Associate professor, PhD at the Department of Diplomatic Service and 
Communication of the Faculty of International Relation of YSU, YEREVAN 

Basic Rule #2: Eat, drink and be wary 

Clearly, mealtime is no time for a thanks-but-no-thanks response. Acceptance of what is on your plate in tantamount to acceptance of host, country, and company. So, no matter how tough things may be to swallow, swallow. Or, as one veteran globe-girdler puts it, "Travel with a cast-iron stomach and eat everything everywhere.”

Tastiness is in the eye of the beholder

Often what is offered constitutes your host country’s proudest culinary achievements. What would we Americans think of a Frenchman who refused a bite of homemade apple pie or sizzling sirloin? Squeamishness comes not so much from the thing itself as from our unfamiliarity with it. After all, oyster has remarkably the same look and consistency as a sheep’s eye, and at first encounter a lobster would strike almost anybody as more a creature from science fiction than something you dip in melted butter and pop into your mouth.

Incidentally, in Saudi Arabia sheep’s eyes are a delicacy, and in China it’s bear’s paw soup. […]

Is there any polite way out besides the back door?

Most experienced business travelers say no, at least not before taking at least a few bites. It helps, though, to slice whatever the item is very thin. This way, you minimize the texture – grisly, slimy, etc. - and the reminder of whence it came. Or, "Swallow it quickly,” as one traveler recommends. "I still can’ t tell you what sheep’s eyeballs taste like.” As for dealing with taste, the old canard that "it tastes just like chicken” is often mercifully true. Even when the "it” is rodent, snake – or gorilla.

Another useful dodge is not knowing what you are eating. What’s for dinner? Don’t ask. Avoid poking around in the kitchen or looking at English-language menus. Your host will be flattered that you are following his lead, and who knows? Maybe it really is chicken in that stew.

How to say no in Chinese

In Chinese cultures (Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore as well as the mainland), the trick is to say it without saying it. An endless history of famine and deprivation has made it bad manners for the host not to keep filling your dish – and for you not to keep eating as long as your dish is full. Obviously a no-win situation.

One way to discourage refills is to keep your rice bowl close to your mouth until you are done. Then lay your chopsticks across the bowl to signify "enough!” […]

Same for your teacup, which seems to be magically replenishing itself no matter how much you drink. To stop the flow, leave your cup full. To say thank you, rap your fingertips slightly on the table. And always leave some food in your dish to indicate that your host was so generous you could not possibly finish.

Shark’s fin soup is often the highlight of a Chinese multi-course dinner, served somewhere in the middle, and – incidentally – the polite time for toast making. Also, the second-to-last course is often plain boiled rice – which you should refuse! To eat it signifies you are still hungry and is an insult to the host.
1922 reads | 27.02.2014

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