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International Dining Etiquette

The country you are visiting may have very different dining etiquette rules than what you are used to. Depending on the country, be prepared to sit on the floor, eat with your hands, not eat with your hands, or try some exotic foods. To avoid too many surprises, take some time to review the dining etiquette rules common at your destination. Have a humble and respectful attitude when you make a mistake.

asia map

Asia

Everywhere in Asia you will be expected to eat with chopsticks. Try to use them if you can. A few guidelines will help you cope with chopsticks:

Ask for help if you need it. Your hosts will probably be flattered and pleased to help.

Use chopsticks as a scoop if you cannot manage more intricate movements. (think about practicing at home for a week or two before you leave.)

Use the small end of a chopstick as your eating utensil, and the large end to serve others.

Rest chopsticks on your plate or a chopstick rest when not using them. never rest them in or across a rice bowl.

You may use your rice bowl as a safety net, holding it close to your mouth as you eat.

africa map

Africa

Africa is so huge, so diverse, so complicated, and so rich that it is difficult to say much about a shared dining etiquette across the continent. A few general things exist that can be pointed out, however.

Africans are famous for the pleasure they take in eating and entertaining and for their generosity. If you're invited to someone's home almost anywhere in Africa be prepared to be impressed by your host's generosity. In many countries, you will find no utensils of any kind and will be expected to eat with your hands. Remember, in Muslim countries, not to eat with your left hand. Watch your hosts in other countries for similar taboos and follow their lead.

middle east map

Middle East

Arabs are known for their hospitality and their meals, which often start considerably later than ours. You may be expected to take several helpings, so pace yourself.

Alcoholic beverages are becoming more common even in Muslim countries, but Muslims do not drink, so do not ask for alcoholic beverages. Even when drinking is permitted, drunkenness is considered gauche.

If you eat with your fingers, use only your right hand to eat.

Israeli food is both mid eastern and western. Eating customs are the same, generally, as in the West.

latin america map

Central America

South America

Caribbean

Business lunches are common throughout Latin America, and usually long, from 1:00 or 2:00 p.m. until 3:00 or 4:00 p.m. Dinner is a purely social event, and can occur very late; it's not unusual to sit down to dinner at 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. throughout Latin America. In general, you should keep your hands above the table at all times when eating, and pass food and drink with your right hand.

europe map

Western Europe

Mediterranean Europe

Eastern Europe

Throughout europe, table manners are much like those in the United States, and you will feel comfortable despite a few minor differences.

The minor differences:

Europeans eat using the Continental style. When using this style, hold your fork in your left hand and your knife in your right. You then eat with your fork still in your left hand. The fork and knife should remain in your hands at all times.

Europeans tend to be more strict about table manners than Americans are. Do not rest your elbows on the table, but keep both hands above the table at all times. Accomplish this by resting your wrists on the edge of the table.

Never tilt your chair back on two legs. Never push food onto a fork with your finger.

European breakfasts are usually buffets with meats, cheese, and hard rolls. You may also find soft boiled eggs served in an egg cup.


- , Editor, Etiquette Scholar

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