When you’re travelling, one of the last things you want to do is offend the locals. But it’s easily done. Cultures vary around the world and what delights one person might cause offence in another country. Before you know it, you’ve misread the situation and acted inappropriately, potentially upsetting people without meaning to. To avoid such an awkward encounter, we’ve gathered five top tips to avoid bad table manners in the Orient. Check them out:
Tipping around the world can be a minefield. In the USA, it’s standard to tip waiters, hotel staff, taxi drivers and bartenders. In fact, you’ll end up offending people if you fail to leave some extra money behind for them. But in the eastern world, it can be quite different. In Japan, for example, you’ll offend staff by trying to tip them. It’s best to research country-specific expectations rather than guessing what’s standard practice.
Don’t fill up your own drink
“Don’t reach for that bottle and pour yourself a drink,” the Secret Traveller bluntly puts it. In many places in the orient – such as Japan and Korea – it’s not only bad form, but bad luck to top your own drink up. Don’t worry though. You won’t have to hang around long for someone to fill you up. Once you’ve finished your glass, the host will promptly top it up for you. If you don’t want anymore, leave some of your beverage in there.
Avoid showing the soles of your feet
The easiest way to understand many eastern attitudes to displaying the soles of your feet is to appreciate they’re seen as the dirtiest parts of the body. Therefore, it’s taboo to show off your soles. For instance, if you were to pull up a chair and rest your feet on another facing someone in Thailand, they’d see it as rude. Follow the advice in this explanation and never put your feet high up – unless you’re giving Thai boxing a go.
In the east, it’s common to hear people slurp their food. It’s not bad manners – rather a sign they’re enjoying their food. So slurp away to show your gratitude. Just be careful what you’re doing with your chopsticks. As the Gap Year Traveller says in this post on table manners in north east Asia explains, waving them around while you talk is frowned upon. Put them to rest – just don’t stick them in the rice.
Don’t eat with your left hand
In India, Sri Lanka and parts of the Middle East, you’ll get some stares if you start to eat with your left hand. It’s because the left hand is reserved for toiletry functions – not, under any circumstances, would a local use their left hand for eating. Stick to your right hand if you want to avoid awkward looks and whispers around the dinner table.
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Wine photo from Faisal Akram