Elbows off the table? Clean your plate like your mother taught you? Not so fast. Food etiquette varies widely from culture to culture and can sometimes appear to have no rhyme or reason. In the Middle East, India, and parts of Africa, keeping your elbows off the table isn’t enough—you’re not supposed to touch anything at the table with your left hand (it’s considered dirty). In France, it’s considered more polite to put your slice of bread on the table than to rest it on your plate. Slurp soup in Japan and no one will bat an eye. Slurp soup in China and you’ll be the Ugly American. In China, eating rice with chopsticks is expected, but in Thailand it’s considered inappropriate (there, you should use a spoon). In Brazil and Chile, don’t eat anything with your hands (no, not even fries). In Italy or Cuba, putting your cutlery on the right side of your plate means you’re done with the meal. But in Spain, you’d place it on your plate to indicate that you’re finished. Clean your plate in Ecuador and you’ll be given seconds, but in Peru cleaning your plate is just considered polite. And remember whenever you sit down to eat in a group outside the U.S., there’s a good chance you should wait for either the host or the eldest person at the table to start eating before you tuck into what’s on your plate.
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