Anyone who’s ever had a great-aunt smacking at their elbows for resting them on the dinner table knows just how important etiquette can be. Our etiquette — and the reasons behind it — are so ingrained in us that we might not think twice about it, but head to any one of a number of countries and you’ll find some different and often baffling bits of dining etiquette. Let’s look at some of the wildest, weirdest things diners in other countries are doing.
China: Don’t finish what you’re served
Cleaning your plate suggests you’re still hungry, and it implies your host didn’t give you enough food. Needless to say, that’s a big insult… but if you’re in India or Japan, leaving even a little bit on your plate is just as bad. There, it implies a disrespect toward the host and the food, and it’s seen as wasteful. Just how differently an empty plate is interpreted is the perfect example of why you should read up on etiquette before you travel!
India: Don’t say “thank you”
If you’re in a formal situation, saying “thank you” is perfectly fine. But if you’re hanging out with friends and family around a dinner table, thanking them is implying they’ve gone out of their way to do something special for you. From a cultural point of view, though, those things — like passing dishes or making visitors feel comfortable — are just things that go along with being friends and family. Deepak Singh wrote an entire piece for The Atlantic on just how hard it was to get used to saying “thank you” in a casual setting when he moved to the U.S., after growing up in a culture where it would come off as sarcastic, inadequate, or as an acknowledgement of something so notable it was a favor that needed to be returned one day. In a casual atmosphere, or among friends? Don’t say it, because it implies you view your relationship as more formal than friendly.
Hungary: Don’t clink your glasses
The story goes, the clinking of glasses is a politically-charged action. When the Austrian government suppressed a Hungarian uprising in 1848, Austrian leaders celebrated very publicly by toasting the execution of Hungarian rebels. They, of course, clinked their glasses, and doing it is a reminder of that particularly dark chapter in Hungarian history. Some places say the tradition of not clinking glasses was only supposed to last 150 years, and since the first pledge not to clink glasses was made on January 1, 1850, the tradition should have ended on January 1, 2000. It’s still observed, though, so just don’t do it.
Spain: Garbage? That goes on the floor
Spain has some incredible food, along with a bizarre way of advertising just how good a restaurant’s food is. According to La Tortuga Viajera, anyone looking for a good tapas place should look for the place with the most amount of garbage on the floor. What? Really! That’s anything from napkins and pits to discarded food waste, and here’s why that’s actually a thing. The reasoning went that the better food a place had, the more busy it was, the more busy it was, the more people were in and out the door — which means a ton of garbage building up.
So, if there’s garbage on the floor, go ahead and add to it off your own plate. Spanish Sabores adds, though, not all restaurants in Spain follow that line of thinking, so check the floor then do as the locals do.
Thailand: Using your fork is tricky business
According to Trip Savvy, you’ll get chopsticks for noodle dishes and a fork and spoon for everything else. The fork goes in your left hand and the spoon in the right, but you’re not going to use that fork for eating. It’s strictly for getting food from the plate to the spoon, or cutting chunks into smaller pieces. The fork absolutely doesn’t go in your mouth. Also, sticky rice is eaten with your fingers, and don’t forget to take lots of small portions instead of a few large ones.
Jordan: Coffee etiquette is complicated
She says it’s an important part of their culture, and sharing a cup of coffee is the backdrop against which wars are settled, marriages are arranged, and disputes are negotiated. Men and women are typically separated, and each group waits and watches while the host makes the coffee then tries it first, to make sure it’s suitable for serving. Then, each guest gets a tiny bit in a tiny cup, and it’s not unusual for cups to be passed back to be refilled and handed off to the next person. People are served from right to left, and you’re allowed a max of three cups. Wadi Run Nomads says those cups are for the soul, the sword, and because of guest right. You can stop any time by shaking your cup at your host, but they also say you’d better be ready to drink at least one cup — refusing is incredibly rude.
Russia: Drinking comes with a lot of rules
It’s no secret Russians love their vodka, and they love the traditions that have grown up around it, too. Etiquette says you’d better be prepared to drink up throughout the work day, and according to PRI, visitors often say it’s easier to just go along with it than endure the scorn that comes with declining a drink — an action that’s seen as rude.
Modern Drunkard Magazine says it’s also a major insult not to offer someone a drink if you’re hosting a gathering, and if you’re late, you’d better be prepared to accept a full glass of whatever’s going around to catch up. Don’t refuse one last drink before you go, don’t open a bottle you don’t plan on finishing, don’t turn down food offered alongside your drink, and don’t contaminate your vodka with anything else. Easy enough… right?
Written by Debra Kelly, this story originally appeared on mashed.com