Tag Archives: etiquette

Eye Contact Following a Toast in Germany

The informant is a 51-year-old international businessman who has frequently traveled across Europe and Asia to meet with clients for the past 20 years.

Over a relaxed nine holes of golf, I asked the informant if there were any dining customs or etiquette that have stood out to him throughout his travels. He went into detail about proper German etiquette when enjoying a drink with friends, family, or business connections.

“It’s always a great time drinking in Germany, especially for a beer connoisseur like myself. Whenever I’m out to lunch or dinner for a business meeting, we always grab a beer and make a toast before drinking. Usually the toast is just to a successful partnership in the future, or to health and happiness. What you’d expect. One thing that’s really important following this toast is that you look whoever it is you’re drinking with in the eye when you ‘cheers.’ It is considered extremely rude not to. They joke that if you fail to look someone in the eye it means seven years of bad sex, but what it would really result in is whoever you’re with thinking that you’ve been dishonest or are hiding something from them.”

This German custom of looking someone in the eye reveals that in German custom, authenticity and personal connection are important. Toasts usually follow a celebration or accomplishment of some kind, and so eye contact can be seen as a way of solidifying whatever the toast was made to. If one man makes a toast to good health and the other fails to look him in the eye, then the ma who made that toast may begin to wonder whether the other is hoping for him to become ill. The superstition that failing to make eye contact will lead to seven years of bad sex is a playful way of reminding Germans of this custom, or of highlighting its importance to foreigners. I thought that this particular folkway made a lot of sense, given the intimate nature of a toast and taking into account the context in which the informant learned of it. Since the informant is often out to eat with business connections and is working to create a professional relationship, it is important that he look his German clients in the eye to let them know that he is understanding of their culture and that they can trust his word and that he will honor their negotiations.

Pouring a Drink in South Korea

The informant is a 51-year-old international businessman who has frequently traveled across Europe and Asia to meet with clients for the past 20 years.

Over a relaxed nine holes of golf, I asked the informant if there were any dining customs or etiquette that have stood out to him throughout his travels. He mentioned that after having been to South Korea many times, he has learned that you must pour a drink in an extremely particular way when out to lunch or dinner.

“When you’re pouring someone’s drink in South Korea, you have to hold your forearm tightly. So if your right hand is being used to pour the drink, you place your left hand on the underside of your right forearm and wrap your fingers around it. It’s just polite. I guess that it comes from the old days when extremely wide-cuffed sleeves were the custom.”

While contemporary fashion trends and the accepted style of dress in South Korea may not encompass wearing sleeves that are so wide-cuffed they have the potential to droop into food and drink, this form of dining etiquette provides a glimpse into the types of formalities that arose as a result of the traditional style of South Korean dress. I asked the informant what a South Korean would do if you failed to hold your forearm when pouring a drink, and he replied, “Probably nothing. It’s kind of like chewing with your mouth open. Nobody will say it but everyone is thinking you’re rude.” Hearing of this subtle dining tradition that I would have otherwise never thought to perform leads me to wonder how often I and other Americans give ourselves away as foreigners when eating in other countries. Assuming that this is a practice unique to South Korea, knowing to engage in this tradition provides South Koreans a silent act of solidarity with one another. If an individual from South Korea is out at a restaurant anywhere across the world and sees another holding their forearm when pouring a drink, they will know that they share a common nationality, or at least that both are knowledgeable and respectful of what they see as proper dining etiquette.

Ethiopian Food Etiquette

The informant is a good friend from one of my clubs. We had met up for lunch and she shared many of her Ethiopian traditions and customs with me, as well as some superstitions of her people.

