If one had to find a single topic to fill the Big Book of Intercultural Questions with, food would definitely be the best choice. The more I think about it, the more I realize how hard it is to find an aspect of life in which food has no say at all. Me stating the following is also a matter of culture I guess, but it really seems to me that we organize our lives around meals. The norms, rules, symbols and expectations regarding food are countless, and greatly differ around the world, but one thing seems to be true everywhere: food and eating are something that express a great deal about a certain culture. And when going to a new place, fitting in many times starts at the table/on the floor/wherever it is usual for people there to eat.
Sunday Lunch Around The World
Food all around the world has its own rituals and meaning in our personal and professional lives as well. Let’s start with the family and Sunday lunches: back in my childhood they were something set in stone. Sunday lunch did not only have its own time frame, but its own dishes, especially kept for that day as well. Hot meat soup as the first course, and usually some kind of meat and potatoes as the second course were the menu for a Sunday lunch in Transylvania. Even today, if you wake up late in the morning on a Sunday, you can feel the scents coming from the other apartments, and you know that they are preparing for the Sunday lunch. Of course this has changed during the past decades, perhaps the tradition loosened up a bit, as more and more people started moving either to other cities or abroad, and it is really rare for the entire family to be together on a Sunday. It mostly happens during the holidays, during the year it’s not so common anymore. But this doesn’t mean the death of this tradition, it is more about keeping it alive in different manners. It is very common that friends invite friends over for a Sunday lunch, and cook each other some nice meals. Of course grandparents are always glad if the grandchildren come visiting for the weekend and then it is beyond any question that they will host the traditional Sunday family lunch. It is always something really intimate, and even to this day it is considered absolutely rude to call someone during Sunday lunch hours for example. But this is Romania.
In other places, like in Vietnam for example, having lunch together with the close ones can mean a 20-person party! In Vietnamese culture it is perfectly normal that lots of people gather together in the same house, and share their meal for hours and hours. It is something very personal for them as well, but the meaning of “intimate” and “personal” itself is entirely different in these two cultures. And these differences already show up in social interactions as well, as what is really personal to someone, can be too much for someone else, based on where they grew up.
From Dating To Weddings
If we stay on the topics of personal life for a bit longer, we have yet another field where food seems to be always involved: dating! Think of all the movies we see: man and woman sitting at a restaurant table almost always means that they are on a date. And the rules and norms of datig are countless around the world, even if we only think about the food-related customs, the dos and donts. We know from movies also that there are “first date foods” and then there are the dishes that should definitely be avoided during the first dates.
Then comes the next question: who should pay? In countries with stricter gender roles it is only natural that the man pays, and not only on the first date, but in general. And then we didn’t even begin to discuss the drinks! Is it over the top to have a glass of red wine if this first date is not taking place in France? Just as food itself, drinks also work as symbols, having different meanings in different cultures.
And from the first date lets flashforward to weddings! Wedding ceremonies are something between family and social events, depending on the culture. Having 400 people at your wedding in Romania is something perfectly usual, and so is having a six-seven course meal during the night. Romanians love to eat. This is why at certain social gatherings it is rude to refuse food. Even if you are already stuffed, and feel like you couldn’t possibly eat more, you sometimes have to make an effort, because refusing the food is the rudest thing you could do.
Know The Local Dining Etiquette
And from here we have arrived to dining etiquette, and table manners around the world, yet another topic that cannot be exhausted. Slurp your food in Hungary, and you will definitely be the rude one, don’t slurp it in Japan, and once again, you will end up being the rude person that has no table manners whatsoever! And what about finishing everything on your plate? If you leave nothing on your plate in China, the host might get offended, as an empty plate is considered a sign of not being fed enough, while in India or Japan for example a clean plate is a sign of how much you enjoyed the food and makes your host truly happy, and you a well-mannered dinner guest. Also please note that in Portugal and Egypt it is really rude to ask for salt and pepper, as it indicates that you simply don’t like the taste of your food. And the list goes on…
So upon seeing how important food and dining-related customs are around the world, it is only logical that in today’s globalized workplace it is indispensable to educate yourself on all the diverse traditions and customs around the world. This can be of great help for both your personal- and work life, especially if you are not only planning to work with people from different cultures, but move to another country. Wherever you might have to go, one thing is sure: you will – rather sooner than later – end up eating with other people. So naturally, you want to be prepared! Once again: ask somebody who already knows!
- The norms, rules, symbols and expectations regarding food are countless, and greatly differ around the world.
- Food and eating express a great deal about a certain culture.
- Food has its own rituals and meaning in our personal and professional lives as well.
- Now the different dining etiquettes: Where to slurp, when to finish your plate, or if to ask for salt and pepper.
This can be of great help for both your personal- and work life.