Despite globalization and the merging of customs that adhere to international trends, the differences in dining etiquette between countries has remained pretty much untouched over the years. People who travel frequently will eventually be confronted with these small differences, especially when it comes to hospitality professionals who work with a multi-cultured clientele. Thus, understanding table manners between different cultures is of utmost importance, while attention to a few simple details could be the difference between making a good first impression and provoking raised eyebrows or even offense on behalf of your host or guest.
In this article we’ll explore some of the notable differences between European and North American table manners. So take note and never assume just because in your country something is acceptable, it will be okay in other countries as well.
1. Using a Knife and Fork: In Europe it is acceptable to hold your fork in the left hand and the knife in the right without resting the knife or switching hands to take a bite. However, in the United States, traditionally you would hold the utensils in this manner only while cutting your food. Before taking a bite it is proper etiquette in the U.S. to rest your knife on the side of the plate while switching your fork to your right hand to take a bite.
2. Placement of hands: In most of Europe resting your hands on your lap while seated at the dining table is highly discouraged. Traditional etiquette requires both hands to be visible but without resting your elbows on the table. However, quite the opposite is true in the U.S. where it is expected that at least one hand is held in the lap when you aren’t eating.
3. Rest Signal: When excusing yourself from the table, talking, or drinking in a European dining environment, correct table manners require that you cross the fork over the knife on top of the plate in an ‘X’ shape– always leaving the fork’s tines facing downward. In the United States it is proper to balance your knife on the right edge of the plate with the fork also resting on the same side and the tines pointing upward in place of down.
4. Finished Signal: In the U.S. you should place your fork and knife parallel to one another while resting them on the outer right edge and directed towards the center of the plate. The fork should be closest to you with the tines facing upwards and the knife blade facing in. In Europe the practice is almost identical, only the fork’s tines should be pointing downwards. A small difference, but a significant difference nonetheless.
Now, that wasn’t too difficult was it? Other than these details, most common table manners are universal – don’t sit until told where to sit, always wait for women to be seated first, always stand up when a woman leaves or returns to the table, unfold your napkin and place it over your lap (never shake it open), always tear bite size pieces from your bread roll and butter each piece instead of the whole roll, never hold utensils or food in your hand while drinking, never say you are going to the rest room (simply ask to be excused instead), and of course – never talk with food in your mouth!
If you stick to these basic principles, you’ll fit in wherever your travels may take you. So, enjoy eating and don’t forget to make a good first impression!