Culturally Appropriate Eating Around the World

While wading through the garbage we call the daily news, it was refreshing to find some clarity and vision from Rapport International. Not only does this organization help you with translation, it also provides “cultural adaptation”, which in the vernacular, means, how not to “mess up” in another country because you don’t know the standards or unwritten rules regarding, in this case, eating.   

As we are entering the Holiday Season, and everyone is traveling in the name of fun, vacation, and exploration. There are many things you can google, but daily eating habits will most likely not be in the tour book guides. Here are a few tips to help you “adapt”.

culturally appropriate eating Customs in Japan, China and Hong Kong

In Japan (and actually many Asian countries), do not put your chopsticks upright in you your rice bowl.  It resembles burning incense at a funeral and is a grave mistake (pun intended).  Nor put them across the bowl, which means you wish the person across from you to be dead.  Better, have a small chop stick holder, and any waiter can provide or make one for you.

In Shanghai, just tap the table with the index and middle finger together 2 times, and you will magically receive your pot of tea.  If you would like more, just turn the top of the tea pot upside down, and it will be refilled.  

In Hong Kong, the tea can be brewed in your cup on the table, depending on the type of tea you would like. There are very expensive teas, or the daily norm.  Custom tea rituals are reserved for sacred ceremonies, like a wedding, and usually at the home. They are very ornate and beautiful, so if you are invited, request how to dress appropriately.  The energy is extremely happy.

cultural delicacyTry a New Delicacy in England, New Zealand or Australia

Let’s bop across the planet to England, New Zealand, and Australia, and the magic source of Vitamin B in Marmite, and Vegemite (keep reading to learn more about Vegemite).  Many foreigners do not understand how to really use this treat.  Yes, it is salty, but its main gift is to enhance flavor.  It is high in many of the B complexes, and is the best source of a chemical that improves taste— liken to MSG.  

The trick is to spread a VERY thin layer on a piece of toast in the morning, although it can be used on veggies as well, but a very thin layer.  It originated in England ages ago from the off spring of beer.  It has no alcoholic content, being 8 times removed from the hops.  In England, the jar is spherical and slightly tangier.  In New Zealand, the jar is cylindrical and slightly sweeter (although this writer thinks they are very similar).

Going across the South Pacific to Australia and you have “Vegemite”, similar in taste, exactly used the same, but no relation to “8 cousins removed from beer”.  Just as high as in the Vitamin B family of vitamins.

By the way, Aussies are great partiers, lovers of music, and have a rich aboriginal history.  For a good time go to a Road House with live music!  Just so you know, “a pot” is a 7-ounce mug of beer. How do I know this? Because I asked for a glass of wine and gave money to put in the pot (tip money).  Then I received a mug of beer.  I was stunned.  (They are insulted by tips in Australia) I asked the man next to me if he would like it and he asked me if I was shouting.  I assured him I was not, but offered again, and he repeated the question.  I finally did shout at him, asking do you want this beer or not? Slightly irritated by this time.  If this ever happens to you, understand that to shout someone is to treat them. And yes, I was doing both.  Moving 0n....

A Tip About Tips

The universal way to ask for the check is to wave your hand in the air as if you are signing your name on the invisible check.  Eye contact, smile, and an air scribble will do it.  The tips vary from country to country.  No tips in Australia, 16-20% in Mexico, very little in Europe, and well, New York is New York. 

international eatingBreakfast Stories

I have neglected to mention breakfast in a few countries.  In many countries the breakfasts are simple.  For example, in France, particularly Paris, it is just cafe au lait (sounds like Ole!) and a croissant.  

On one trip to Paris, I left my small hotel and turned left.  The streets were tiny, but the buildings were about 5 stories tall, and near a famous cemetery. I was amazed to see hundreds of birds.  

An old woman was walking with a small cart which had her produce and fresh baguettes and was tossing bird seed behind her, hence the audience of birds.   I followed her to a local cafe/bar.  Two elderly gentlemen were waiting for her drinking a red liquor with coffee au lait and croissants, and small dogs on their laps.  Rome is the city for cats, Paris is about La Pooch.  I sat at the bar and asked for the same (minus the liquor).  The croissant melted in my mouth and, although I am not a coffee drinker, the cafe au lait (which translates to coffee with hot milk) was divine.

Let’s do a hop, skip, and trot cross the Atlantic to Brazil.  Brazilian coffee and hot milk are consistent, but the brekkie was a mashed banana, with oatmeal, honey, and cinnamon.  I was in a private home, but the coffee was the same. Espresso is served in the afternoon instead of tea as in England. Actually, in every grocery store there will be a huge container of coffee for tastes. They survive on caffeine.

Cartwheel over the border to Argentina and you will receive a “media luna”, which literally translates to half-moon— looks like a small version of a croissant, but not as flaky and served with “Dulce de Leche” which is delicious caramelized milk, and coffee with hot milk.

Jump up to Mexico and you can eat fish soup in the markets, or get an oatmeal concoction with honey, milk, and cinnamon.  No coffee here.  Children pass by and get a “drink” on the way to school.

We all start our days differently, but this is info for the simple and tasty way if you are curious and adventurous. Sorry, no bacon and eggs!

Some Final Tips About International Customs

Note to remember: cows are considered sacred in India.  Colors are abundant.  Greetings are with both palms together in front of the heart.  It means namaste: the light in me greets the light in you.

Oh, lastly, in most of the middle Eastern Countries from Morocco to Saudi Arabia, you eat with your right hand only, and usually a pita bread is provided to replace a fork.  It is a natural custom to have your hands cleansed with rose or orange water.  They will provide a small towel.  A head bend is thanks. 

Bon appetit!  Provecho! Mangia!

Make sure all your translations and interpretations are culturally appropriate - contact Rapport International today for a free consultation.



About the Author - Morning Star Borzoni

Morning Star was born in France, is a world traveler and teacher, especially of fitness, music, and storytelling..  She lives with her Italian husband and three cats in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico.  She likes good vegetarian food, dancing, swimming, and is adventurous. She teaches with a great deal of humor and started writing when she was 6.  She has gained many awards for her writing, but more importantly she has many treasured friends around the world.  

Categories: Inclusion, Culture & Diversity, Updates & Fun


Ready for your free quote?

Considering translation or interpretation services from Rapport International? Get started today! 

Conversational marketing