As a child, there were certain things I was told never to do at the dinner table: burp, make messes, put my elbows on the table, chew loudly, etc. (although now, burping contests with my dad and brother are a regular occurrence. Sorry, Mom). Interestingly, some behaviors considered impolite or just down-right obnoxious in America are actually encouraged in other parts of the world.
Here’s a list of food-related etiquette tips for various different countries to keep in mind while traveling abroad, in order to avoid offending your host, waiter, chef or other diners nearby.
In China, it’s considered a compliment to the chef if you burp loudly after your meal. It’s also totally appropriate to channel your inner toddler and make a mess while eating, shifting food around on the plate and indulging in whatever way you choose, because that’s a sign that you are really enjoying your food.
Remember when your parents told you to stop slurping your soup? Well in Japan, slurping noodle soup loudly is a customary practice. However, make sure that when you’re using chopsticks, never cross them, lick them or insert them vertically into your food.
India, Middle East and Africa
Don’t eat with your left hand, like ever. At risk of TMI, let’s just say that in these areas of the world, the left hand is usually used for *self-cleansing* and thus, using it for food would be inappropriate.
There are simply no foods that are considered “finger foods” in Chile, so never touch your food. Period. Always use utensils, even for things like pizza and French fries.
In France, it’s impolite to suggest splitting the bill. When making dinner plans, either buck up and know you’ll be fronting the meal yourself or invite someone who will. If you’re dining with other Americans, make sure to reimburse the payer after leaving the restaurant, if you have privately decided beforehand to share the cost of the meal.
Never refill your own glass. I know this one may sound a little strange, but it’s a sign of respect and courtesy to refill others’ glasses. If you see that someone else’s glass is less than half-full, refill his/her glass ASAP.
Luxembourg, Switzerland and France
While this is not specifically a table manner issue, in these countries, it’s considered not only impolite, but actually vulgar to chew gum in public.
Look out for a full “Study Abroad” section being released next month, complete with interactive maps listing restaurants in common study abroad destinations and tips for dining behavior and getting around in various countries.