table manners


Posted by Marion de Groot on April 10, 2009
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I often hear that the lunches in the Netherlands are quite typical. I used to work as a volunteer for AFS, an organization for intercultural exchange programs for highschool students. We organized a camp where the new students from abroad came to straight from the airport, where they had a few days to acclimatize before they were picked up by their host families. Every time at lunch I had to explain the students at the table how to eat a Dutch lunch (and not insult/annoy your host family).
* Take one (1) slice of bread
* Pick one (1) kind of topping, and take one (1) slice.
* Put the topping on one half of the bread
* Cut the bread in half, and put the empty half on top of the other one.
* Eat it
* Repeat from step one if still hungry.

What they did if I didn’t tell them anything
* One slice of bread
* Take all different toppings on the table in fairly large amounts
* Stack all the toppings on top of each other, no matter what kind, sweet, salty, everything
* Take another slice of bread and put it on top.
* Do your best to hold the whole sandwich and eat it without things falling out.

I used to explain them that we, the Dutch, don’t eat sandwiches. We eat bread with cheese. Or with ham. Or with chocolate sprinkles. It probably came across as very stingy. But many of the host families would otherwise have just thought that they were stuck with this greedy, malmannered teenager for a year.

Although I must say that good bread doesn’t need much. I haven’t had truly good bread outside the Netherlands.

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Finish your plate!

Posted by Marion de Groot on October 20, 2008
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When we're invited for dinner, we usually want to please our host. This seems true for many cultures, but the way to do this can be quite different.

In China, bringing a gift is a must. Gifts are of course always nice, so you better bring one if you're not sure you should. Although, some gifts are not-done in China, because they may mean bad luck.

Anyways, you brought a gift, the host is happy, he serves you dinner, and then… Should you finish your plate, if you want to be polite? In the Netherlands, we say you should, or you're wasting food. In Thailand, you should not, because it will mean that it wasn't enough. In Japan, not finishing your plate means you didn't like it.

So, maybe you thought that being polite is just logical, but all three options above are based on logical reasoning, but the outcome is quite different!

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