Growing up, our mothers reminded us not to put our elbows on the table, to put our napkins in our laps, and to chew with our mouths closed until one day, good table manners became engrained in us.
Just as we in the U.S. practice a standard etiquette for dining, so do people in countries around the world. But when we gather around a table to eat, our table manners may differ from others' manners, depending on where in the world they are.
In Chile, for example, it’s bad form to eat anything with your hands, meaning even empanadas and chacareros (a type of Chilean sandwich) should be cut up with a knife and picked up with a fork. Ethiopians, however, consider it wasteful to eat with utensils, and so eat everything with their hands — specifically their right hand.
In countries all over the world — from Afghanistan, where bread that is dropped on the floor is lifted and kissed in reverence, to Thailand, where forks are generally only used to push food into a spoon — polite table manners differ. To show how they vary from culture to culture, we’ve rounded up table manners from around the world.
1. Afghanistan: Kiss Bread That Is Dropped on the Floor
In Afghanistan, when bread is dropped on the floor, it’s lifted and kissed.
2. South America: Pay Respect to Mother Earth
In parts of Peru, Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia, diners pay respect to Pachamama the Andean goddess of fertility and harvest, by spilling a few drops of their drink on the ground and saying, "Para la Pachamama." This ritual is called "ch’alla." To make an offering, some tip their glass over, while others flick it with two fingers.
3. Canada: Arrive Fashionably Late
Showing up fashionably late is socially acceptable in Canada, while showing up on time or early is not.
4. Chile: Never Eat with Your Hands
Chileans always use utensils. It’s bad manners to touch any part of your meal with your hands.
5. China: Make a Mess and Belch
In China, a host can tell that you enjoyed the meal when you’ve made a mess around your table. And leaving just a bit of food on your plate shows that you’re full and you had enough to eat. Although, it’s rude to leave any rice leftover in your bowl. Belching is another way of complimenting the host on the food.
6. Egypt: Don’t Refill Your Own Glass
It’s customary in Egypt to wait for someone else to refill your glass and for you to refill your neighbor’s glass when needed. If a glass is less than half full, it needs refilling. If your neighbor forgets to refill your glass, you can let them know it needs to be refilled by pouring a little more drink into their glass. It’s never acceptable, however, to refill your own glass.
7. England: Pass the Port to the Left, and Know the Bishop of Norwich
In England, port is continuously passed to the left side of the table until it’s finished. Some say this has to do with naval tradition — the port side of a boat is on your left if you’re facing the helm — but the true reason is unclear. If the port is not passed, it’s considered impolite to ask for it. Instead, a neighbor can ask the person who has it, "Do you know the Bishop of Norwich?" If they reply that they don’t know him, the response is, "He’s a very good chap, but he always forgets to pass the port."
Check out more table manners from around the world.
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