As we all grow up, we end up learning a lot about how to conduct ourselves in the world. We learn how to speak to others, how to dress for different occasions, and how to navigate different social situations. One of the things we learn about as we grow up and throughout our lives is how to conduct ourselves at the table. Depending on who you are and where you grew up, you learned totally different rules, and the way you learned them determined how you conducted yourself around food, how you served it, and even how you ate it. This is true of people all around the world.
All over the world, there are different ways of handling food. Table manners all over the world are totally different, and there are good reasons why those table manners are that way. Knowing some of those worldwide table manners can actually save you from some really awkward situations, too. The last thing you’d want to do is use your utensils in such a way that it reminds your dining companion of a funeral. Knowing what’s appropriate at the table all over the world can help you make friends and even show your level of openness as a person. Here are 15 of the weirdest table etiquette rules in the world.
15. Thailand & Forks
The last thing you want to do in Thailand is put food in your mouth with a fork. This might sound really weird, especially if you’re like me and you use forks for everything except for cereal and soup. When you’re eating a dish with cooked rice in Thailand, the thing that you need to do is sort of load the food onto your spoon with your fork and eat it that way. The exception to that rule is when you’re dealing with a dish that’s traditionally eaten with your hands or has to be eaten with a fork. After all, if you’re eating something sticky or glutinous, you can’t really eat it with a spoon. If it’s a dish without cooked rice in it, you can use a fork to eat it, too. In any other circumstance, however, you absolutely need to not eat your food with a fork. In Thailand, doing so is seem as awkward or even tacky.
14. Japan & Chopsticks
Eating food in Japan comes with its own set of rules. Using chopsticks can be pretty hard to navigate, especially if you’re like me and your ability to use chopsticks is nonexistent. However, even if you’re not all that great at using chopsticks, the rules of using them aren’t all that hard to understand. For example, one of the worst things you can do with your chopsticks in Japan is to stick them in your rice upright. If you’re using chopsticks, they need to be placed together directly in front of you between bites, parallel to the edge of the table. There’s no other way to put them that isn’t seen as wrong, except if there’s a chopsticks rest. The last thing you’d ever want to do is just leave them upright in your rice, stuck there. That’s because funerals in Japan involve putting a rice bowl before the coffin with the chopsticks stuck upright in the rice like that. Basically, when in doubt, do literally anything else, or just ask for a fork.
13. South India & Your Left Hand
This is another one that seemed kind of weird to me when I read about it, but when you think about it in regards to other cultures, it makes a lot of sense. It might not make sense in a scientific way, but culturally, even the smallest things can hold significance. For example, in South India, you can’t actually eat using your left hand. You can’t even touch your plate with your left hand while you’re eating. This is because the left hand is associated with bodily functions that involve the end of the digestive process rather than the beginning. Basically, you food goes in with your right hand, and food comes out with your left. This moves beyond just eating too: you can’t even pass important documents to another person with your left hand. If you’re a left handed person, you can use your left hand for those things, but that means that your right hand is just as taboo to use while eating as a righty’s left hand, so you’re still in the same situation.
12. Georgia & Wine
When you think of wine, you might think of French, Spanish or Italian wine, but recently, the wine from the country of Georgia has been on the come up. Georgian wine might seem a little weird, especially if you’re used to the wine that comes from the vineyards of California or Italy. Actually, if you’re used to Western wine, Georgian wine might be a far cry from “normal.” However, Georgian wine is an excellent answer to the demand for “natural wines” made without a ton of processing. If you’re interested in the wines of the country of Georgia, there are some things that you need to know. If you’re in Georgia, wine is only ever drunk during toasts, and then when the toast is made, you have to just down the whole glass at once. Basically, that glass of wine is like a shot, and you have to just throw it back. Luckily, wine glasses in the country are pretty small, so it’s not like you’re going to be getting drunk off of one toast. If you’re not in Georgia and interested in wine from the country, drink it when you’re eating something cooked over a fire. Trust me.
