International Food Etiquette Rules – Part 2

Here is part two of the awesome article written by Amanda Ruggeri and published in Budget Travel Magazine.

In Mexico, never eat tacos with a fork and knife.

Worried about spilling refried beans and salsa all over your front? Tough. Mexicans think that eating tacos with a fork and knife looks silly and, worse, snobby—kind of like eating a burger with silverware. So be polite: Eat with your hands.

In Italy, drink a cappuccino only before noon.

Some Italians say that a late-day cappuccino upsets your stomach, others that it’s a replacement for a meal (it’s common to have just a cappuccino, or a cappuccino and a croissant, for breakfast). Either way, you won’t see Italians ordering one in a café at 3 p.m.—and certainly not after a big dinner. Do so, and you’ll be instantly branded a tourist. If you need that coffee fix, though, an espresso is fine.

In Britain, always pass the port to the left—and remember the Bishop of Norwich.

It’s unclear why passing port on the left is so important; some say it has to do with naval tradition (the port side of a boat is on your left if you’re facing the helm). Regardless, passing the decanter to the right is a big gaffe. So is not passing it at all. If you’re at a meal and the decanter stalls, then ask the person with it, “Do you know the Bishop of Norwich?” If they say they don’t know him, reply, “He’s a very good chap, but he always forgets to pass the port.” It sounds weird, but it’s true. This is such a nationwide tradition, the Telegraph wrote an article on it.

In France, don’t eat your bread as an appetizer before the meal.

Instead, eat it as an accompaniment to your food or, especially, to the cheese course at the end of the meal. That said, one thing that would be a faux pas anywhere else—placing bread directly on the table and not on a plate—is perfectly acceptable in France—in fact, it’s preferred.

In China, don’t flip the fish.

Although you might be used to flipping over a whole fish once you’ve finished one side, don’t—at least not when you’re in China, especially southern China and Hong Kong. That’s because flipping the fish is dao yue in Chinese, a phrase similar to “bad luck.” Plus, says Foster, “to flip the fish over is like saying that the fisherman’s boat is going to capsize.” The most superstitious will leave the bottom part untouched, while others will pull off the bone itself to get to the bottom.

In Italy, don’t ask for parmesan for your pizza—or any other time it’s not explicitly offered.

Putting parmigiano on pizza is seen as a sin, like putting Jell-O on a fine chocolate mousse. And many pasta dishes in Italy aren’t meant for parmesan: In Rome, for example, the traditional cheese is pecorino, and that’s what goes on many classic pastas like bucatini all’amatriciana, not parmesan. A rule of thumb: If they don’t offer it to you, don’t ask for it.

Don’t eat anything, even fries, with your hands at a meal in Chile.

Manners here are a little more formal than many other South American countries. So while it might be the most practical to just pick up those fries with your fingers, don’t do it. “The greater need is to identify with European culture, so food is [eaten] with a knife and a fork,” Foster says.

In Korea, if an older person offers you a drink, lift your glass to receive it with both hands.

Doing so is a sign of respect for elders, an important tenet of Korean culture. After receiving the pour with both hands, you should turn your head away and take a discreet sip, says Stephen Cha-Kim, a Korean-born worker’s rights advocate who regularly visits family in Korea. “To this day, if anybody hands me anything, both hands shoot out instinctively,” Cha-Kim says. Similarly, don’t start eating until the eldest male has done so (and don’t leave the table until that person is finished).

Never mix—or turn down—vodka in Russia. (I drank my vodka neat in Russia and can promise it’s NOT as bad as I thought it would be… in fact I kind of enjoyed it!)

The beverage is always drunk neat—and no, not even with ice. Adding anything is seen as polluting the drink’s purity (unless the mixer is beer, which produces a formidable beverage known as yorsh). But there’s another faux pas that’s even worse, says Foster: when you’re offered the drink and you turn it down. Since offering someone a drink is a sign of trust and friendship, it’s a good idea to take it. Even if it is 9 a.m.

When drinking coffee with Bedouins in the Middle East, shake the cup at the end.

Typically, anyone Bedouin—or Bedouin-related—will continue to pour you more coffee once you’ve finished unless you shake the cup, meaning tilting the cup two or three times, when you hand it back. It’s such an important tip, says Middle East-based freelance correspondent Haley Sweetland Edwards, that last year, Bedouins she was eating with in Qatar made her practice it until she got it right.

In Brazil, play your tokens wisely.

At a churrascaria, or a Brazilian steakhouse, servers circle with cuts of meat and diners use tokens to place an order. If a server comes out with something you want, make sure your token, which you’ll have at your table, has the green side up. If you don’t want any more, flip it with the red side up. Since the meat can be never-ending, it’s important to strategize—if you leave that token green side up you could end up ordering a lot more than you intended.

3 Comments

  1. interesting, I grow up in Hong Kong, living here for over 20 years,
    never once in my life I heard that you shouldn’t flip the fish, for the reason you mentioned.

    Although I understand where this might come from and probably true,
    people nowadays really don’t care, we simply care to enjoy the good food here.

    So, unless you’re eating with someone crazy superstitious and dead serious about the old customs, don’t worry about flipping the fish 😉

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