For the anxious globetrotter, travelling can be a real social mindfield. We’ve all heard stories of guests accidentally doing something outrageously offensive or excruciatingly embarrassing at the dinner table as a result of ignorance, and prayed that such a fate doesn’t befall us. No one wants an awkward holiday.
In many cases, good table manners are just common sense. However, there are a few instances where nations seem to have cast aside all sense of reason and adopted habits that border on the ridiculous. In every instance, you could be forgiven for forgetting these at a dinner party. Here are seven of the weirdest table manners from around the world.
Normally when food falls to the floor, the acceptable response is to swear loudly and hurl it into the nearest bin. Not so in Afghanistan. In a move that will please anyone loath to throw food away, tradition dictates that the dropper instead picks up the bread, gives it a quick wipe, before kissing it and putting it back on his or her plate. Certainly beats wasting something yummy.
Most people might think it obvious that a potato should be tackled with a knife and fork. In Germany, however, this approach is likely to land you in hot water with your hosts. According to tradition, potatoes should be smashed with a fork so as to improve gravy coverage. Using a knife apparently indicates to your hosts that you don’t think they are cooked enough.
There are plenty of people who like to add a pinch of salt to almost everything they eat. This is a matter of personal preference as much as anything else. But, though most of us think nothing of an extra sprinkle, this is considered the height of rudeness in Egypt - an affront to the chef who intended the food to be eaten exactly as it is. This rule also applies, though to a lesser extent, in Portugal.
When most of us receive an invitation, it’s usually seen as sensible to stick to suggested arrival times. The last thing you want is to annoy the person making you dinner. In Japan however, things are very different. Custom dictates that guests leave around an hour between the invite time and their arrival, making events a nightmare to navigate for the uninitiated.
It seems like the bare minimum for a restaurant to keep things neat and tidy. Despite the logic of keeping things spic and span for new customers, Spanish tapas bars have a very different attitude to restaurant maintenance. In a tradition dating back to the 19th century, many eateries avoid picking up general detritus such as napkins and old food in order to show off how many customers they’ve had that evening.
There aren’t many nations who do prim and proper quite like the English. Children have probably been disinherited after having their elbows on the table. If there’s one country where eating with your hands ought to be totally unacceptable, it ought to be here. In a shocking twist, however, it’s traditional for asparagus spears to be eaten with your fingers at an English dinner table.
They might have been brewing beer for over a thousand years, but Hungarians have some pretty strange rules when it comes to drinking it. According to tradition, drinkers should never clink glasses when making a toast. This dates back to a legend that Austrian general clinked beer glasses to celebrate the execution of Hungarian revolutionaries, meaning that it would be a grave insult to the dead to do so today.
It can be tricky to keep track of so many odd and unusual quirks. With so many potential pitfalls, you could be forgiven for never wanting to leave home. At least if you go travelling to any of these seven destinations, you will be a little more prepared than normal.