In a country where more than 200 nationalities co-exist and co-mingle, dining etiquette acquires nuances that go beyond one’s own cultural preferences.
This inter-reliant cultural diversity leads to a heightened awareness and appreciation of different peoples and how they approach the ritual of eating and sharing.
“It’s about keeping groups of people together and understanding that each culture has a certain way to encourage and manage the sharing of food as an essential foundation,” says Marianne Saulwick, director of industry liaison and professional development at The Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management.
Dining etiquette, at a get-together that has representatives from different cultures, is an amalgamating rather than a differentiating process.
“We also have to consider that each culture has developed its own set of rules around the sharing of food,” said Saulwick.
While some of the rules might have changed, it is always essential to make a favourable impression and show courtesy to your dining companions. However, there is a difference between dining etiquette and table manners, Saulwick said.
Different cultures have different set of rules as table manners, she added.
There are many cultures wherein being seated on the floor and having a communal meal is the norm.
“Despite it being uncommon in the West, in some cultures people eat with their hands and it’s normal. It’s unfortunate that some people are close-minded and have fixed opinions or assumptions about norms that do not follow theirs,” she said.
On the all-too fragile subject of not knowing what to do in a different cultural context, Saulwick said, it is matter of keeping an open mind and not being judgemental.
A good way in any setting is to have a keen eye and observe what others around you are doing.
“As a rule of the thumb, look at the host and their local culture’s gestures, and follow by example,” Saulwick said.
Saulwick also pointed out the general rules of dining etiquette, irrespective of culture: “Always be considerate and courteous to people including those serving you, and respect, appreciate and acknowledge their care and effort, using the words ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’.
Citizens of different nationalities shared with us some of their own dining cultural protocol and conduct, including table dos and don’ts that vary in cross-cultural dining etiquette.
“Dining etiquette is the broader picture which is designed to ensure that people behave consistently and within the norms of politeness,” Saulwick explained.
“Table manners is the application of the rules of etiquette used while eating, which may include where to place your napkin, when to leave the table, how to eat a certain dish,” she clarified.
“The rules around dining etiquette mainly are about not offending others and being courteous and considerate at the dinner table because it’s all about offering to others, whether it’s food or gratitude.”
Table manners, on the other hand, are the visible signals of the state of our manners, she informed.