Expat FAQ

Do you have a general question on expatriation? FAQs give you answers to the most frequent questions: Entertainment.

How do I eat like a local?

A basic guide to eating like a local is to follow the lead of your host or other guests. However, different standards of etiquette can be confusing or even embarresing. This guide lays out the standards of different regions throughout the world.


    General Rules:
  • Meals are commonly served on a low table with decorated pillows for the guests to sit on.
  • African hosts are known for their generosity. Always accept the cup of tea and/or coffee and expect frequent refills. You may not be able to leave with an empty plate and may need to accept a refill and leave food on the plate in order not to insult the host.
  • In some areas of Africa (especially in Muslim nations), it is not acceptable to eat with your left hand. Wash your hands before the meal. Many restaurants have sinks out in the open specifically for this purpose.
  • Men and women may be asked to dine separately.
  • No utensils may be offered in some countries. Use your hands, often with the help of a doughy starchy staple.


    General Rules:
  • Just about everywhere in Asia requires chopsticks for dining. Ask for help if you need it as most hosts will be happy to show you the correct way to handle your utensils.
  • Rest chopsticks on your plate or a chopstick rest when not using them. Never rest them in or across a rice bowl or upright in your rice.
  • Do not point with chopsticks, or wave them around, or pierce food with them.
  • Use the small end of a chopstick as your eating utensil, and the large end to serve others.
  • Tea is usually served with meals throughout Asia. If someone refills your teacup, tapping your fingers three times symbolizes appreciation.
  • While rice is a staple, it is not necessary to eat every grain in your bowl. In fact, if you eat everything in your rice bowl or on your plate, it may means you want more.
  • Age is revered, and in general you should not begin to eat or drink until the oldest man at the table has been served and begun.
  • Drinking etiquette often dictates you must never pour your own drink. If a beverage is less than half full, it needs refilling. If yours is less than half full, your neighbor is obliged to refill it. If he or she does not, do not refill it yourself, for this will cause your neighbor to lose face: instead, diplomatically indicate your need by pouring a little more drink into your neighbor's glass, even if it doesn't really need it.
  • In informal restaurants, you may be required to share a table. If so, do not force conversation; act as if you are seated at a private table.
  • Toothpicks are often used at the end of the meal. The best way to handle a toothpick is to use it while covering your mouth with the other hand.


    General Rules
  • Dining etiquette calls for utensils with no need to switch knives and forks between hands while eating. The knife remains in the right hand, and the fork remains in the left. Pass all dishes and serving accessories at the table to your left.
  • Politeness is appreciated, so keep your elbows off the table and use the words "please" and "thank you".
  • Offer to help with meal preparation and clean-up when being entertained in a home.
  • Aussies are known for their skill on the "barbie" (BBQ). These informal affairs often have guests bring their own wine or beer, or even their choice of meat or side dish.
  • If you share a pint with a group Australians, realize that rounds are often purchased by each member of the group.


    General Rules:
  • Europeans eat using the "Continental style". The fork is held in the left hand and the knife in the right. You then eat with your fork still in your left hand. The fork and knife should remain in your hands at all times.
  • With the utensils, start from the outside and work your way in, course by course.
  • Dining tends to be formal with elbows off the table and both hands above the table at all times.
  • Eating everything on the plate shows that you have enjoyed your meal.
  • If a group is buying drinks, it is common in some countries to have person buy each round.
  • In informal restaurants, you may be required to share a table. If so, do not force conversation; act as if you are seated at a private table.
  • Water is not automatically served at the table. Bottled water is usually ordered, but you can make a special request for table water or tap water. You may need to pay for a beverage to receive water.
  • Meals can occur quite late in some countries with lunches around 14:00 and dinners around 22:00. Restaurants may not be open in the off times so plan accordingly.
  • Dining is often a drawn-out, lingering event. The focus can be equally to socialize and eat.

Middle East

    General Rules:
  • Most countries in the Middle East are highly identified with Islam so these standards must be observed. This includes the prohibited items of pork and alcohol. Alcohol may be occasionally offered, but drunkenness is never acceptable.
  • It is fairly common to have separate seating areas for women with families and single men.
  • Arabs are known for their hospitality.
  • Diners are expected to take several helpings, so pace yourself. Also realize that your plate will be automatically refilled unless you leave a little food on the plate.
  • Dining is usually on the floor with seating on cushions.
  • Food is generally served communally and everyone will share from the same dish.
  • If you eat with your fingers, use only your right hand to eat. Wash your hands before beginning a meal.
  • Guests may be honored with prime choice of meats such as the head or eyes.
  • Meals are a social affair. Conversations are animated and loud.
  • Respect is shown through the order of serving. The head of the family or honored guest is served first.

North America

    General Rules:
  • Dining in North American is generally quite casual. Where there are extensive etiquette rules, most people only adhere to the basics unless there is a special occasion. Basics include keeping your elbows off the table, avoiding burping, farting, or talking with food in your mouth, and say please and thank you.
  • Cutlery usually includes a fork, spoon, and knife. To use the knife, the fork is switched to the left hand. To continue eating, the fork is switched back to the right hand. However, eating in the Continental manner will not offend anyone. Many foods are eaten by hand.
  • Begin eating when everyone is served and the host has started eating.
  • Foods or drinks can be refused without causing offense.
  • Dining can take place anytime during the day.
  • Your napkin should be placed on your lap immediately after you are seated and kept on your lap during the meal.

South America

    General Rules:
  • European-style table manners are usually observed.
  • Business lunches are common throughout Latin America. They are generally long, from 13:00 or 14:00 p.m. til 15:00 or 16:00.
  • Dinner is a social event, and can occur very late. Dinner may not begin until 22:00 or 23:00.
  • Be polite by keeping your elbows off the table and avoid talking with food in your mouth.
  • It is common to arrive 15 to 30 minutes late for a meal.
  • Hosts will often say "buen provecho" as an invitation to start eating.
  • It would be highly unusual to be asked to share a table in any situation.
  • Never leave immediately after dinner. You should stay and socialize.


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