11. Italy & Cappuccinos
Italy is a place where the food is second to none. It’s almost impossible not to have an opinion of Italian food. Either you love it or you hate it, but you probably aren’t neutral about the stuff. When it comes to Italian food and culture, there are certain rules. There are more than a few of those rules, and we’ll get into more of those later, but the one you need to know about for right now is the one about cappuccinos. According to some Italians, you shouldn’t drink a cappuccino later on in the day, because it’ll just upset your stomach. Other Italians believe that a cappuccino with a croissant is a good meal replacement for breakfast. Whether they believe in the former or latter reason, chances are when you’re in Italy, you won’t be seeing people ordering cappuccinos in the afternoon. You’ll never see anyone ordering a cappuccino in Italy after dinner either. Doing so in Italy in the afternoon is an awesome way to broadcast to those around you that you’re a tourist. Espresso is fine, but cappuccinos are strictly a morning drink.
10. Great Britain & The Bishop Of Norwich
Great Britain has a culture that’s steeped in tradition. Some of those traditions are things that we as Americans often take for granted as a part of our own culture. However, some of those traditions are very British in the sense that I’ve only ever heard of the British doing them. One of those traditions involves the way that people eating dinner pass around the wine, specifically if that wine is port. If you’re drinking port wine, you have to pass it to the left. This is one of those rules that you have to get right, because if you pass it to the right, it’s just wrong. We’re not sure why they do this, but I think it has a lot to do with naval tradition. After all, port isn’t just wine, it’s also the left side of a boat.
On top of that, it’s also considered messed up to not pass the port at all, to the point that there’s a traditional way to remind someone to pass it around (to the left, of course). If you’re at a meal, for example, and you’re finding that the decanter has stalled, you have to ask the person if they know the “Bishop of Norwich.” If by chance they don’t know what you’re talking about, you have to reply “He’s a very good chap, but he always forgets to pass the port.” It’s weird, but it’s true, it works, and it’s so widespread, big news outlets write about it.
9. France & Bread
The French have some really amazing food. The French have croissants, wine, incredible pastries, and much, much more. However, with all of their amazing food comes French table manners. For example, if you’re in France, one thing you never want to do is eat bread as an appetizer before the meal. This might seem strange to us, especially in places where diners literally set out bowls of bread before the designated appetizers even come out. If you’re going to eat bread at a meal in France, the way you want to do it is eat it at the same time you’re eating your meal, or just eat the bread during the cheese course of the meal. It’s also perfectly fine to place your bread on the table during a meal in France. It’s actually better if you do that there. This might seem weird to us Americans or people from anywhere other than France, where placing bread on the table and not on a plate might seem weird.
8. Italy & Cheese
We’ve come back to Italy, and for good reason. Evidently, if you’re in Italy, one of the biggest blunders you can commit is asking for parmesan on your pizza. On top of that, if parmesan is not being offered to you, you can’t ask for it. Putting parmesan on pizza in Italy is seen as a cardinal sin over there. It’s kind of like slathering a red velvet cake with mayo: it just doesn’t belong there. In Italy, a lot of their dishes actually don’t need parmesan either. The traditional cheese out there is a cheese called pecorino, and that’s what they top classic pastas with. As a person who loves parmesan cheese and who drowns her pizza in it, I’m suddenly realizing that I might be totally out of my depth for Italy.
7. Chile & Your Hands
In many countries, the kind of utensils you use matters. Many kinds of formal dining rules have a lot to do with what kinds of silverware you use with what kinds of food. For example, you’d never use a salad fork for dessert or a dessert fork with your entree. Those rules differ depending on where you are. For example, if you’re in the South American country of Chile, you have to use forks for everything. When I say everything, I mean everything, too. You can’t even eat fries with your hands. Chile is a lot more formal than other South American countries when it comes to their table manners, probably because they want to identify themselves more with European culture for some reason. So even if you’re a person who thinks that just picking up that fry with your fingers makes more sense, you’d be better off not doing that.
