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  • Writer's pictureDr. Clinton Lee

The Importance of Table Manners Around the World and Why you need to make sure you know them

Updated: Apr 3

Our complex bodies have several automated functions, which work extremely well, at least we hope so, like the beating of our heart, breathing, digestion, shivering and sweating. These are not honed skills, they are automated, unlike the process of putting food and liquids into the body, which we all know commonly as eating and drinking. 

Why do we need to know Global Table Manners?

Now the art of eating and drinking requires some degree of training and education and even refinement under certain circumstances. You may be wondering, why so? That is a fair question to ask, indeed why so. From an academic perspective, we will refer to “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” written in 1943 which has 7 hierarchies. The hierarchy we are most concerned with, is the last one, number 7 which is self actualization, specifically, the area of acceptance.

Acceptance is important to all of us especially when interacting with others and society at large. A good example of this interaction is table manners where we enjoy food with others socially and in business. Table manners are learnt at home and if we are lucky, from our parents in the majority of the cases. Now, we can differentiate between table manners at home while somewhat relaxed, is the most important learning period of our lives, as the fundamentals we learn at home, sets out our approach to dining outside with others, both in an informal and formal setting.

It is not hard in today’s world of the internet to research there are 193 countries with differing cultures and eating habits we term as table manners. We can see these cultures all amassed within a singular country and commonly so, these days. No longer is a single culture held hostage by geography, it is more expansive. Why? Massive levels of immigration from 1900 onwards have resulted in many large cities around the globe to have communities from differing countries. As an example, there is usually, a Little Italy, or Little India and Chinatown in many cities across several continents. How come? Because of immigration, and with this mobility of passage apart from the luggage they carried they brought new cultures, foods, eating habits and etiquette. 

Over time, these initially poor immigrants, spawned a new of affluence in following generations and with it the inevitability of increased trade and business. This continual impetus was the constant catalyst for globalization. Negotiations, alliances, trade blocs and new markets are mere words, to enable them requires individuals like you and me. In order to do that they need to meet and often times it is over a meal and drink or during. The ubiquitous business lunch and dinner is where the real cementing of deals and trades are made, ask any serious businessperson you know within your inner circle. 

Everything is about connections, do we connect, are we put off when we meet the person for the first time? How often have you experienced that feeling within a few seconds you say to yourself, “I cannot relate to the person” and yet in other instances you feel like you are old friends, and a solid connection is there! Simply, we hope to connect. Being connected, being accepted is the fundamental part of the 7th element of Self Actualization, as we mentioned earlier within Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need. 

The International Styles of Dining

We eat food at the table in three main ways and all different, with a knife and fork, chopsticks and with our hands. Are you proficient in all three styles? If not, I recommend you do, because the numbers are staggering when you consider how many people eat with their hands and chopsticks in the world today. Imagine you are at an important meeting where everyone eats with their hands displaying skills you wish for, instead you are as proficient and graceful as a 2-year-old toddler, embarrassing to say the least. 

Certainly, not the picture of an international person or reinforcing to others you are efficient at mastering potential situations. Rather, it might conjure up the opposite in their minds. The inability of skillfully eating with two sticks, known as chopsticks, has been the cause of many potentially lucrative business deals suffering a terminal outcome. Prognosis, the deal ends in the graveyard. The cut and thrust of swordsmanship take skill and precision only honed by many hours and months of learning, the same goes for eating with a knife and fork. The combinations between these three eating styles are countless especially when you add the different combinations of scenarios and situations and people. 

So what do you think about etiquette? 

In a simple sentence, etiquette trumps all ignorance, and the responsibility lies with you to learn, be aware, be sensitive and be respectful to any eating etiquette that differs from your style. Table manners and cultural etiquette matter, especially in an international context.

Remember connections are the bloodline of the business world. These  connections are where the endorphins, serotonin and oxytocin flow, these forces of nature are the natural rushes we experience when we feel we can connect with others upon the initial meeting. In a split second, terrible eating habits can do the exact opposite of connecting, they are off putting, and they come with the accompanying derogatory terms as well, spewed by others present, albeit silently. 

The result, ignominy in the business world. Dare you take the chance to have poor table manners? 

If you want to learn more about table manners around the world and the proper etiquette, book a call with me so that we can discuss any questions you might have. 



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