When traveling around the world most of us recognize and understand the importance culture and custom plays in any modern society, no matter where they visit. By respecting the cultural norms of any society including good manners and etiquette it serves to helps us integrate and establish a mutual respect which ultimately benefits all of us.
In western society we understand the importance of keeping our elbows off the table and not reaching across the table in front of our fellow diners, but when traveling overseas things can become a little more complicated. It's true that table manners are as unique to many cultures as the food being served to you.
Today we look at a number of rules of etiquette to abide by when dining overseas in order to avoid receiving awkward death stares by the locals.
When eating in France bread is considered a key component in many dishes and whereas most people in the west consider bread to be an appetizer to be eaten before a meal, in France bread is considered an accompaniment come meal time. Bread is served directly on the table surface and not on a plate which is considered perfectly acceptable.
It's considered bad luck or 'dao yue' in China to flip the whole fish over after eating one side. This action is likened to tipping over a fisherman's boat, capsizing it and condemning all those on board to a horrible demise. Instead once the first side of the fish has been consumed, diners can either decide not to eat the second side, or they should alternatively remove the exoskeleton from above to access the second side of the fish instead of flipping it over.
The importance of respecting their elders can be seen throughout Asian society and Korea is no different. If you are offered a drink by a Korean person senior to you in age, as a sign of respect you should always lift your glass and receive the beverage in both hands, then turn your head sideways and take a small sip.
Additionally the same applies when it comes to eating, allowing the eldest male at the table to begin eating first, and not leaving the table until that person has finished eating.
In Russia the national drink is of course vodka, and during my visit there I was frequently offered a glass of vodka by the friendly locals, even in some stores when shopping. When it comes to drinking this world famous drop, one should always drink it 'neat', no ice and certainly no mixers such as orange juice. To turn down the offer of a drink by a Russian which should be seen as a gesture of friendship and trust is something to be avoided, even at 10:00am.
Bad table manners are especially frowned upon in Chile, where they never eat any type of food using their hands, including French fries and pizza. Much like the classic episode where a snickers bar is eaten with a knife and fork, sometimes it's better to just go along to get along.
When traveling throughout Italy you will be overcome with the amount of coffee being served. One thing you won't see though is the locals drinking a cappuccino after midday. Cappuccino's are typically associated with breakfast and are served in combination with a croissant or similar to satiate morning hunger. It's fine to consume coffee throughout the day in Italy, however make it an espresso instead, unless you wish to standout as a tourist.
When in Mexico never use a knife and fork to eat a taco. As messy as they can sometimes get, its the preferred outcome than being considered impolite or snobbish. What would you think if you saw a person eating a burger in your home town using a knife and fork!
When sharing a port at the end of a fine meal in Britain, the port should be with the left hand only. It's thought to be associated with naval tradition as 'port' represents the left side of a ship when facing the bow.
Additionally failing to pass the port at all is seen as distasteful. When dining at a table full of Brits and the decanter sits unmoved from its position you may hear the question - 'Do you know the Bishop of Norwich?' If they say they don't know him, the following reply is likely to be heard, 'He's a very good chap, but he always forgets to pass the port.' It sounds strange, but it's true!
It's worth bearing in mind these guides act as basic and general introductions into foreign etiquette and they in no way provide a fully definitive guide. Each and every society, country and culture has many unique facets that make it almost impossible to suggest a uniform approach to understanding any country's etiquette.
When visiting a foreign country it's important to take into consideration the personal culture of individuals you interact with including their religious, regional and gender influences.
These basic guidelines can assist providing just a small understanding and in doing so hope to assist travelers to avoid any offense to people of different cultures.