6. Korea & Your Elders
Every country treats their elders differently, but when it comes to East Asian countries like China and Korea, they make it a point to treat their elderly with respect. This is why in those countries, table manners can be totally different when you’re dealing with older people. One such rule comes out of Korea, and it basically says that if you’re getting a drink from an older person, you have to receive it with both hands. You might think this is a little nitpicky, but there’s a good reason for it. Showing respect for your elders is paramount in Korean culture, and this is just one of the ways that they show it. Additionally, when you receive that drink, you have to turn your head away and take a sip of it as discreetly as you can. There are also a couple of other rules you’re going to keep to keep an eye out for in Korea. For example, if you’re eating, you can’t start until the eldest male at the table starts, and you can’t get up from the table until that person is done.
5. Russia & Vodka
If you’re anything like me, you’re a fan of cocktails. Personally, some of my favorite cocktails involve vodka with different kinds of mixers. I actually take a good degree of pride in my strawberry lemonade pineapple mixed drinks, to be honest. However, if I were in Russia, my super cute looking cocktail would be blasphemous. It turns out that if you’re in Russia, the only way you can drink vodka is neat. You can’t even put ice in the cup. Since vodka is Russian in origin, it stands to reason that they’d have strong feelings about how you drink it there. Evidently, adding anything to the vodka is seen as polluting the purity of the drink. The one exception is beer, because beer and vodka together create a crazy strong drink called yorsh. There’s another rule about vodka that’s even more important: you can’t turn it down at all. In Russia, offering a drink is a sign of friendship, and turning down that drink is a sign that you’re rejecting that friendship. Even if it’s bright and early in the morning, if someone offers you vodka in Russia, it’s a good idea to take it.
4. China & Fish
If you’re anything like me, you probably love Chinese food. Personally, I could eat the stuff every day, and there have been a few days at a time where I have come very close to actually doing that. That being said, I haven’t had the privilege of eating Chinese food in China. If I ever did, I’d have an awful lot to learn. See, I’ve always been used to flipping over a fish once I’ve finished one side of it, and if I was in China, that would be the worst thing I could do. In China, especially places in the South and Hong Kong, flipping the fish over is considered bad luck, or “dao yue” in Chinese. Flipping the fish over is basically saying that the fisherman who caught the fish’s boat is going to capsize, which is just not very nice. If you want to eat both sides of the fish, pull the bone out before eating the bottom instead of flipping it over. Some people actually just eat the top half of the fish in order to avoid potentially flipping it.
3. The Middle East & Shaking Your Cup
When you’re dining with Bedouins in the Middle East, you need to shake your coffee cup when you’re done having coffee. This is vitally important, because if you’re eating a meal involving coffee without anyone Bedouin, they’ll keep on pouring you coffee once you’re drained your cup unless you give a signal, and that signal is shaking the cup. You don’t have to do it violently or anything, but you do have to tilt it back and forth a couple of times as you hand the cup back. Middle East based freelance correspondent Haley Sweetland Edwards learned this first hand a few years ago. This rule is so important that Bedouins she was eating with actually made her practice the gesture until she got it right while she was spending time in Qatar.
2. Brazil & Tokens
When I was a little girl, one of the most interesting experiences I’d ever had was at a wedding reception that was being hosted at a Brazilian steakhouse, or churrascaria. It was different from any restaurant I’d ever been to. Instead of having my order taken, we used tokens to take our orders. When a server came out with something we wanted, we had to flip our tokens to the green side so they’d serve us. When we were done, we had to signal it by flipping our token to the other side. I actually almost forgot to do that, and I found later that if I had forgotten, I’d have basically ordered more steak than I’d known what to do with. The point is to strategize with what you order, so you can get the things you want without breaking the bank.
1. Mexico & Tacos
You might be wondering what kind of etiquette is involved in eating tacos. Tacos aren’t wine or coffee, and they don’t necessarily involve the same level of refinement to eat. However, that’s the whole point of these rules. It turns out that in Mexico, eating tacos with a fork and knife is just plain silly, and can even make the person doing it seem snobby. For them, it’s kind of like when we see someone eating a burger with silverware, or even pizza with silverware. Personally, I’d like to apologize to anyone and everyone who’s seen me eat burritos with a fork. I know they’re not tacos, but on more than one occasion, I’ve turned my burritos into burrito bowls this way, and I’ve been known to do something similar on the rare occasions where I do eat tacos. For some countries, it’s polite to eat with silverware, but with Mexico, it’s considered the height of politeness to eat with your hands.