While planning for your upcoming overseas vacation, take a moment to familiarize yourself with local dining customs so you can blend in with locals and minimize embarrassment. Here are the top dining faux pas in popular destinations to avoid.
Dining at the Wrong Time
In some countries, like Portugal and Spain, dinner doesn’t start until late in the evening. In other destinations, like Southeast Asia, it’s hard to get dinner after 9 p.m. Identify when locals eat so you’re not the only one in the restaurant or begging the kitchen staff for a meal when they are trying to close down.
Tipping Like an American
The service industry abroad is not the same as it is in the U.S. Most service staff, especially in Europe, are paid at a higher hourly rate and are not reliant on tips for their livelihood. Consult guide books for typical tipping customs. You'll find many places in Europe where tips should range from a few euros to 10% of the bill.
Speaking Only in English
For the sake of your fellow American brethren traveling worldwide, break the stereotype and learn a few words of the language spoken in your destination. Learn “hello” and “thank you” at a minimum. A polite “Do you speak English?” in the native tongue will go far. This helps build a rapport with your server and is the polite thing to do. On the flip side, don’t become overconfident that your high school French will come back with ease. Spare the server a painful exchange if they do speak English; they have a lot of other tables to attend to.
Europe: Waiting for the Check
Meals are meant to be lingered over, digested and enjoyed. You may want to order another dessert, a glass of wine or coffee at the end of your meal. When you’re ready to wrap up, ask for the check. It won’t appear otherwise.
Europe: Assuming All the Bread and Water Is Free
Be prepared to pay a cover charge for tap water, bread and occasional olives depending upon your destination. This varies depending on country, city and sometimes the restaurant itself. If you don’t want bread and are planning to order bottled water, decline it at the beginning of the meal.
Italy: Ordering Coffee With a Meal
In Italy, coffee is consumed after the meal as a way to digest. If you can’t make it to breakfast without a coffee first, nip around the corner to one of the plentiful cafes all over Italian cities and have a quick espresso before your meal. In the vein of coffee, cappuccino is typically not consumed past noon. It’s often seen as a meal substitute for breakfast. Plus, there's the old wives tales that combining milk and meat will make you sick. Yes, it doesn’t seem to apply to mozzarella and prosciutto, but somehow does apply to cappuccinos.
Ireland: Keeping Your Hat On
We get it — you’re just off the golf course and had the best round of your life and are happily thinking about your magnificent shot as you wander into the local pub for a pint with your hat on. It happens. Try to remember to kindly remove your hat when indoors, however, as this is protocol in the Emerald Isle.
Japan: Piling on the Soy Sauce
Rice is served in separate dishes and meant to be eaten with chopsticks in clumps — not grain by grain. Save the soy sauce for other parts of your meal and don’t oversaturate your rice and make it impossible to eat. While you’re at it, keep tabs on your dining companion’s glass — it’s custom to fill up others’ glasses at the table instead of your own. They’ll surely return the favor.