Sure, you can eat any way you want when at home; like eating Nutella straight from the jar using your bare hands, sipping soup through a straw or dine using your complete silverware; but it’s an entirely different story when you are in a public place, especially if you are not in your home country.
While you may be fairly knowledgeable of the food etiquette rules in your own country, things will get more awkward than you think if you follow those rules in places where they don’t apply.
Knowing and following some new food etiquette rules may not make you any less a tourist, but it sure can help you make friends in foreign lands. Locals will definitely appreciate the fact that you took time to learn about their culture, and it also tells others that you are aware about the diversity of cultures and that you are willing to adapt when the situation demands.
To get you starting, here are some rules you might find useful to remember:
Country: Middle East, India and some parts of Africa and Asia
Rule: Eat with your right hand.
Middle Easterners, Indians, and some Asians and Africans adhere to very strict traditions. As an example, they are supposed to clean their privates using their left hand only; the reason why their left hand has always been considered as unclean. It is believed that eating with the same hand (even after sanitising) would contaminate the food.
So when you are in these countries, try to always eat with your right hand, even if you are a lefty.
Rule: Don’t drink cappuccino in the afternoon.
Having a cappuccino in the afternoon is a sure give-away that you are a tourist in Italy. While Italians wouldn’t mind you drinking a shot of espresso any time of the day, they think otherwise when it comes to a cappuccino.
There is a long-standing belief in Italy that drinking cappuccino way past noon will upset your stomach, as there is a belief that people who drink cappuccino in the afternoon are trying to replace their regular meals with just a cup of coffee.
Rule: Do not eat bread before the actual meal.
You have to eat your bread at the right time when you are in France. It is a violation against the rich French culture to eat your bread before the cheese course is served; and, cheese is not served until the end of the meal. Bread shouldn’t be consumed as an appetizer, especially when real appetizers are served.
Another common “bread practice” in France is putting bread directly on the table, instead of serving it on a plate.
Rule: Eat tacos with your hands.
Mexicans might take it as an insult if you try to eat their famous taco with a knife and a fork. Tacos are meant to be eaten with your bare hands and doing so would let everyone know that you are enjoying the meal.