In Ethiopia, no one uses utensils to eat, they just use their hands. While there are forks people can use, most choose not to. However, because cleanliness and hygiene were a problem in the past, only one hand that is designated for eating touches the food on the plate, while the other can be used for any other task, such as using the bathroom. The informant said that even though cleanliness is no longer a problem, the custom still remains. In fact, there is even a hand-washing ceremony before every meal, where the host will bring around a special tea pot and a bowl, and the guests will wash just their eating hand. Traditionally it is the right hand, but nowadays, if you are left-handed and prefer to eat with the left, it is acceptable.

I also asked whether people eat by taking turns, and the informant said that they all can eat at the same time, just not before everyone has been seated. She also explained to me the tradition of “gursha”, where you would feed a family member or a lover to show the close relationship you both share.

Background & Analysis

The informant is a student here at USC as well, and although her mother is from Ethiopia, she was born and raised here in California. However, she often goes back to Ethiopia with her mom to visit friends and family.

I think the one-hand eating rule is super clever, especially since soap used to be an issue in Ethiopia. The tradition of gursha is also very similar how people in east Asian cultures will, for example, cut a piece of meat and feed it to a friend, family, or lover as a way to acknowledge the close relationship and comfort towards the other.

“He Worked for The Queen”- Setting the table

“M” is 21 year old male student at the University of Southern California, where he is a Junior studying Animation and minoring in Philosophy. M is originally from the outskirts of New York state where he describes himself as living in a rural area. He described himself as going to a high school of ~60 students, where cliche formation was rare as students could ‘jump from social group to social group’. He describes his parents as ‘hippies’ that were very relaxed in their parenting style as well as their personal approach towards life. He is of Irish descent on both sides and describes this aspect of his life as very active in his life.



“M: My dad did this thing to make me set the table when I was little, I always hated putting the table together but he would always tell me that ‘he worked for the Queen’ so anytime I would challenge him, he’d just tell me that. He told he he’d ‘put out her candles’ and ‘set her tables’, so I would put out candles and set out tables correctly, because he knew how to do it correctly when he told me too.

Me: How long did he use that one for?

M: Until I moved out, it started out as a way to get me to do it, than he’d just use it when I got older to basically tell me to ‘just set the table how he wanted’ ”



The phrase seemed to be used as a short way for “M”s father to tell him he knew how to set the table, and as pointed out, originally as a way to motivate him to set it. As the Queen is an authority on proper etiquette, the phrase is simply an appeal to authority to get “M” to set the table.


Japanese Culture: Chopsticks

Transcribed Text:

“In Japanese culture, if you’re eating with chopsticks, you shouldn’t put them straight up in your rice bowl, cuz it looks like um, the prayer incense sticks when you go pray to the dead.  And also, you shouldn’t point your chopsticks at people, cuz that’s disrespectful.”

This is a Japanese belief and tradition with chopsticks. The informant says that she learned about this folk belief when she was about to go study abroad in Japan two years ago. The informant says that because chopsticks placed upright in a bowl of rice resembles incense sticks that are used to pray to the dead. This resemblance probably deterred the Japanese from doing this with their chopsticks no matter how convenient it is, as to associate food and mealtime with death is not wanted. Furthermore, the informant says that pointing chopsticks at people is disrespectful, but does not know why exactly that is. The use of chopsticks is part of Japanese meal time etiquette, which can be rather elaborate depending on how casual the meal is. Even with casual meals, the Japanese are much stricter than many other cultures about keeping with food traditions, so it makes sense that these folk beliefs about chopsticks are very prominent for Japanese people. According to the Encyclopedia of Asian American Folklore, chopsticks shouldn’t be propped up in rice because that is how it is offered to the spirits and is a way to call the spirits to the person. In some extreme cases, some even believe that doing this wishes death upon one’s family.

The informant is an active bearer of this tradition, as she describes that whenever she uses chopsticks, she makes sure to actively never place them sticking up in the rice, and never points with them. She also mentions that it often irritates her when people not familiar with the Japanese tradition make the mistake, as she worded it, of doing that. She recounts that when her group mate did that while she was eating a meal with the informant, she did not say anything about it, but was very shocked.