Culinary Habits and Food Travel Etiquette in Foreign Countries
When traveling to a foreign country, knowing what to expect from common culinary habits helps us decide if we should brown bag it, or look forward to enjoying a new and exciting dining experience abroad. Culinary habits in foreign countries can be very different from what a traveler is used to at home, which is exactly why knowing food travel etiquette will make any dining experience around the world less frightening and more enjoyable. Knowing when to eat everything with your right hand, and when to eat everything using only utensils, can save you from making an etiquette faux pas when dining in another country—no one wants to insult their host unintentionally.
What You Will Learn
Here you will find a few inside tid-bits to help you manage your world dining adventures. The goal is to give you the information you need regarding the culinary habits and etiquette in a few foreign countries. Good manners always make for good impressions, no matter where your vacation plansland you!
World Dining Etiquette
Do you eat using European or American Dining Etiquette?
The fact that Australia happens to be the smallest continent on earth, surely makes no impact on the culinary diversity and hospitality they offer. This little-dynamo of a country has a wide variety of plant and animal life to choose from. The lack of rainfall does increase the risk of drought; due to this and because Australia supplies most of its own food, the agricultural offerings can struggle at times. Not to worry though, this resourceful country has many food sources to choose from, and yes, one of them is kangaroo.
- Australians are not real formal, so greeting should be relaxed and casual, a smile and a handshake will do.
- Avoid the Aussie greeting "G'day, mate" or "G'day" as these may come across as fake from a foreigner. A simple "hello" or "Hello, how are you?" is always best suited.
- In the Austrailian culture, it is normal to use first names right from the start. So avoid the "Mr." "Mrs." "Miss" and "Ms" of things.
- As expected, an Aussie BBQ will most likely be one of many invitations you will receive for dining.
- You will want to arrive on time if invited to dinner, and no more than 15 minutes late for a big party or BBQ.
- Make an effort to contact the host/hostess before the party to offer to bring any needed dish, or supplies.
- It is customary to bring your own wine or beer to a BBQ, and in some informal situations, even your own meat.
- Make certain to offer your help with set-up or clean-up.
- Hold your fork in the left hand and knife in the right while eating; Aussie table manners are very continental.
- Keep your hands above the table, and your elbows off the table while eating.
- To indicate you are finished with your meal, set your fork and knife parallel on your plate with the handles facing to the right.
As the largest country in South America, Brazil should not be missed. Portuguese is the official language of Brazil with almost 100% of Brazilians speaking it. The difference between the Portuguese spoken in Brazil versus Portugal is about the same as between the english spoken in the United States versus England. A quarter of the worlds plants are found in Brazil, making for a culinary spectacle at times. You will find eggs in much of the culinary offerings, with the Portuguese putting their mark on the majority of Brazilian foods. Brazilians are very family oriented, so much so that nepotism is considered a really good thing. If you are invited into a Brazilian home to dine, you have received a truly impressive honor. (Just a note; it is said that the Brazilian women are considered to be the most beautiful women in the world.)
- Upon greeting, be sure to maintain eye contact, men shake hands firmly.
- Women will usually kiss each other starting with the left cheek and then the right.
- If friendly, hugging and back-slapping are acceptable greetings for men who know each other.
- A woman who wishes to shake hands with a man will have to extend hers first, it's a macho thing.
- If invited to dinner at a Brazilian house, you should arrive at least 30 minutes late.
- Get there up to an hour late for a party or larger gathering.
- Always error on the side of over-dressing rather than under-dressing. A little designer flair always helps when dining with Brazilians!
- If you forget to bring a gift to the event, you should send flowers (no white flowers) the next day as a common courtesy.
- Expect to be interrupted when speaking, it is not meant to offend.
What Not to Eat When Traveling Worldwide
Never consume the following items:
- Salads or raw vegetables
- Unpasteurized Milk
- Ice in drinks (don't use ice at all)
- Foods that have not been covered (flies can contaminate foods in quick time!)
...and when it is all said and done, never drink the tap water!
