14 Dining-Related Taboos from Around the World

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Visit different countries, and you're bound to experience cultural differences—especially at the dinner table. Here are some things to help you mind your manners, wherever you're traveling next.

China

1. Chinese tradition believes that long noodles symbolize a long life, so if you're lucky enough to eat a big steaming bowl of long noodles, don't cut them—it symbolizes cutting a long life short.

2. While eating at the table, you should never point your chopsticks at another person.

3. Flipping a cooked fish which is on your plate is a serious no-no. If you do, you're inviting bad luck into your life. The tradition stems from Chinese fisherman rituals. While eating, the fisherman would not turn over the fish because they feared it would cause their boats to capsize on their next trip. Instead, you should pull the flesh from beneath the fish.

Japan

4. While eating at the dinner table in Japan, chopsticks should never be used to pass food between two people. Chopsticks are used to pass bones at funerals after cremation, and by replicating this same gesture at the dinner table, you are both dishonoring a funeral tradition and creating bad luck.

5. Chopsticks have another function for funeral traditions in Japan. In the home, families stick chopsticks vertically into bowls of rice as an offering to the dead. The vertical chopsticks also symbolize incense burned to sacrifice this dead. While this gesture is acceptable in a person’s home, you are never supposed to place chopsticks vertically in a bowl of food at a restaurant since the gesture is believed to put a curse on the restaurant owner. These beliefs are also the same in Chinese and Korean culture.

United Kingdom

6. As a sign of proper manners in the UK, you should always tilt a bowl of soup away from you while you are eating from it. Manners also dictate that you should spoon the soup away from you toward the opposite side of the bowl while you're eating. This is also proper etiquette in the United States.

Korea

7. As a sign of respect in Korea, you should never begin eating at the dinner table until the eldest or most senior person has begun eating.

Chile

8. If you ever decide to travel to South America, remember this: Chileans don’t eat anything with their hands at the dinner table. Ever. Pizzas, french fries, and sandwiches are consistently eaten with silverware.

United States

9. It's illegal to eat watermelon in public parks within Beech Grove, Indiana. The law was created because an abundance of disposed watermelon rinds punctured the trash bags and caused a mess.

10. In Gainesvilla, Georgia, it's illegal to eat fried chicken with anything but your bare hands. In 2009, one resident was arrested as a prank for committing the crime—i.e., eating her fried chicken with a fork—on her 91st birthday. Luckily, it was all a joke played on her by a friend, and the charges were dismissed.

Italy

11. While dining in Italy, you should never ask for extra cheese unless it is offered to you. It’s seen as a challenge of the chef’s cooking abilities.

Tanzania

12. While you might think that it is polite to show up just a few minutes early for a dinner party in America, it is actually rude to show up early for dinner in Tanzania. Guests should always arrive 15 or 20 minutes late for a meal to be polite.

Russia

13. If you finish a bottle of vodka, the empty bottle should always be placed on the ground. Russians believe that placing an empty bottle back on the table causes bad luck.

14. Food should never, ever be licked off of a knife or any other eating utensil. The act is considered rude and a sign of poor manners. Some would even consider you a savage, as it can also be interpreted as a sign of cruelty to lick a utensil that cut through your food.

April 15, 2014 - 10:35am
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