Feb 26 2012

15 International Food Etiquette Rules

Dining etiquette abroadYou have good manners, right? After all, you (usually) keep your elbows off the  table and say "Please pass the salt," right? But when you head abroad,  things get a little more complicated. Case in point: Rest your chopsticks the  wrong way, and you might remind a Japanese friend of their grandmother's funeral  (Rule 2). But knowing what the etiquette rules are won't just save you from some  awkward situations, says Dean Allen Foster, author of the Global Etiquette  Guide series. It can also help you make friends. "It's really a statement  of your openness and awareness of the fact that the people you're with... may in  fact see the world differently," he says. "It's simply going to get you out of  the tourist bubble." Sound good? Then here are 15 rules to keep in mind: 

In Thailand, don't put food in your mouth with a fork.
Instead, when eating a dish with cooked rice, use your fork only to push food  onto your spoon. A few exceptions: Some northern and northeastern Thai dishes  are typically eaten with the hands—you'll know you've encountered such a dish if  the rice used is glutinous or "sticky." Also, stand-alone items that are not  part of a rice-based meal may be eaten with a fork. But, says Leela  Punyaratabandhu, a food writer who blogs at SheSimmers.com, the worst thing to do at a  traditional, rice-based meal would be to use chopsticks. "That is awkward and  inconvenient at best and tacky at worst," she says.

In Japan, never stick your chopsticks upright in your  rice.
Between bites, your chopsticks should be placed together right in front of  you, parallel to the edge of the table—and nowhere else, says Mineko Takane  Moreno, Japanese cooking instructor and co-author of Sushi for Dummies.  (If there is a chopsticks rest, you use it, putting the tips you've been eating  with on the rest.) But sticking them upright in a bowl of rice is even worse:  During funerals in Japan, the rice bowl of the deceased is placed before their  coffin... with their chopsticks upright in the rice. So what would she rather  see: Someone doing that at a meal, or asking for a fork? Mineko doesn't  hesitate. "Asking for a fork," she says.

In the Middle East, India and parts of Africa, don't eat with your  left hand.
In South India, you shouldn't even touch the plate with  your left hand while eating. That's largely because the left hand is associated  with, um, bodily functions, so it's considered to be dirty. In fact, says  Foster, don't even pass important documents with your left hand. A lefty? Then  it's okay to use your left hand—as long as you take your right hand out of the  game.

At a traditional feast in Georgia, it's rude to sip your wine. At what Georgians call a supra (traditional feast), wine is  drunk only at toasts. So wait for those... and then down the whole glass at  once. On the upside, says Georgia-based photographer and videographer Paul  Stephens, the glasses tend to be on the small side.

In Mexico, never eat tacos with a fork and knife.
Worried about spilling refried beans and salsa all over your front? Tough.  Mexicans think that eating tacos with a fork and knife looks silly and, worse,  snobby—kind of like eating a burger with silverware. So be polite: Eat with your  hands.

In Italy, drink a cappuccino only before noon.
Some Italians say that a late-day cappuccino upsets your stomach, others that  it's a replacement for a meal (it's common to have just a cappuccino, or a  cappuccino and a croissant, for breakfast). Either way, you won't see Italians  ordering one in a café at 3 p.m.—and certainly not after a big dinner. Do so,  and you'll be instantly branded a tourist. If you need that coffee fix, though,  an espresso is fine.

In Britain, always pass the port to the left—and remember the Bishop  of Norwich.

It's unclear why passing port on the left is so important; some say it has to  do with naval tradition (the port side of a boat is on your left if you're  facing the helm). Regardless, passing the decanter to the right is a big gaffe.  So is not passing it at all. If you're at a meal and the decanter stalls, then  ask the person with it, "Do you know the Bishop of Norwich?" If they say they  don't know him, reply, "He's a very good chap, but he always forgets to pass the  port." It sounds weird, but it's true. Instead, eat it as an accompaniment to your food or,  especially, to the cheese course at the end of the meal. That said, one thing  that would be a faux pas anywhere else—placing bread directly on the table and  not on a plate—is perfectly acceptable in France—in fact, it's preferred.

In China, don't flip the fish.
Although you might be used to flipping over a whole fish  once you've finished one side, don't—at least not when you're in China,  especially southern China and Hong Kong. That's because flipping the fish is dao yue in Chinese, a phrase similar to "bad luck." Plus, says Foster,  "to flip the fish over is like saying that the fisherman's boat is going to  capsize." The most superstitious will leave the bottom part untouched, while  others will pull off the bone itself to get to the bottom.

In Italy, don't ask for parmesan for your pizza—or any other time  it's not explicitly offered.
Putting parmigiano on pizza is seen as a sin, like putting Jell-O on  a fine chocolate mousse. And many pasta dishes in Italy aren't meant for  parmesan: In Rome, for example, the traditional cheese is pecorino, and  that's what goes on many classic pastas like bucatini all'amatriciana, not parmesan. A rule of thumb: If they don't offer it to you, don't  ask for it.

Don't eat anything, even fries, with your hands at a meal in Chile.
Manners here are a little more formal than many other South American  countries. So while it might be the most practical to just pick up those fries  with your fingers, don't do it. "The greater need is to identify with European  culture, so food is [eaten] with a knife and a fork," Foster says.

In Korea, if an older person offers you a drink, lift your glass to  receive it with both hands.
Doing so is a sign of respect for elders, an important  tenet of Korean culture. After receiving the pour with both hands, you should  turn your head away and take a discreet sip, says Stephen Cha-Kim, a Korean-born  worker's rights advocate who regularly visits family in Korea. "To this day, if  anybody hands me anything, both hands shoot out instinctively," Cha-Kim says.  Similarly, don't start eating until the eldest male has done so (and don't leave  the table until that person is finished).

Never mix—or turn down—vodka in Russia.
The beverage is always drunk neat—and no, not even with ice. Adding anything  is seen as polluting the drink's purity (unless the mixer is beer, which  produces a formidable beverage known as yorsh). But there's another  faux pas that's even worse, says Foster: when you're offered the drink and you  turn it down. Since offering someone a drink is a sign of trust and friendship,  it's a good idea to take it. Even if it is 9 a.m.

When drinking coffee with Bedouins in the Middle East, shake the cup  at the end.
Typically, anyone Bedouin—or Bedouin-related—will continue to pour you more  coffee once you've finished unless you shake the cup, meaning tilting the cup  two or three times, when you hand it back. It's such an important tip, says  Middle East-based freelance correspondent Haley Sweetland Edwards, that last  year, Bedouins she was eating with in Qatar made her practice it until she got  it right.

In Brazil, play your tokens wisely.
At a churrascaria, or a Brazilian steakhouse, servers circle with  cuts of meat and diners use tokens to place an order. If a server comes out with  something you want, make sure your token, which you'll have at your table, has  the green side up. If you don't want any more, flip it with the red side up.  Since the meat can be never-ending, it's important to strategize—if you leave  that token green side up you could end up ordering a lot more than you  intended.

This article was written by Amanda Ruggeri, and originally published on www.budgettravel.com on Thursday, Feb 23, 2012, 7:00  AM

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