7 STEPS to WORLD TABLE MANNERS – How Not to Gross Out the World

In a truly quaint and charming little town with cobbled streets and rustic imagery, where everyone is friendly, in Madagascar or Mali, a local invites you to share their table for dinner and you couldn’t be more ecstatic. Then, in Thailand, same story, the spread is laid but you don’t know what to do. You take a serving spoon, and a few awkward gazes, whispers, and a long pause may follow. They commence eating, and so do you, but you reflect as you masticate that you may have done something offensive.

Here is a list of tips and safe dining practices that, regardless of location, except France (a volume of French etiquette on its own), would get you through at any table in the world.

1. Religion-check.

Key importance is, if you’re invited for a meal, to subtly check the group’s religion. From this understated detail, the traveller gets a head start on the group’s tolerance for cultural differences and offences. Most Muslims and Roman Catholics are traditional, while Protestants should be less conventional and a more comfortable bunch.

Note: Religion -helpful information, bad topic.

2. Eat RIGHT

Anywhere! For travellers to Asia and Africa, this is a pretty safe but necessary skill to learn. Other cultures and religions like the Muslims in Iran deem the left hand as unclean thus unsettling to use for eating. Eating with your right hand with cutlery or without is no consequence to a Christian bunch. Regardless of country or company, eat “right” either way.

3. Cutlery correctness

Where there is no cutlery, eat with the hands. In most small rural towns in African countries, the U.S., and Asia, people eat with the hands. Unless you just handled a radioactive object, then ask for utensils. Otherwise, take what is offered. And please, don’t ask for a butter knife, steak knife, or salad fork, save you’re in France which in most cases they’d have that on the table already.

4. Expect to share

In impoverished places especially, communal traditions are treasured. In Asia, Africa, even small towns in Europe and America (practically everywhere) eating off a communal plate without a serving ladle is courteous, and digging in is all the respect they need. The higher the economy of the place or home, the more formal observations are.

5. Compliment without condiments

French cooks are easily offended when the food is tampered with condiments, particularly with ketchup. In Asia, food is like a blank canvass that you design, in this case, flavour according to your preference. So, to be in a safe place, eat the dish as is unless asked or presented with the salt and pepper shaker. But do taste the food before adding a pinch of this and a dash of that.

6. A little left-over

In some countries in Africa, waste not, want not, or the host loses face thinking you didn’t find it good. In other traditional British, Chinese, and other households, totally clearing the plate gives confused signals that a) the host didn’t provide enough or b) you weren’t satisfied – both, not cool. So, leave a spoon of rice or 5 pieces of noodles or a little of whatever food on your plate. No controversy, no waste, all good.

7. Don’t pass the gas

In some small Asian, African, or German town, it may be okay to pass gas or burp, but in general, it’s unacceptable regardless of country and company. This isn’t even a question.

OBSERVATION and IMITATION are key. A true man of the world need be sensitive, tolerant, and adherent towards the eating habits of various cultures. In some European countries, eating habits are an art form, while in others, a personal experience devoid of form. In Japan, slurping noodles loudly is a compliment, whereas in Britain, eating quietly is the norm. How to reconcile? Observe and imitate the majority. This is essentially all a traveller needs to know. And with these fool-proof tips, no eyebrows will be raising.



Josh Boorman


Backpacking Addictz



Twitter: @backpackaddictz

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Joshua Boorman

Joshua Boorman

Founder & Editor in Chief at Backpacking Addictz
Come with me on a journey with me to various destinations throughout the world. We discuss all things Backpacking, Lifestyle Design & Online Business to help you achieve new found freedom and create a life of meaningful fulfillment.
Joshua Boorman
About The Author

Joshua Boorman

Come with me on a journey with me to various destinations throughout the world. We discuss all things Backpacking, Lifestyle Design & Online Business to help you achieve new found freedom and create a life of meaningful fulfillment.

1 Comment

  • Jet-off traveler

    December 27, 2013

    Indeed, it’s essential to know before how to eat in specific countries, areas. It’s impolite not to eat everything in Japan, China… but it’s impolite to eat it all up in some parts of Europe.
    Don’t eat with your left hand in an Arab country… well pretty much everyone knows that.

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