Table Manners Across Cultures
Table Manners Across Cultures
Norine Dresser (Writer) gives expert video advice on: How do table manners differ among cultures?; Why is noisy eating acceptable in other cultures?; What do people from other cultures find odd about American food? and more...
How do table manners differ among cultures?
There are big differences between cultures. Whether they eat with their hands, always with the right hand, no matter where, whether they eat with chopsticks, whether they eat with just a spoon. Utensils, the foods that they eat, the foods that are taboo. You of course know about shellfish and pork for Jews, alcohol for Muslims.
How does offering food to guests differ among cultures?
Offering food is something Americans say, "Would you like some ice cream?" We'll say, "Oh, no thank you. Not right now." And I'll ask you one more time, "Would you like some ice cream?" And you'll say, "No, thank you" and I've got the message you don't want any ice cream. But, I learned from a friend of mine who was actually an instructor of mine from Indonesia at UCLA. And he said, when he first came to the US, he was so hungry all the time, people would invite him for dinner. And they'd say, "Would you join us for dinner?" And he'd say, "No, thank you." And they'd say, "Oh, come on, have something to eat with us." And he'd say, "No, thank you." And so they would stop asking, thinking they didn't want to push food on him; maybe he didn't like American food. And so, he was really hungry. And he learned to overcome his rule: at home, people have to ask you three times, offer you food three times before you can accept it. And that applies not only in Indonesia but in other parts of the world as well. So how do you know? I could never stand my mother-in-law; she was born in the old world, and my husband didn't like it either. As soon as we sat down, she would start bringing out all the food. Well, if you bring it out, then that solves that, so don't ask, just serve it and they'll take it. "Oh no, not right now." So then, ask three times.
Why is noisy eating acceptable in other cultures?
In China and Japan slurp your noodles. That's a sign of respect. Smack you lips, I don't know what that means. I don't know exactly. But that also means that the dinner is very good. Belching or burping, in some places bad manners, in other places it was a delicious meal and you feel very satisfied. Generally speaking, we don't talk with food in our mouths. There's this stereotype of the Japanese holding, you know, laughing behind the hand and that's partly because you don't want to show your teeth and your mouth. So that's why they laugh behind here, it won't show your teeth. You don't want to do that while your chewing either but you can slurp your noodles, that's a very good sign.
How is finishing the plate perceived differently among cultures?
I had a student who was going to marry a girl from Cambodia. And in Cambodia, they sit on the floor when they eat and there was something that was very hot that he was drinking, hot in terms of spiciness. And he kept finishing it and every time he finished it, they would refill the food or the drink, I can't remember which it was. Because in Cambodia, if you finish it, it means you want more. Elsewhere, you have to leave a little bit to indicate that you're finished. So every country's different and, unless I check my notes, I couldn't tell you which is which. Will tell you one thing though, that if you're eating with chopsticks, particularly in Japan, but even in China, when you're finished, you do not leave your rice, your chopsticks upright in the rice, although it looks like a good thing, but only works if there's rice in there. And that's because it's related to funerals. And, you know, they have offerings for the deceased and then they have to two chopsticks going up.
What do people from other cultures find odd about American food?
I had some students say what's difficult for you to eat, when they first served me raw vegetables with all that gravy on top. I laughed to think of salad dressing as gravy. And then I had two Cambodian students tell me they had heard so much about sushi, and they went to a sushi restaurant and when it came it smelled funny, so they took it home and fried it! So it's all in the perspective, no?