We often take our own customs and quirks for granted, and it is not until we go away abroad and compare ourselves to the locals that we really pick up on them. Every country around the world has its own idiosyncrasies which make the dining ritual unique to that specific country. This could be sitting cross legged to eat, sharing dishes or even burping loudly to show your appreciation. This is one way to really get to know the people of a country by going to a local restaurant which is void of tourists and eat with the locals. This will give you a unique experience and also insight into the indigenous people of the country you are taking your cheap family holiday in. Some are strange, and some are similar to our own habits and customs, it is a good idea to do a bit of research as to what to expect when dining abroad to make sure you are properly prepared. Some of the biggest differences are in the countries in Asia.
Just like many other cultures, the Japanese have a saying before they eat which is like grace and giving thanks. They say “Itadakimasu”, which translates to “I humbly receive”. When you eat at a Japanese dining table or in a restaurant, there are different rules and etiquettes in place than in the west. A good example of this is with bowls of soup or rice. It is acceptable in Japanese culture to pick these up, and either hold them closer to your mouth, or even drink out of the directly, something which is highly frowned upon in the west. A larger bowl of soup may come with a spoon already so there is no need to lift the bowl up. With things like Soy Sauce, rather than pouring this over your food directly, it is customary to have a small bowl of the sauce, and you will pick the food up and dip this in the food before eating. Most Japanese eat with chopsticks, and it is very common to get disposable single use chopsticks at restaurants and cafes. These are then thrown away when finished with. After your meal, you may be given a small towel, and it is highly frowned upon to wash your face and neck with this as it is intended for your hands only. Also if, you use a toothpick after eating, you should always use one hand to cover your mouth.
China is not quite as reserved as Japan, and it a lot more laid back a culture when it comes to eating. Unlike in the west, it is quite common to hear loud slurping noises when you see Ch8nese eating bowls of noodles or soup, this is not considered to be rude at the table in China. The use of the hands is also prevalent, and either the floor or table cloth is used to spit out things like bones, seeds or anything else that they do not want to eat. You even have to be careful when you are walking in the street as spitting is a very common occurrence. One thing which is frowned upon though is the licking of your fingers or the blowing of your nose when you eat. As with Japan, it is important that when you use a toothpick, you make sure you also cover your mouth at the same time. It is also important not to use chopsticks to gesture as this is considered very rude. Spitting pumpkin or watermelon seeds at sporting events is also considered rude.
Thailand is a laid back country anyway, and there is not as much ritual when it comes to eating. You can find yourself eating at a small table on the ground with cushions, so you need to sit on the floor. Make sure if you have bare feet that you do not point these or show the bottoms of your feet to anyone as this is considered rude. In Thailand food is very much a social thing and you will find that people order lots of different dishes and everyone shares and has some of each dish rather than ordering individual dishes only for your consumption. This is a great way to try lots of different dishes, and if you come across something you do not like, you can quickly move on before offending anyone. Be careful though if you invite a load of Thai people out for food as they will expect you to pick the bill up if you invite them.
Some of the biggest differences are with the actual foods that are eaten and the way that they are presented to us. Fish is usually served whole on a plate in Asia, rather than in pieces, so if looking at the whole fish on your plate makes you queasy, you might want to turn away before someone eats one of the eyes! If you have a weaker constitution, you may wish to go for some plain and simple food and be a bit less adventurous.
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