Officially known as the People's Republic of China, this country has 60 small cities that have populations over 750,000, with some major Chinese cities having millions (Beijing has 12 million). Historically china has had problems feeding its vast populations. With more than one-third of the worlds total population it's no wonder why. Meat was scarce, so smaller amounts were added to vegetables and rice which were more plentiful. The style of cooking is mostly stir-fry, this is an ingenious way of conserving fuel by quickly cooking foods. You will find shark fins, frogs, snakes, seaweed and even dogs on the menu. And everything is generally served with China's most prominent foodsource, rice. (Be sure to inquire about meat sources if you would rather NOT consume mans best friend.)
- Always arrive on time when dining in China, it is very rude to do otherwise.
- Dress very nicely, this gives your host respect.
- Shoes off before entering any home.
- Greet the oldest person first.
- Do not start eating before the host.
- It is good manners to serve those around you first, or if smoking, offer a cigarette to others first.
- If you are full, feel free to say so, your host will feel honored that he fed you well.
- You may hear belching and slurping, don't be offended this is an indication they are enjoying the food.
- Women are not expected to drink alcoholic drinks.
- Do not re-season your food with soy sauce, salt, or other condiments. If these are on the table, wait to see how they get used by those around you and follow suit.
The arid travel location of Egyptcan be a very special culinary experience. The lack of rainfall and having only 2% of their land good enough to farm, makes the growing of crops quite difficult. The middle-east has influenced the Egyptian cuisine greatly over the centuries, but the proud Egyptian people have managed to maintain their own unique style through the years. You will find that rice and breads remain the staple food supply— as well as molokhiyya (a spinach-like vegi) and ful mudammas (a creamy cooked fava bean dish)—having remained on the Egyptian menu from the very beginning of time.
- If invited to an Egyptian home, be sure to bring good quality chocolates, pastry, or sweets for the hostess. Failing to do so is a big insult.
- Bringing flowers is generally reserved for funerals and weddings, so avoid bringing them unless you know for sure the hostess will enjoy them.
- Bringing a token gift for the children shows affection. (Always give ANY gifts with the right hand, or both hands if heavy.)
- Your gifts will not be opened until after you leave.
- Normally remove your shoes before going in an Egyptian home.
- Dress well and conservatively, appearances are quite important in Egypt.
- Always give high prays about the house when speaking to the host.
- Wait until the host tells you where to sit.
- Eat with your right hand ONLY.
- It's a compliment to take seconds.
- Salting your food is a huge insult, instead you are expected to enjoy the seasoning the host has already placed on the food. Re-seasoning your dinner is telling your host you are displeased with his/her offering.
- If you are full, leave a small bit of food on your dish, or the hostess will continue to refill your plate.
- Show appreciation for the meal.
I think that the French may have the most rules and regulations when it comes to dining etiquette. This would stem from Louis the XIV and those strict rules placed on dining in his court. These rules have become etiquette requirements in French homes as well as restaurants. You will find that every region in France brags about its own best dish, wine, and of course cheese (with over 400 types of French Cheese to choose from, who wouldn't brag a little?). You will find three meals a day; breakfast (morning), lunch (noon to one), and dinner (around 8 pm) to be the normal eating ritual. Be very aware that whether in a French home, cafe' or restaurant, the many lifestyle rules (etiquette and manners) are very important and should be followed or you may find onlookers scoffing at your caveman-like eating habits.
- It is a really good idea to learn a little French before traveling there. In the more urban parts of France it is even considered an insult to address a French person in English or other non-French vocabulary.
- If invited to dinner, (especially in Paris) it is a good idea to arrive 15 minutes late.
- When deciding on an outfit, consider that France is the fashion capital of the world, so take care with what you wear. Good quality accessories are appreciated. Men are expected to don conservative dark suits, and women nice pant suits or dresses that offer gentle colors (keep your cleavage and thighs under wraps). remember the little black dress is a French icon!
- The proper use of utensils is imperative, and an art to say the least.
- No elbows on the table, hands in clear view but most certainly NOT in your lap. Keep your wrist's resting on the edge of the table—never lean your forearms on the table's edge!
- if you're not done eating, cross your fork and knife on your plate with the fork over the knife.
- Never just "drop in" on the french, this is considered bad manners, always call ahead.
- Don't phone after 9 pm or before 10 am.
