Dining Abroad? Don’t Let These Gaffes Come Back to Bite You
Not so long ago, unless your ancestry made it unavoidable, one might never have encountered— much less savored—Chinese sweet and sour pork, Indian Tandoori chicken, Italian pizza, German sauerbraten or any of the otherworldly wonders so readily available to us today.
Unfortunately, many of the cultural nuances of dining abroad failed to cross the pond with the pommes frites, leaving pothole-size etiquette gaffes for unwitting meeting professionals to fall into at their first out-of-country banquet or business meal.
Fear not: These 10 worldly dining tips will not only help avoid an international incident; they can also mean the difference between a pleasant night and a Pepcid night:
Right is right in India: In India, the Middle East, and parts of Africa, the left hand is strongly associated with bathroom functions, and hence perceived as soiled. Simplify your visit by only using your right hand at table, whether touching your plate, eating finger food or passing the Naan.
Dark at night in Italy: Italians consider cappuccino a day-starter or post-lunch pick-me-up, so ordering one after dinner shows you don’t know local Joe. If you must pull an all-nighter however, a post-prandial espresso is perfectly accettabile.
Hands up in Europe: Though it may seem contrary to the formal dictates of Continental dining practiced elsewhere, proper European etiquette requires you to keep both hands visible above the table at all times. Most diners prefer to rest their wrists on the table.
Two hands up in Korea: If you are offered a drink by an elder, you are expected to accept it with both hands and turn away for a discreet sip as a sign of respect.
Drink up in Russia: It is considered the height of rudeness to turn down an offer of vodka in Russia, even at breakfast. Vodka is always served neat here; no ice, no mixer. Vashe zdorovie (to your health)!
Stop and go in Brazil: Servers in Brazil’s churrascarias (or steak houses) circle, dim sum–like, with various cuts of meat. If you see a cut you’d like, place the token on your table green side up (think: go!); if not, flip it red side up. If you accidentally leave the green side up, it could cost you.
Fork your fries in Chile: It’s strictly declasse to eat anything, even French fries, with the fingers. (To which Groucho Marx would add, “Fingers should always be eaten separately.”)
Fumble fingers fine in France: While fumbling your bread and missing your bread plate might constitute a faux pas everywhere, in France it’s not only accepted; it’s preferred. But save the bread basket for dinner; it’s not considered an appetizer here.
To port with port in Britain: Although it runs contrary to the counterclockwise direction of proper passage at table, it means a great deal to the British that the port decanter be passed to the left – or portside in nautical terms.
Chopsticks 101: Though traditions vary country to country, here are a few chopstick essentials. Never use your chopsticks to move plates, impale food, point or lift food from service dishes (there are serving chopsticks for that). Always place your chopsticks together, either horizontally in front of you parallel to the table edge (Japan) or across the top of your bowl (China), when you have finished eating. If you’re just taking a break, place your chopsticks tip-first in your chopstick stand, or failing that, atop your chopsticks wrapper.
Tip of the hat to Dean Allen, author of the “Global Etiquette Guide” series, Mineko Takane Moreno, author of “Sushi for Dummies” and Emily Post for the international dining etiquette.
Photo credits: Shutterstock, iStock