Table manners which you may define as polite and proper at home might come across as unrefined, snobbish or rude elsewhere.
Shared meals are a ritual all over the world, so it’s no wonder that each country will have its own take on what’s considered proper etiquette.
During the Middle Ages, people used their hands to eat. Bread was used to help scoop up food and only the wealthy used knives. Sociologist Norbot Elias said of the period: “In good society one does not put both hands in the dish. It is more refined to use only three fingers of the hand.”
Up until the 17th century, forks were seen as overly refined and effeminate. Brought over from Italy to England by Thomas Coryate, they were slow to catch on. They were eventually adopted by the wealthy with ornate designs and expensive materials. Fast forward a few centuries and you have Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, which lists out a complex set of rules on proper dinner table etiquette.
She advises: THE GUESTS BEING SEATED AT THE DINNER-TABLE, the lady begins to help the soup, which is handed round, commencing with the gentleman on her right and on her left, and continuing in the same order till all are served. It is generally established as a rule, not to ask for soup or fish twice, as, in so doing, part of the company may be kept waiting too long for the second course.
Though published in 1861, a variation of some of these rules still exists in certain establishments, however most are no longer practiced at home. These days, there’s a whole new set of etiquette rules to consider. Should you wait until your companion has finished Instagramming their meal before starting? What about leaving your phone on the table?
Plus, we’re now fortunate enough to experience a whole range of ethnic foods without leaving the country. The proper way to eat sushi is an art in itself, and not all restaurants will immediately supply you with a knife and fork over chopsticks. The best course of action is to observe and follow. But if you do make a faux pas, it’s only a meal after all.
Whether you’re off travelling, dining at an ethnic restaurant or just keen on updating your dinner ritual – here are just a few table manners from around the world.