Global Dining Etiquette: A Guide to Eating Around the World

flat lay of four people eating sushi with chopsticks.

When traveling in India, tourists are advised to avoid—at all costs—eating at the dinner table with your left hand. In Italy, you’re considered to be an untrustworthy dinner guest if you sit with your hands below the table. Why, you may wonder? A simple gesture in one country may have a completely different interpretation in another. In fact, cultures around the world have their own unique set of culinary traditions and customs passed down from one generation to the next. These traditional cuisines and dining customs offer an expression of cultural identity, representing a country’s rich history, lifestyle, values, and beliefs.

Dining out while traveling abroad is both an adventure and a learning experience. It’s important for everyone, whether traveling for pleasure or dining with global clients, to understand these key differences as to not offend a host or passerby. To help jetsetting foodies navigate global dining etiquette, our editors have compiled a guide to the essential do’s and don’ts when dining in nine of the most frequently visited countries across the globe. Before you embark on your summer vacation this season, avoid unintentional cultural offense with this handy cheat sheet to dining etiquette.


In comparison to its neighboring South American countries, the Chilean dining experience tends to skew on the more formal side. This is due in large part to the desire to identify more with European culture. Chile is a hospitable society, so receiving an invitation to attend a dinner party or a private event is highly likely. In Chile, the most important custom to remember is to use utensils for everything—with the exception of bread—as eating with your hands is considered ill-mannered. Even finger foods such as french fries and pizza are eaten with a fork and knife.


people using chopsticks to eat out of a communal bowl.

Demonstrating good table manners in China is thought to bring good health and fortune. There are several key customs to remember to observe when dining in the country. First, it’s important to understand how to use chopsticks. Leaving them upright in a bowl between bites is considered poor taste, as this is how ceremonial rice is typically left as an offering at funerals. Further, never cross or lick your chopsticks. When eating, you should always leave a small amount of food on the plate—an empty plate is considered rude and signifies that you weren’t fed enough. Contrary to what other customs believe, belches are welcome and seen as an indication of satisfaction (and a compliment to the chef!).


From hours-long dinners to casual lunches in outdoor cafes, the art of dining is a respected tradition built deep within French culture. If dining in France, it’s important to eat with both hands, using either a fork and knife or a fork and bread. The primary use of a piece of bread is to assist food to the fork, where diners are expected to tear a piece off versus biting directly into it. Since eating is a social activity, it’s also considered poor taste and unsophisticated to split the bill. The subject of money is acknowledged as a personal matter, so it’s generally understood that the party who invites another for a meal will pay, and that the guest will return the favor next time.


flat lay image of a hand using chips to dip into rice and curry.

The vibrant sights, rich scents, and sumptuous flavors of Indian cuisine largely define the country’s cultural experience. Indian dining is meant to be a sensual experience, so using the sense of touch is largely encouraged to enhance the meal. For this reason, naan is often used to scoop food, and even meals like dali (lentil soup) are eaten with the hands by scooping it using Indian bread. In India, it’s considered taboo to eat with your left hand as it is considered unclean. The right hand is reserved for picking up food to eat while the left hand is reserved for personal hygiene.


Italian eating customs vary throughout the peninsula, but there are a few that remain constant regardless of where you eat. Eating is meant to be thoroughly enjoyed. Often, meals take hours to prepare, service is slow, and multiple courses are served, so diners are encouraged to take their time, savoring every bite. Also, it’s considered taboo to order a cappuccino after a meal because drinking milk hinders digestion (although a cappuccino does make an excellent breakfast beverage). Similarly, it’s offensive to ask for Parmesan cheese if not explicitly offered, especially atop meals with seafood as it’s said to stifle the aroma. In fact, many classic Roman pastas like Bucatini Amatriciana incorporate Pecorino cheese rather than Parmesan.


flat lay image of four people at a table eating rice and salads.

Many Japanese occasions call for traditional customs and proper etiquette, as is the case with meals—both formal and informal. At restaurants and bars, oshibori, a steamed hot towel, is offered to clean your hands; however, you should avoid using it to wipe your face and elsewhere. As with Chinese tradition, you should also avoid sticking chopsticks straight into the bowl in Japan. Similarly, you should not place them across the bowl when they’re not in use, but instead use a hasioko, or chopstick rest.

In Japan, it’s acceptable to slurp noodles—loudly. This is thought to improve the flavor and allow diners to eat hot foods quicker. It is also seen as a sign of appreciation towards the chef. Similarly, it’s common to drink directly from the soup bowl, as spoons are seldom used when dining in Japan.


Dining is considered a social event in Mexico, and as a result the physical act of eating is often delayed due to conversation, drinking, and mingling beforehand. You should not begin eating until the host says, “Buen provecho,” which translates to “Have a good meal.” When eating, it’s acceptable to eat with your hands, and considered almost ostentatious to use utensils. If utensils are being used at a more formal setting, be sure not to switch between forks and knives, but instead keep the knife in the right hand and the fork in the left.


Moroccan bowl of food next to a candle and a glass.

Today, Morocco’s vibrant cultural practices are a hybrid of modern and indigenous traditions. If you’re invited to a private home for dinner, it’s polite to remove your shoes and leave them by the door before entering. Dinner is usually consumed on a floor mat around a knee-high, round table. Dishes are communal; however, you are meant to eat from the triangle that is immediately in front of you, rather than reaching across someone’s area. Bread is often used in place of silverware, dipped in soups and used to scoop other foods. If more food is offered, it’s polite to refuse the first time, then accept a small portion upon the second offering.


Russian culture is rife with customs that date back thousands of years, and the dining experience is no different. When eating at a table, it’s considered polite to rest your wrists on the edge of the table versus placing them in your lap. Hosts will typically offer copious amounts of food to signal to guests that there is plenty to go around. Similarly, hosts often repeatedly offer to refill plates to reinforce this notion. It is considered disrespectful to decline a shot of vodka at dinner as it’s believed to be a sign of trust and friendship. Vodka also should not be mixed with anything— including ice—as Russians believe this compromises its purity. The only exception is when it’s mixed with beer, a Russian drink known as yorsh.

Best Practices for Dining Around the World

When traveling, it’s important to bear in mind that each country has its own distinct set of do’s and don’ts. Below, explore best practices for dining in nine of our favorite global destinations—including how to best use chopsticks in Asian countries, areas where it’s encouraged to eat with your hands, and why you shouldn’t ask for condiments in some areas.

Global travel offers an easy way to immerse yourself in different cultures around the world—from viewing the art and museums to trying the local cuisine and experiencing everyday traditions and customs. Jetsetting foodies can use this cheat sheet to study up on their destination’s customs to ensure a seamless dining experience when traveling abroad.

Sources: Thrillist | Food Beast | HuffPost | Spoon University | Food Network | Inc | Epicure & Culture