Q: Our little grandson spent the night with us recently. He's in first grade now and we feel quite intelligent, naturally. I made spaghetti and meatballs for dinner because it is one of his favorites. I noticed he was making a lot of sucking noise getting some of the longer spaghetti into his mouth. I didn't say anything but when he finished and belched rather loudly, I couldn't help but mention that it was not good manners to do this. To my surprise he told me that by sucking in the spaghetti, he was trying to tell me he really, really liked it. And the belch was to tell me the same thing. He said the teacher at school told them about how this is the thing to do in some countries and he thought he would do it to tell me. He didn't remember the countries and my husband and I weren't familiar with such manners so I dropped the subject, but I would like to know when he comes for his next visit about some of these unusual dining manners in other countries.
A: Your grandson was correct in that in Japan, for instance, it is deemed very appropriate to slurp and make sucking noises while eating noodles and it is meant to let the hostess know how enjoyable the dish is without verbally telling her. Burping or belching sends the same signal when eating in India, Turkey and some of the other Middle East countries even though doing so in our country is considered very vulgar. Some other dining practices that we do not follow in our country, but are considered very appropriate in others, are very interesting as well. Here are a few of them:
- A century-old tradition, the British prefer to eat a banana with a fork.
- Touching any food in Chile without using a utensil is strictly forbidden, even French Fries. Brazil also requires utensils be used even when eating a hamburger or pizza. However, in Ethiopia and India, eating food with your fingers is the custom with the restriction that it be the fingers of the right hand only. To use the left hand is considered an unclean habit. Sharing food from a single plate is also an approved common practice in Ethiopia because using separate plates is considered wasteful.
- In Portugal, if there is no salt and pepper on the table, it is considered very rude to the chef to ask for it.
- Italians are expected to "dig in" as soon as they are served any pasta dish, rather than waiting until everyone is served as is expected in our country. It is also considered extremely inappropriate to ask for additional cheese toppings to be added when eating pizza or even some types of seafood.
- Although in America, we often split the bill in a restaurant, in France the rule is to either pay for the entire bill yourself or allow someone else at the table to do so. You will also notice the French use bread as a type of utensil, by using it to "push" food on to their spoon. In Thailand, the fork's only purpose is to "push" food onto a spoon. Food is then eaten from the spoon only.
- In Germany, you will see a fork being used to smash a potato in the dinner plate rather than cutting it with a knife and fork. To use a knife, would indicate you do not think the potato is cooked enough. In many European countries, the knife is used to push food onto the back of the tines of the fork and the fork is then brought to the mouth in the left hand with the food then being eaten from the back of the tines, rather than the front as we do in our country.