- Never take flowers to your hostess, you are expected to send them before or after the event.
- Do not bring uninvited friends (or pets) without getting prior permission.
- You are only politely allowed to refuse two types of food in France; oysters and curry. To do so with any other food is a serious insult, unless allergies are of a concern (In which case you must inform your host/hostess in writing prior to the event, a hand written note is fine).
- Dinner usually takes 2 to 3 hours, with several courses being served. If you want to make it to the end, I recommend eating only small amounts of each.
- Wine will always remain on the table. Should you be done drinking and do NOT want any more wine, leave your glass mostly full, or it is sure to be refilled again and again.
Tips for Avoiding Food Poisoning When Traveling Worldwide
Wash hands before and after eating
Eat where locals eat
If only foreigners are there, you should NOT eat there
Eat where locals eat
Always over-cook meat items, meat can sit out all day
Avoid imported exotic foods
Any strange or exotic food that's not local, should be skipped!
Cook food properly
Only eat properly cooked foods. Refrigeration may be an issue in some countries
Salads and fruits
Eat where locals eat
Try to avoid fresh salads and fruits that may have been washed with unsafe water
Frozen local water
Freezing water does NOT kill bacteria (even in your Margarita)
The pride in being "Greek" has been assessed as being the highest among all European nationalities. To a Greek, nothing is better than being Greek! When overlooking the historically popular Greek shoreline, it's no wonder why. The beauty of the warm Greek Islands is hard to surpass. These hospitable and intelligent people have much to offer, and because of this, it is very important to understand what moves them and how to stay within the perimeters of good etiquette when dining with a Greek family. Most western manners will do nicely, but for your own sake, it is helpful to know some specific cultural and social customs that apply when vacationing in Greece.
- In Greece, almost all conversations are accompanied by gestures of approval, usually by the hand sign of "okay". The indicator for "okay" in the western world (making a circle with your forefinger and thumb) is considered very vulgar to a Greek. Instead, the acceptable way to indicate "OK" to a Greek is to make a fist and point your thumb toward the sky. Should you decide to use the western style gesture, you might just get slapped by a Greek woman, or popped in the nose by a Greek gentleman.
- When introduced to someone for the first time, shake hands and maintain good eye contact.
- Getting to a dinner 30 minutes late is considered good manners.
- Dress above your station, this shows respect to your host.
- Always offer to help set-up or clean-up. Your offer won't be accepted generally, but will be greatly appreciated.
- Compliment the home and expect to be treated like you are next in line for the throne; Greeks are very hospitable.
- Remain standing, you may be shown to a chosen seat.
- Table manners are continental (fork in left hand, knife in right hand while eating).
- The oldest is generally served first.
- Elbows off the table, hands above the table at all times (think French etiquette here).
- Try to eat a second helping, this is a big compliment to the host.
- Plan on having some vigorous conversation as dining is a time for socializing in Greece, and these fine debaters have much to say loud and clear!
- Go ahead and sop-up that gravy and sauce with a piece of bread, in Greece, that's what bread is for.
- It's okay to share food from eschother's plate. However, as a guest you should wait to be invited to share from someone else's plate. But it's okay to offer to share from your plate first.
- Place your napkin next to your plate when done eating or your plate will continue to be refilled.
- The host will give the first toast, but the honored guest is expected to offer a second toast later in the meal. "To your health" will do just fine.
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The Dutch are a modern and modest people. They value hard work, education, ambition and ability. Ostentatious behavior is looked down upon; while accumulating money is fine, flashing it or spending it can be perceived as a blunder. Spending freely can bring suspicion and make people feel you are wasteful. The Dutch are very restrained in public, refraining from being demonstrative, exuberant, or angry (in public). You may consider them unfriendly, but they are more restrained when greeting strangers and will wait for you to make the first move; go ahead and initiate interaction. The Dutch will not disappoint you when it comes to hospitality and kindness.
- The Dutch place tremendous value on being clean and neat.
- Never brag about material possessions, Holland is an egalitarian society.
- Self-control is highly regarded, so reign it in.
- The common handshake is the best greeting. Repeat the persons name several times during this process. Shake hands with everyone individually, even the children.
