Most of us have probably been nagged by our parents and grandparents about knowing what is polite and having good table manners. Don’t put your elbows on the table, chew with your mouth closed and always be sure to ask to be excused before you leave. However, having good table manners isn’t confined to Western culture. In places all around the world people are taught the rights and wrongs of the dinner table. However, what people learn in some parts of the globe is quite different from our own. Here are a few examples of table manners from different countries that seem a bit strange.
1. Eating with your hands
For Westerners, it’s normal to use your hands to messily chow down on a piece of pizza or a burger. Who doesn’t love licking their lips after that? However, in most other instances cutlery seems like the proper thing to do. In some countries though eating with your hands is something you should do for every meal. In places like Ethiopia, India and the Middle East eating with your hands is a custom practice that is taken quite seriously. However it’s not just as simple as digging in with both hands. In most places you can only use your right hand (sorry lefties) because otherwise it is considered unclean and you should make sure you’ve washed your hands thoroughly before touching anything. You also can’t bring the plate to your mouth to stop spillage- you have to lower your head to the plate instead. You also need to make sure you’re grabbing the food with your fingertips and not letting any get on your palms. Lastly make sure your fingers don’t go into your mouth while eating. Suddenly, it doesn’t seem as fun anymore does it?
2. Never eat with your hands
From one extreme to the other. While some countries embrace ‘playing’ with our food, others are completely against it. In Chile for example it’s considered as a bad manner to ever touch any part of your meal with anything except a knife and fork. This includes things like fries.
In France the rules are a little different. When it comes to eating lettuce leaves, make sure they don’t touch your knife. The proper way is to fold the leaves around your fork and then eat it.
In Brazil you can’t grab your pizza or burger with your hands and go in for the kill. Cutlery even for those foods is a must.
Another funny one is from England. This is a custom, dating back to the 19 century where once a banana was viewed as an exotic treat. To this day, the English feel you should always eat this yellow fruit with a knife and fork. No monkeying around allowed.
However, one of the randomest mannerisms regarding hands on the table is from the Kagoro Tribe located in Nigeria, where women aren’t allowed to eat with spoons.
In places like Japan if you’re eating noodle soup, it’s consider good manners to get noisy with it and slurp them up like you’re a five year old. Slurping shows that you’re really enjoying your meal and is also said to be the best way to taste every flavour. The louder you do it, the better.
Something else that we would normally consider down right bad manners, is burping during a meal or while at the table. However in countries including India, Turkey, parts of the Middle East and China it’s actually a good thing. Letting out a good burp at the end of a meal just means you really enjoyed your food. While it’s accepted, it’s not something you have to do at the end of every meal. It’s more they just don’t discourage you from letting one out if you can feel it. Just should always double check though when you’re traveling to such places that they do actually follow this custom.
5. Spill your food and drink
This one applies in a few different countries in a very diverse ways. First off is Afghanistan. If you happen to drop bread on the floor you would normally think to pick it up and put it aside to put in the bin later. However, in Afghanistan if a piece of this carby-goodness does fall to the ground it’s custom to pick it up, give it a kiss and then put it straight back down on your plate.
In Peru, Argentina, Chile and Bolivia it is normal for diners to spill a few drops of whatever they are drinking during their meal on the ground while saying the phrase "Para la Pachamama." Doing this is actually a ritual called "ch’alla” and is done to show respect to Pachamama, who is the goddess of fertility and Andean who is the goddess of harvest.
In China if you have a little bit of mess around your plate after eating it’s actually a sign that you enjoyed your meal, not that you’re a hopeless clumsy eater.
In Morocco it is normal for you to throw any bones or other inedible parts of your meal onto the table. That is as long as the table is covered with plastic.
In tapas bars in some parts of Spain, you may notice the ground is littered with food scraps, napkins and cigarettes. No it’s not that the Spanish have bad hygiene or don’t know how to use a bin. To them the more rubbish that is on the floor shows off to others how many customers they’ve had. Sometimes waiters will even throw leftover food on the floor as they clean tables.
They also like to get a little messy in Egypt. It is customary there to keep pouring tea into a cup until it starts spilling over the sides into the saucer.
In Mongolia it’s normal to start spilling your vodka before you even feel a bit tipsy. When you first get your drink and before you down any of it you should first flick a few drops into the air. You should then flick some on the floor and touch some to your forehead.
6. Don’t salt your food
If you’re eating anywhere in Egypt and you’re a salt fan, we’ve got some bad news for you. Putting salt on your food when you’re in Egypt is considered an insult. This is because the person who cooked you the meal cooked it with the intent for it to taste a certain way. By putting salt on it you’re changing the flavour. It’s almost like you’re saying you don’t like their cooking.
The same goes in Portugal. If there aren’t already salt and pepper shakers on your table then don’t ask for them. It is seen as an insult to the chef.
7. No need to wait
In Western countries it’s polite and good manners to not eat your meal until everyone has theirs as well. In Italy they follow this custom except for one case. If you’ve ordered pasta and you get yours before everyone else you don’t need to wait. Dig straight in and enjoy. This is a true testament to just how much Italians love their pasta. For every other dish though, you should be polite and wait for the rest on your table.
Just as we all have different customs everyone has different rules when it comes to table manners. If you’re ever travelling overseas it can be handy to brush up on some of the most important customs and habits of the country you’re going to. Knowing what the customs are in that country can ensure you don’t accidentally offend the people.
Do you know of any other strange table manners around the world? If so, let us know in the comments section below.