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Entertaining etiquette: The dining traditions of the world

A huge part of culture is eating. We all eat, but the way we do it changes depending on where you are. Here’s what’s going on at dinner tables around the world — you may be surprised!

Friends Dining out


In China, it is polite to leave a small portion of food on your plate. If you finish everything, your host will think they did not serve enough food. The way you use your chopsticks is also really important: Try not to spear food, separate or make funny gestures with your sticks. It’s fine to ask for a fork or spoon if you are in a touristy restaurant or hotel. Never, ever stick your chopsticks into a bowl of rice in an upright position — that is how food is offered to the dead!


It’s perfectly fine to eat bread, but try and nibble it with your main meal, rather than as an appetiser. Instead of using a plate, just place your roll or slice right on the table. French people rarely get drunk and disorderly; it’s considered embarrassing to get to such a state. Pace yourself by taking small sips of wine and drink one glass of water for every alcoholic beverage. Lastly, if you’re dining with the French, don’t suggest splitting the bill: That practice is “uncouth”.


In Sweden, it is rare for one person to pick up the bill. Whether you’re on a first date or a business lunch, you are expected to pay your share of the bill. Furthermore, the bill is split precisely and according to what each person ate and drank.


While slurping soups and noodles is frowned upon in Australia, in Japan it is perfectly acceptable. These sound effects flatter the chef, as they indicate that you’re enjoying the meal. Also, the eldest or most “honoured” guest always gets served first. If you’re eating out, no tipping is necessary — how refreshing!

Middle East

In the Arab nations, it’s a great thing to make a mess! Given that food is eaten with your hands, it’s near impossible not to make a mess. For instance, to “cut up” meat, you should hold it down on the plate and pull off a portion using your forefinger and thumb. Then scoop rice and similar foods in your right hand. It’s always a good idea to leave a little bit of food on your plate — if you polish it off, your host will top up your plate before you have a chance to protest. Interestingly, guests’ importance is directly related to the kind of meat they are served. “Prime” or delicacy cuts like heads and eyes are usually offered to honoured guests.


In the land of tacos, it is considered extremely rude to leave the table midway through a meal. If you do need to excuse yourself to use the bathroom or get some fresh air, try to wait until a decent amount of time has passed since the host served up the dish. Better yet, wait until everyone has finished that course before standing up. At restaurants, expect the host to ask you what you want to order ahead of time — it is their duty to order for everyone. Interestingly, anyone who eats tacos or burritos with a knife and fork is deemed to be “snobby”. Finally, when you’re eating, keep your hands above the table at all times. No elbows allowed!


Russia is home to a few interesting dining traditions. Firstly, it’s polite to place your wrists (and only your wrists) on the edge of the table while eating. “Hiding” your hands in your lap is rude. Secondly, keep your fork in your left hand and knife in your right. If you’re munching on something that only requires a fork, still keep it in your left hand — it may feel unnatural, but that’s just how it’s done in Russia. Thirdly, it is a huge insult to turn down a drink. Offering someone a drink is a sign of friendship, so to decline it is offensive. While we’re on the subject of drinks, always drink vodka “neat” (without ice) and in its purest form. The Russians are infamous drinkers and they don’t like to mix their spirits!

Check out how to create your own table settings for dinner parties >>

Other traditions

Portugal — Don’t ask for salt, pepper, or any other condiment if it’s not already on the table. Asking for something to give your food more flavour is an insult to the cook.

India — Try not to eat or touch anything on the table with your left hand.

Turkey — When eating out, whoever extended the invitation is expected to pay.

Egypt — Burping after a meal is seen as a way of expressing your satisfaction and thanks to the chef.

Chile — Don’t touch any food with your hands, even fries and fruit — it’s the height of rudeness.

Nepal — When eating at someone’s house, be sure to ask for seconds. It’s a huge compliment.

Italy — Espresso is the only coffee that is acceptable at any time of the day. Ordering a cappuccino after noon is a major faux pas.

Ethiopia — Meat dishes are always eaten last.

Korea — If an older person offers you a drink, show your respect by holding the glass with both hands. Also, only start eating after the eldest male does.

More on entertaining

Entertaining for every stage of life
Easy appetisers for entertaining
How to make peach sangria

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