Can I eat with my hand? Cultural table manners.

“Is it offensive if I eat Korean food with my hand?” asked an IT consultant from India. The cross-cultural trainer answered “Well, offensive might be the wrong word. I would advise to observe what the Koreans do and then do as they do”. This question allows looking deeper into the cultural table manners, which we might take for granted but can create a culture shock if we are confronted with the food of a new culture.

There are big differences in the various cuisines depending on which eating utensil they use or not use. Clearly, in cultures, where a fork and knife are used, the food is kept in big sizes i.e. uncut but leaving the joy to the eater to cut it the moment he eats. In cultures where food is eaten with chopsticks, the food is usually cut in smaller pieces (How do you eat a pizza with chopsticks?). The Indian IT consultant wouldn’t certainly enjoy eating Korean food with his hand as there is no support of bread to scoop up the food. The Koreans also love noodle soups and a spoon alone (let alone fingers) is not the best utensil to fish for the long noodles, which are left uncut (as a symbol for long life).

The Korean table manner is a culture of sharing. The only exception applies for your own rice of bowl and your own bowl of soup. In this communal behaviour, there is also precaution of hygiene. The chopsticks, due to their minimal surface touching the food, reduce the spreading of saliva.

It has been observed that the older generation in Korea do not know how to eat with fork and knife. One may think that what it takes is to take a knife into one hand and the fork into the other and you can immediately enjoy the meal. But the reality is that the right usage of the cutlery (and that is for both western as well as Asian style) needs to be learnt, practised and mastered such as playing the piano.

Knowing the proper table manners in different cultures is not only a  question of practicality, but also expresses respect to the culture overall. It gives even bigger insight into the history and evolution of food and behaviours, which cannot be ignored.

So how important is it for you to apply proper table manner when eating food from different cultures?



Starbucks in Korean

Welcome to the ASTUS Consulting blog page!

Today I’d like to share with you the importance of “cross cultural awareness”. To begin with it is worthwhile saying that this subject is only important if the reader feels it is important. No one else can make you believe that it is important unless you find out for yourself that it deserves some attention and understanding. “Crossing cultures” is all around us almost 24/7. It is integrated in our daily life as a routine so that we are almost “blinded” of how many cultures we encounter daily. The shop attendant in the small grocery store round the corner, the waiters and waitresses serving us in the restaurant, the doctors who treat us, the colleagues who we work with, some of our closest friends and maybe even our partners. Yes, the world has become a colourful melting pot, but are we really aware of who (and therefore their cultures) we are interacting with? Have you ever consciously dealt with this question? I believe that there would be no cross-cultural awareness needed if human beings co-existed in perfect harmony and free of any conflicts. The reality is rather different. If you don’t believe it, then you only have to read the newspaper and you’ll find plenty of examples for cultural polarisation and the “me versus them attitude”.

When I visited NY few years ago, a friend divided her co-citizens by referring them to the whites, the Chinese, the Hispanics, the blacks, the Koreans etc. In the US, where people are more diverse than in so many other countries, the division of race is even bigger. Why is that? It is because people function in norms. We need to have an orientation of who we are, where we belong to and a guideline for their cultural values. This view however focuses on our own culture and doesn’t reach out to the other. This learning from early age onwards puts ourselves into the centre of the universe and perceives everybody else to live around us rather than with us.

Cross-cultural awareness requires a real action; it is not a passing-by phenomenon. It needs our willingness to see it, absorb it and then to challenge ourselves before we can find a solution that leads to a satisfactory result.

The 21st century is about sharing with our neighbours the limited resources as well as solutions. This starts with being aware of the cultural differences and that there is no good or bad culture but that the cultures are all derived from long histories and its natural evolution.

So are you now ready to expand your views even further and learn how to be more aware of other cultures?