What culture doesn’t talk with their hands? A universal behavior, hand gestures help us to emphasize a point we are making or even speak for us when we are at a loss for words. But did you know that your simple hand gesture could be obscenely offensive in other countries? A thumbs up in America means approval, but in Iran this gesture loosely means “up yours.”
In America, clearing your plate is a sign of approval of the meal you just enjoyed. In China, clearing your plate as a sign of gratitude just makes more work for the host or hostess, as they are now required (by their conception of good manners) to keep refilling your plate. Instead, just periodically thank a host for their generosity.
If your favorite condiment isn’t on the table in Portugal, you’ll have to do without. Asking for something that was not previously offered is considered rude. It implies that your host or hostess was not thoughtful and did not do a great job of cooking your meal.
If you sat down to dinner with your fellow patrons in Korea and just dug in, you may be out of line — unless of course, you’re the oldest person at the table. The person who is oldest must take a bite of their food first; waiting is a sign of respect.
Right-handed people of the world: you do not reign supreme all over the world. In India, it is considered “dirty” to eat with your right hand, which is best kept in your lap off of the table during meal time.
What is considered a finger food varies when you travel. In Chile, utensils are essential for almost every meal. Even fries are eaten with a fork! However, in Mexico it is considered “snobby” to eat with your utensils if the food doesn’t specifically need it.
Sprinkling salt on your dish in Egypt is considered insanely rude. Chefs will take it personally as a dig against their cooking.
In Russia, if someone pours you a glass of vodka, you drink it — none of this “sipping” business. You also should eat while you drink, as it is considered rude to just sit there getting imbibed.
If you ask your friends in France to dinner, expect to pick up the tab. People do not split the bill in France, and if you initiated the dinner, you have to be ready to pay for it.
If you’re relaxing at the dinner table in the Far or Middle East, do not kick back. Pointing your feet (particularly the soles) at anyone, even via crossing your ankles is considered extremely disrespectful. Feet and the bottom of shoes are thought to be extremely dirty, and to point dirty feet at someone (or hit them with a shoe) is to say they are lower than the dirt.