international dining etiquette
Dinner parties or large lunches often start with an aperitif (cinzano, vermouth, campari, etc.), and end with after-dinner drinks, such as grappa (a brandy made from grape skins and stems) or sambuca (an anise-flavored drink often served with a coffee bean) after coffee.
Formal Italian meals usually follow this order:
antipasto (appetizers, such as prosciutto or pates and fruit)
espresso and after-dinner drinks
Italian food is considered by some to be the finest in the world. As one moves from north to south through Italy, the food shifts from rice-based dishes (risottos) to wheat-based dishes (noodles and pastas, pizzas and gnocchis), from carefully prepared complex dishes to more simple and hearty fare (stews, soups, etc.). Seafood and fish are abundant throughout the country due to its enormous coastline, and the vegetables and the fruits are extraordinary. Some say that the finest food in Italy can be found in the Bologna region, the home of tortellini and prosciutto. Bolognese food is rich, heavy, and complex. Florentine and Tuscan dishes rely on boar, meats, beans, lots of olive oil, herbs, and garlic. Genoa is the home of gnocchi and pestos and wonderful fresh fish stews. The Lombard region is famous for its osso buco, lamb dishes. and polenta, and Rome for the fabulous varieties of pastas, meats, and vegetables. In the Veneto area to the east you can find wonderful fried fish from the Adriatic, and lots of fresh vegetables prepared in countless ways. Finally, into the south and beyond to Sicily, you find the home of the pizza, fresh farm vegetables, figs. olive oil, and herbs.
Dining etiquette for drinking. You may be offered several different white or red wines; and in this case, the finer red or white is usually served first, so that you may appreciate it best. A sweeter wine may be served with dessert.
Dining etiquette for toasts. The most common toast is salute (to your health), or, more informally, cin-cin
Dining etiquette for beginning to eat. Do not begin eating until the host says. "Buòn appetito!"
Dining etiquette for utensils. Italians do not switch knives and forks. The knife remains in the right hand, and the fork remains in the left. When the meal is finished, the knife and fork are laid parallel to each other across the right side of the plate, with the tines of the fork facing downward. If you put both utensils down on the plate for any real length of time, it is a sign to the waitstaff that you are finished, and your plate may be taken away from you. Alternately, if you lay your cutlery down on either side of the plate, it means you haven't finished.
Dining etiquette for you place setting. The fork and spoon above your plate are for dessert. There are often many additional pieces of cutlery: if you're unsure of which utensil to use, always start from the outside and work your way in, course by course. There will be separate glasses provided at your setting for water and white and red wine (after-dinner drink glasses come out after dinner). If you have a small plate as well as a larger one, plus a bowl, most likely the small plate will be for antipasto (salad plates will come out later), and the large plate for the main course: the bowl will be for soup if a soup spoon is present, or for pasta if a soup spoon is not present.
Dining etiquette for eating bread. Bread is usually served without butter (therefore, there will usually not be a butter knife, but there may be a bread dish: if so, this usually means that olive oil will be served to dip the bread into; if not, you can place your bread on the side of your main plate or on the table throughout the meal).
Dining etiquette for your hands. When not holding utensils, your hands should be visible above the table. Rest your wrists on top of the table (never your elbows).
Dining etiquette for passing good. Pass all dishes to your left.
Dining etiquette for eating salad. Never cut the lettuce in your salad. Fold it with your knife and fork into a little bundle that can be picked up with your fork.
Dining etiquette for eating pasta. If you are served pasta, do not use a spoon to assist yourself while eating it. Use a fork and the sides of the bowl or plate against which to twirl the pasta onto the fork. Do not slurp the pasta strands into your mouth. Place the entire forkful into your mouth at once.
Dining etiquette for gravy or sauce. If there is gravy or sauce, you can generally use your bread to soak some of it up, but do so carefully, and don't mop the bread around the plate.
Dining etiquette for seating. The most honored position is in the middle at each side of the table, with the most important guest seated immediately to the right of the host (women to the right of the host, and men to the right of the hostess). If there is a hosting couple, one will be seated on each side of the table.
Dining etiquette for restaurants. In informal restaurants, you may be required to share a table. Waitstaff may be summoned by making eye contact.
Dining etiquette for talking business. Depending upon how well developed your relationship is with your Italian colleagues, it is generally not the time to make business decisions. Take your cue from your Italian associates.
Dining etiquette for the home. Allow the more senior members of your party to enter rooms ahead of you. At the table, be sure to look for place cards or wait until the host indicates your seat.
Dining etiquette for paying the bill. Usually the one who does the inviting pays the bill, although the guest is expected to make an effort to pay. Sometimes other circumstances determine the payee (such as rank).
Dining etiquette for tipping. A 10 percent tip is usually sufficient for restaurants.
- Mike Lininger, Editor, Etiquette Scholar
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