Global Dining Etiquette – When in Rome…Or anywhere, really.

During a recent visit to Paris, my husband noticed and pointed out that the other diners in the (rather nice) restaurant seemed to be using their bread to push their food onto their fork, instead of their knife. At the time, I thought he was maybe being a little pedantic, but it prompted me to investigate a little further.

As it turns out, there are a number of differences in dining etiquette around the world:

In France, it’s preferred that hands are kept above the table – with wrists resting on the table, not placed in your lap, and yes, bread is used to help get the food onto the fork – although smaller pieces should be torn off the whole, rather than it being bitten into.

In India, it’s good manners to wash your hands before AND AFTER eating a meal, and wasting your food is deemed highly wasteful and even disrespectful. (Not something I have to worry about when we eat at our local Indian restaurant, as the food is so delicious). But I must remember to eat with my right hand only from now on – eating with your left hand can be considered rude. Maybe not ideal for those who are left handed.
If you find yourself eating in Thailand (lucky you), apparently, it’s normal to receive all dishes ordered at once – not set into courses. And be prepared to share your food – this is the norm. Often dishes will be delivered to your table with an expectation for them to be shared around the table.

There are some instances where dining etiquette of other countries is similar to the UK:

It is deemed very rude to cross your chopsticks – I was always told as a child not to cross my cutlery – I still don’t today.
In Portugal, Spain, America and Italy, tipping for your service is accepted, even expected. Similarly to the UK, 10% added on to the bill is the norm – although some restaurants can add this as a Service Charge automatically, so the uninitiated may pay twice!!
In Colombia – as here in the UK, it is deemed impolite to put your elbows on the table during your meal.

However, there are some stark differences too:

You wouldn’t leave a tip in China, Japan or Korea.
Adding salt or pepper to your food, or requesting it, can be deemed an insult to the chef if you’re in Portugal, possibly suggesting that they have insufficiently seasoned your food.
A Belch is deemed a compliment to the chef in China and Taiwan and some Arab countries, but is frowned upon in “The West”.
Don’t eat from your fork in Thailand – the fork is normally used to help get food onto your spoon.
When in China, don’t empty your plate – the host might feel obliged to refill it.
In Morocco, you wouldn’t want to wipe your hands in your napkin – wait until the wash bowl is offered at the end of your meal.

So, just in case you happen to come across a fabulous eatery on your travels, it may be worth bearing some of these in mind. Having said that, I usually find myself observing others and acting accordingly. After all, as the saying goes, “When in Rome…”