A person’s place of origin can be guessed from the way he eats. Eating habits are learnt at an early age by observing our parents, grandparents & siblings. Most of the families follow a dinner time ritual of eating at a table. Here the child gets his first lessons on social bonding over food and dinner table manners.
Not surprisingly different cultures have different eating habits. What is considered a norm here may be a faux pas in France.
In France, you are supposed to eat with a fork in the left hand & the knife in the right hand. In a more formal setting, different kind of glasses for wine, aperitif & water will be placed on the table. Bread is either placed on a side plate or directly on the napkin. You’re supposed to place your elbows on the table while dining out.
Contrary to the French table etiquette, the American’s like to eat with a fork in their right hand & knife in their left (more convenient that way). Also, it is considered bad manners to sit with your elbows on the table. The bread is placed on the upper left edge of the dinner plate.
In Islamic countries eating with one’s hand is a tradition like in India and many other south-east Asian countries. A lot of importance is placed on sharing of food from a common plate and never wasting. You are never supposed to eat from the centre of the world but from the side. One is required to maintain hygienic hands & mouth both before & after a meal. A person should remember to say ‘Bismillah’ before commencing and eat with his right hand always.
In China and other East Asian countries eating with chopsticks is considered a norm. You should never lick the chopsticks or point and wave with them in your hand. One should not leave the chopsticks sticking out of the bowl as this is considered inauspicious by Chinese. Tea is usually served after the meal at dinner tables.
Traditionally, Japanese like to eat while seated on cushion placed on the floor, facing a low table. Before starting a meal one should say “itadakimasu” to the host and after wards say “gochisosama.” The Japanese also eat with chopsticks but call them ‘hashi’ and the rules are similar to those used in China. It is considered bad manners to put the half eaten food like sushi back on the plate.
In India, different states follow different table manners. Kashmiris believe in eating in a common plate in what is known as ‘wazwaan’. In Gujarat & Rajasthan individual thalis (large plates with many small bowls) are served to each guest. In Kerala and many other southern states eating on a banana leaf, seated on the floor is a common sight.
Almost anywhere in India eating with hands is practiced. While in the North, two fingers & a thumb of right hand are used to eat roti/naan/bread, in South the whole hand is used to make a ball of rice and eat. It might seem impolite to some specially those who are not accustomed to eating with hands.
Indian culture is a blend of European, Islamic, Dravidian, Oriental and other cultures. This is also reflected on the way we eat our meals at the dinner table.
During the Renaissance period table manners were refined to an extent that at dinner time table was ornately laid out with china ware and napkins in place. Such fancy eating can now be enjoyed at high end restaurants. High tea during the Victorian Age is still considered fashionable in Britain.
If you consider eating while reclining on the couch bad manners, then the Ancient Romans will surprise you for sure. They and the Greeks ate with their heads propped up and lying on the side. Even the toast made at dinner parties these days by clinking glasses was started by the Romans. But the reasons back then were different.
Our dining etiquettes date back to the time when civilization had just begun. Utensils used during the Indus Valley civilization included bowls, pots, cups, dishes, saucers and jars. They were made on the potter’s wheel and baked to impart strength. Rich households even had utensils made of silver & copper. Even during the stone-age man used drinking horns and bowls for eating.
The practice of dining and not just eating distinguishes humans from other lowly creatures from time immemorial.
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