Abroad Perspective: Food for Thought

The way we eat around the world sets us apart more than you would think. I am not simply referring to the different foods we consume, but to the dining experience itself. Restaurants seem to be the culmination of cultural differences.

Think about your most recent dining experience. Do you remember what you ate and how much time you spent? Unless you were at a very upscale restaurant, chances are that the meal did not take very long and you did not linger much afterwards. Eating out in Europe tends to be much slower going.

What’s the Rush?
One of my meals in Rome took place at a much-hyped pizzeria. My wife and I got a table outside after a short wait. The place was packed and the tables were very close together. Since we were keen on going on an evening stroll after dinner, we wanted to pay and be on our merry way. Even though there was a significant line of soon-to-be patrons forming, it took some effort to get the server’s attention.

They were not trying to get us out of there. In places such as Italy, the table is yours for the evening. Try and remind yourself of that fact when you feel the piercing stares of a hungry crowd.

I have noticed in recent years that when you are on an outside terrace in Europe, servers will settle the bill with you right as they bring you the drinks. The reason for this is that some people may get too tempted to leave without paying when the server is too busy to notice.

If you did get the bill but are waiting to pay, I would recommend going inside to the bar rather than leaving money unattended on the table.

Beware of Silverware
When visiting Europe, make sure you know how to wield your knife and fork. There is a difference in styles here.

Remember to hold your fork and knife "Continental Style" while overseas.

Remember to hold your fork and knife “Continental Style” while overseas.

The “Continental Style” keeps the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right hand, without putting the knife down, once you are done cutting. The knife goes in the right hand, regardless of what your dominant hand is. This also avoids any “cutting collisions” when you sit next to someone. The most important thing is that you are comfortable while you are dining.

One time in Rome, I received a gentle reminder of the fact that my choice of silverware was not on par with Italian standards. That very night I felt a little under the weather and had a difficult time getting my bucatini (thick spaghetti with a hole in the center) under control. Most other diners were sitting outside, so I thought I was in the clear to cut my pasta.

As if the “foreigner-is-cutting-pasta-alarm” went off in the kitchen, the chef himself showed up at our table, holding a spoon in front of him. He handed it to me merely saying “Signore…” (“Sir…”). The sight of me using a spoon as an aid to my fork must have been more bearable to this proud Italian chef.

Ever since this event, I have become quite adept at twirling pasta on my fork.   

As a Dutch American, I am well aware of cultural differences. In my series, Abroad Perspective, I will tackle the challenges of international travel.

What is your favorite way to enjoy local fare? Feel free to share this or any other cultural shocks with us in the comments below and your idea could be featured in the next blog!

Ray originally hails from The Hague, Netherlands and one day showed up at Global Discovery Vacations’ doorstep. When he is not traveling or writing, you might find him engaged in playing ping pong, swimming or planting tulips.