Traveling to a foreign country for work is exciting, but it can also be stressful, especially if you’re unfamiliar with specific table manners. Your own dinner table may not require more than a fork, however, even at an informal dinner, your host may place multiple foreign utensils in front of you. If you choose the right fork and you use the napkin correctly, you can easily achieve your goals!
Before the Royal Queen’s Tea sets…
Before the first man discovered fire and the beauty of communities, people only had two goals: defend themselves and eat! In that period, there were no restaurants, deals to close with China and no tea spoons for the Prime Minister. Your hands were enough to do everything: eating included. In fact, could you imagine the Queen in the prehistory, eating fresh meat with her hands and talking with her mouth full like a Neanderthal? The answer is definitely no. Good table manners were created when primated realised that living together in small communities could improve their lives for the better. Of course, only if they respect hygiene rules! By learning to cook new meals, making new discoveries and surviving ordinary challenges, humans created cultures as well utensils to cook and eat with. According to the French Dining Etiquette, in a a lot of European and American countries, you will find:
- A fork to the left of the plate
- A knife to the right
- A soup spoon next to the knife if soup is to be served
- A small spoon placed between the glass and the plate
- A small fork for dessert placed by the small spoon.
- Small Plate (used for cheese and dessert)
- Bigger plate (main course)
- A very small plate (used for the bread)
- Soup plate.
Glasses: are placed above the plate, left to right from the tallest to the smallest
- Champagne glass
- Red wine glass
- White wine glass
- Water glass
- Liquor glass
- Espresso glass (especially in Italian restaurants).
It sounds weird, but if you want to close any type of deal (including love affairs), you need to be aware of the different manners and ways of setting a table. You can have a First Class Honour Degree in Strategic Marketing from the University of Cambridge, but if you don’t know that there is a “right” and “wrong” way to hold your utensils, there is the risk of being misunderstood and your deal will never be successful. For example, if you travel around China and Japan, don’t be afraid if chopsticks are placed with the narrow ends up or if you won’t find a specific bowl for rice at the table: this is the way they set a table!
Top Table Manners around the world
After you familiarised with the different place settings, it is time to understand how to use them with proper etiquette. Let’s say you have a business dinner with Chinese entrepreneurs, successful Italian managers and the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. At this point, you have two options: either you accept there are different cultures, manners and ways of laying a table or you will be considered bad mannered. If you travel around the world, remember:
- In Thailand, only use your fork to push food onto the spoon, but never put it in your month.
- Germany, Italy and France: before starting to eat, be polite and say “Guten Appetit”, “Buon Appetito” or “Bon appétit”. In these three countries, being thankful is more important than eating.
- In China is rude to eat all the food, otherwise they will think they didn’t give you enough. In India, you should finish everything that is on your plate because food is considered sacred. On the other hand, if you are in Germany and you don’t finish your meal, they will assume you didn’t like it.
- In Muslim countries, eat with your right hand. Your left hand is considered dirty.
- Italy, Spain, France: do not rush your meal. Dinners can last up to three hours. Be aware that after eating, Italians will offer you a lot of drinks (learn to use the different types of glasses) and they don’t like talking about business during the meal.
- China and Japan: use chopsticks if you know how to use them. If you are planning a trip to the far east it is better to practise at home, so you can never be surprised.
- Eating Continental style. In Europe, hold your fork with your left hand and your knife with your right. Don’t rest your elbows on the table, but don’t rest your hands under the table, out of sight.
- Whilst it could be seen as acceptable in the USA, if you have a business dinner with Italians, do not order pizza with pineapple and Parmesan and eat it with knife and fork. If you choose these two ingredients, you will never close a deal with this country!
Details can change people’s minds and perceptions
Imagine being invited for tea by the Queen and being offered scones on a plastic dish or in her Corgis’ food bowl. Good impressions and manners always make the difference. In the past, utensils were used in a different way. At the beginning, for example, forks were considered useless and they were solely utilised to eat fruit during the Roman Empire and for spaghetti in the XVIII century. In general, utensils were built with terracotta and porcelain and decorated in order to share uses and traditions with the others during the meal. Today, it is much easier to buy a cheap plastic fork that may seem like the perfect solution for your needs, especially if you cannot lay a table. However, the utensils we use are more important than we think. How wonderful would it be to set a table with the Queen’s porcelain tea set? Traditions are changing because of the multicultural society we live in, but details will always make the difference. One thing is for sure: no matter if you are Italian, Chinese or American, if you choose your utensils well and you learn to use them correctly, you will show your guests or hosts your attention to details and close any deal.