- Remain formal until you are invited to call Mr. Tart, by his first name of "Ted." First names are reserved for more familiar relationships.
- When invited to a home, bring nicely wrapped high quality chocolates, books, or flowers (bring flowers in odd numbers only, but never thirteen, which is considered unlucky). Don't give pointed gifts (scissors or knives) as they are also unlucky. Expect gifts to be opened when received.
- Avoid bringing white lilies or chrysanthemums, these are reserved for funerals.
- Dinner is usually formal in the Netherlands.
- Continental table manners here!
- Men remain standing until all women have been seated.
- Wait for the host to begin eating first.
- Do not cut your salad, fold it on your fork.
- It is offensive to waste food in Holland, but second helpings are flattering. So make sure you take small portions so you can mange to meet both of these good culinary etiquette requirements.
- Place your fork and knife parallel across the right side of your plate to indicate that you are done eating.
Don't expect to hear only Hindi spoken when traveling in India. This country is rich with dialect and language. But Hindi is the the states official language. The Indian people are very conscious of hierarchy, whether it be family, friends, strangers, business, or politics. For instance, teachers in schools are called gurus and considered the source of all knowledge. The men are considered the leaders of the family as India is a patriarchal society. Knowing the clear-cut hierarchy is very important to maintain social stability. Eating and drinking is considered a very important and respected part of Indian culture. Some western women may find the culture to be offensive, but it is not intended to be as such.
- Indian's find the word "no" to be disrespectful, and will avoid it at almost any cost. To them, it is simply rude to say no. You must be vigilant in your visual observations of body language and verbal avoidance's to understand the actual meaning of a vague conversation. They just might be trying to politely tell you, "NO."
- Always greet the most senior person first.
- You must say goodbye to each individual when leaving or it is a great insult.
- Men may shake hands with other men, and women may shake hands with other women; however rarely should a man and a woman shake hands. If you're not sure, wait to see what others do.
- Indians believe that gift giving helps the transition to the next life; so give away!
- DO NOT give white flowers.
- Yellow, green, and red are lucky colors so wrap gifts with them.
- Do not give pigskin or alcohol gifts to those of the Muslim faith.
- No leather should be given to those of the Hindu faith.
- Even as Indians are not punctual themselves, they will expect you to be as close to on time as possible.
- Remove shoes upon entering any home in India.
- Always politely say "no thank you" to the offer of tea, coffee, or snacks the first time. Don't worry, you will be asked again. Saying no at first is part of protocol.
- Guest are served in a particular order; guest of honor first, then the men, with the children being served last. Women will generally serve the men and eat later.
- Lamb, chicken, and fish will be the main meats served, this avoids disrespecting any religious beliefs of Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs.
- You may be asked to wash your hands before and after a meal.
- Expect to eat with your (right) hand, but a tablespoon and fork may also be available.
- Leave a small amount of food on your plate to indicate you are full. If you clean your plate, this is telling your host you are still hungry.
Southwestern Europe is a wonderfully Mediterranean location and is where you will land when visiting Spain. The language of Spain is mostly castilian. It is the first language of over 70% of the population, while Roman catholic is the religion of over 94%. The Spanish women are not only beautiful but are quite friendly, intelligent, as is evident when you count the female population in large quantity at universities. The historical machismo of males has changed lately leaving the older generation of men to the macho aspects of Spanish family life. The new generation of men and women reside in a very equalitarian society with smaller combined family living as well as fewer children.
- It is customary to shake hands upon meeting, men will often use a two handed shake placing the left hand on the right forearm of the other person.
- Female friends will kiss each other on both cheeks, starting with the left.
- People are regularly referred to as Don or Dona and then their first name (as in; Don James or Dona Shirley) in formal company.
- If invited to a Spanish home for dinner, bring a gift for the hostess (chocolates are always best) and don't forget to bring something for the children if applicable.
- Remain standing until offered a seat, as you may be assigned to a particular spot.
- Your hands always must remain in view, with your wrists resting on the edge of the table, never in your lap.
- All food is eaten with utensils; including fruit.
- It is acceptable for a woman to give a toast, but only after the host and honored guest.
- Never get up from the table until the host does.
- Dress neatly and conservatively, accessories are important to Spanish fashion.