Getting the Hang of Table Manners From Other Countries
Making a social faux pas at the meal table while abroad can be embarrassing at best, or completely lose you the respect of your dining companions at worst. This can be disastrous if you're in another country on a business guided tour or meeting your foreign prospective in-laws for the first time. Behaviour that would be viewed as completely innocuous in your own country could be highly offensive in another country, so it's important you get to grips with what is and what is not acceptable at meal times before you sit down to eat - preferably before you enter a foreign country.
Researching Culinary Etiquette
Most countries and cultures have their own social conventions around eating and meal times. You should never assume that what's commonplace and acceptable in your home country is par for the course the world over. Cleaning your plate in some parts of the Far East is considered terribly rude for instance. Getting things wrong can seriously offend your hosts - be the setting private or in a restaurant. Something as simple as ushering waiting staff over with your finger could get you into trouble. In India, summonsing a person in such a fashion is deeply offensive.
If you want to avoid the chance of offending people, try to get your head round the customs of the country you're visiting before you depart - or at least before you sit down for a meal. You can find information about table manners in different parts of the world by searching online. Never assume that the rules in one country apply to another, even if they are close neighbours. Adopting the meal time etiquette of Israel when in Palestine is unlikely to win you any admirers. You can also use books to help you work out how you should behave when eating.
One of the best ways of preparing to eat abroad is visiting a local restaurant that serves cuisine from the country you're due to visit in your home town before you depart. Here, they will expect you to behave as a local but will be hopefully be happy to discuss how things are done politely in their country if they're immigrants. Talk about how you should conduct yourself before, during, and after a meal. Find out if men and women are expected to behave in the same way. Even the most strident of feminists should be prepared to adhere to the rules and conventions of a whole different culture out of respect - as long as these are not in themselves offensive.
In most cases, ignorance will be no excuse. People will expect you to have leaned and respected their customs. There may not be any serious ramifications if you don't, but you're likely to come across as pigheaded and ignorant if you fail to take notice of the conventions of the country you're a guest in. It doesn't take much time to spend just a few short hours doing a little research into how to conduct yourself when eating abroad. In fact, getting the hang of table manners from other countries should be part of every traveller's regime as they're preparing for a new trip. It's common courtesy to make sure you're not offending the residents of the countries you visit. In the most part, following local etiquette will take little effort on your part and could bring you big rewards. If you're doing business abroad, there's really no excuse. Failure to adhere to local meal time conventions could cost you a lot of money as well as face.
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