Travelling etiquette around the world – how to fit in with the locals when eating and drinking on your travels
Experienced travellers will know that there’s nothing worse than insulting a particular custom or tradition, but thankfully, by learning a little bit about travel etiquette, it’s easy to avoid this predicament. Instead of horrifying your hosts, aim to impress by being aware of cultural differences and respecting them, especially when it comes to eating and drinking.
One of the greatest pleasures of travelling is immersing oneself in new cultures and different ways of doing things and food is a big part of the experience, both socially and educationally. With a few pointers it’s easier to enjoy food abroad and by remembering a few dos and don’ts, everyone is more at ease with the situation.
There are many differences from country to country and some of these are deep-rooted in centuries of superstition and legend. For this reason, it’s wise not to try to interfere with this in any way, even if it feels alien to you and contradicts how you would normally do things at home.
Below are some things you should be aware of when travelling abroad on holiday:
The Japanese culture is unique and regarded as being very different from that of many countries in the western world and this is regularly evident across mealtimes. When indulging in a bowl of noodles in Japan, there’s no need to be too particular, as it’s expected that the contents are slurped or eaten messily! This suggests enjoyment and contentment. Japanese people never pour their own drink in company, as it’s seen as the height of bad manners. Instead, your companion will pour it and vice versa.
These ‘rules’ are typically similar across Asia, with the use of chopsticks throwing up many difficulties. When learning to use chopsticks appropriately, you will come to realise that it’s not a good idea to point them at anyone or pierce food with them. It’s important to note that chopsticks should not be inserted upright into a bowl, as this is reminiscent of the way rice is presented to the dead and is a grave insult.
In some countries, such as Portugal, the local people take great pride in creating culinary delights, so refrain from asking for condiments if they aren’t already on the table. By requesting salt and pepper, or any other seasonings, you are seen to be saying that the cook’s food is not up to scratch, which is of course unacceptable, even if that was not your intention! It is also good manners to compliment the cook and be very enthusiastic in doing so.
When having dinner in Germany, it is expected that guests will remain standing until shown to the seat by their host. It’s also good manners to refrain from eating until signalled to do so, again by the host. Good etiquette states that diners eat everything on their plate, avoiding elbows on the table and lying the knife and fork parallel across the ride hand side of the plate when finished.
One of the quirkier customs surrounding food involves a tradition in Mexico, where it’s polite to say ‘provecho’ (enjoy), whenever you catch the eye of anyone eating. It doesn’t matter if you know the person or not, this mannerly greeting is difficult to ignore, especially as it’s so nice to say and encourages polite conversation!
Not all faux pas are associated with the actual eating of food and sometimes table manners can descend into other areas. For example, the French loathe any discussion of money over the dinner table and find it poor taste to even talk about how the bill will be divided or paid. The French have perfected the art of table manners and insist that the correct knife and fork is used for everything, from fruit to cheese.
We all have personal limitations as to what we will and will not eat, but sometimes these boundaries are pushed and we need to decide how to deal with that. We may all be used to delicate cuts of meat but in some countries, delicacies vary from the ones we know, so it’s important not to act horrified when obscure and perhaps unappetising cuts of meat are presented. In the Middle East, for example, prime cuts include most parts of the animal include the head and eyes. Be prepared for this if it’s something you are unfamiliar with.
When dining in Middle Eastern countries, eat with your right hand only and leave food on your plate when you are finished, otherwise the empty space will be continuously filled with more food and this could leave you feeling very uncomfortable!
Of course there are also things to be aware of when drinking in other countries and one such example can be found in Russia, where it is seen as bad luck to place an empty vodka bottle on the table. With this in mind, all empty bottles should be placed on the floor instead. Russians take their vodka very seriously indeed and it is frowned upon to mix the precious liquid, as everyone drinks it straight up.
In Armenia, try not to empty a bottle into someone else’s glass as this obliges them to buy the next bottle; the best option is to put the last drops into your own glass instead.
Meanwhile, in Australia, it’s typically expected that you shout your drinks order and never leave the bar before at least paying for one round! Australians have a reputation for being very laid-back and relaxed but they appreciate fairness and honesty when it comes to social drinking.
Wherever you end up on your travels, there are some things that are pretty universal displays of good manners. Such customs as waiting to be seated, attempting all food offered, asking to be excused and complimenting the host, will all stand you in good stead and help dinner flow smoothly and without any hiccups.
With all this in mind, it may seem as though there are lots of things to remember, which can be daunting, but these examples are not always set in stone and some allowances will no doubt be made for non-locals. With a little bit of advance research, it’s possible to avoid all the major pitfalls and to ensure you come across as knowledgeable, polite and respectful when travelling on holiday in 2012.