Table Manners Around the World

Other countries' table manners may surprise you

Table Manners Around the World

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Table manners are standards of conduct that we’re taught growing up. Just as we in the U.S. have standard etiquette for dining, so do people in countries around the world. But when we gather around a table to eat, our table manners may differ from others', depending on where in the world they grew up.

Afghanistan: Kiss Bread That Is Dropped on the Floor

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In Afghanistan, when bread is dropped on the floor, it’s lifted and kissed in respect.

South America: Pay Respect to Mother Earth

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In parts of Peru, Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia, diners pay respect to Pachamama, the Andean goddess of fertility and harvest, by spilling a few drops of their drink on the ground and saying, "Para la Pachamama." This ritual is called "ch’alla." To make an offering, some tip their glass over, and others flick it with two fingers.

Canada: Arrive Fashionably Late

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Showing up fashionably late is socially acceptable in Canada, but arriving on time or early is not.

Chile: Never Eat with Your Hands

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Chileans always use utensils, as it’s bad manners to touch any part of the meal with your hands.

China: Make a Mess and Belch

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In China, a host can tell that you enjoyed the meal when you’ve made a mess around your table. And leaving just a bit of food on your plate shows that you’re full and you had enough to eat, although it’s rude to leave any rice left in your bowl. Belching is another way of complimenting the host on the food.

Egypt: Don’t Refill Your Own Glass

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It’s customary in Egypt to wait for someone else to refill your glass and for you to refill your neighbor’s glass when needed. If a glass is less than half full, it needs refilling. If your neighbor forgets to refill your glass, you can let him or her know it needs to be refilled by pouring a little more drink into his or her glass. It’s never acceptable, however, to refill your own glass.

England: Pass the Port to the Left, and Know the Bishop of Norwich

In England, port is continuously passed to the left around the table until it’s finished. Some say this has to do with naval tradition — the port side of a boat is on your left if you’re facing the helm — but the true reason is unclear. If the port is not passed, it’s considered impolite to ask for it. Instead, a neighbor can ask the person who has it, "Do you know the Bishop of Norwich?" If they reply that they don’t know him, the response is, "He’s a very good chap, but he always forgets to pass the port."

Ethiopia: Eat with Your Right Hand from One Plate

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Ethiopians consider it wasteful to eat with utensils or with more than one plate. So, diners share one plate and eat with their right hand. In some parts of Ethiopia, a tradition called "gursha" is practiced in which people feed one another.

France: Use Bread as a Utensil

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The French never eat bread as an appetizer. Instead, it’s eaten with the meal and is used as a utensil to scoop up food off the plate and into the mouth. Bread is even placed directly on the table as a knife or fork would be.

Georgia: Make a Toast, Then Empty Your Glass in One Sip

In the republic of Georgia, toasting lasts for hours. Everyone at the table goes around in a circle making toasts before emptying their glasses in one big sip. Once every person at the table has made a toast, they go around the circle again. Ten to 15 (small) glasses per person are typically consumed in an evening, and Georgians only toast with wine or vodka, or with beer if they wish someone bad luck.

Germany: Don’t Be Fashionably Late

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Germans never arrive fashionably late because lateness is thought to be very rude.

India: Eat With Your Left Hand

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In India, only the right hand is used for eating and passing food because the left hand is considered unclean.

Italy: Don’t Put Parmigiano on Pizza

If your pizza doesn’t have Parmigiano on it, it’s not a good idea to ask for it. Putting Parmigiano on pizza is considered a culinary sin in Italy.

Japan: Slurp Your Food to Say Thank You

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Slurping, usually when eating noodles or soup, is a sign of appreciation for the chef. The louder the slurp, the greater the thanks.

Korea: Cross Your Arms to Accept a Drink or Food

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When accepting any food or drink, Koreans cross their left arm over their right.

Mexico: Only Eat Tacos with Your Hands

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Eating a taco with a fork and knife in Mexico marks you as a food snob.

Russia: Drink Vodka Neat and Always Accept a Drink

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In Russia, vodka is drunk neat. Adding a mixer, or even ice, would be polluting vodka’s purity. The only exception is beer, which, when mixed with vodka, becomes a drink called "yorsh." Offering someone a drink is a sign of trust and friendship, and turning it down is very offensive.

Switzerland: Keep Your Hands on the Table

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Resting your hands on the table for an entire meal is the polite way to eat in Switzerland. Elbows, however, are never allowed on the table.

Thailand: Don't Eat Rice with a Fork

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In Thailand when eating a dish that contains rice, forks are not used, and chopsticks are generally unacceptable eating utensils. Spoons are the most appropriate choice.

Tanzania: Hide the Soles of Your Feet

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Eating on a carpet or mat in Tanzania is customary, but showing the soles of your feet is seen as impolite.