian hosts will, however, understand if you would rather eat with a fork and knife.
If all the people on the table order different dishes, you must ask everyone whether they would like to try the one you’ve ordered. If they say yes, serve them out of the common dish or bowl. Don’t share food from your plate or take food from someone’s plate – it is considered bad manners.
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