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Every culture has a different eating etiquette. Whilst eating with fork and knife is common throughout western countries such as European and American countries, these eating habits may differ from table manners in Asian or African cultures. Two interesting societies which are worth giving a second glance and comparing to each other are the German and the South Korean. Especially captivating are the contrasting behaviours during the ceremonies of the dinner.
In Germany, the continental style of eating dominates at all meals, formal and informal, because it is considered to be a natural, disciplined way to eat. This means that the meal is ingested by using a fork and a knife as utensils. The fork is typically held in the left hand, whilst the right hand may shove food on it with a knife. South Korea is one of the traditional chopstick cultures. Chopsticks are usually used with only one hand. Both chopsticks are to be held with the slightly pointier end facing the direction of the food and the blunt end pointing back at the person holding them. Every item on the plate, including soup, rice and peanuts, are habitually eaten with chopstick. The fingers are never to be used, apart from the occasion of eating sushi.
In case of the consumer wanting to take a break from feeding, the common use in Germany is to place the knife and fork on the plate near the centre, slightly angled in an inverted V and with the tips of the knife and fork pointing toward each other. After having finished a meal, the knife and fork are to be placed together parallel to each other with the handles in the four-o’clock position on the right rim of the plate. For South Korea, there are several rules one must obey when pausing or finishing a meal. The most important one is that chopsticks are never to be separated throughout the procedure of the repast. It is also prohibited to point at things, to stick them into food so that they stand upright or to draw the bowl or plate nearer with the help of chopsticks. It is considered impolite if these rules are not followed.
Eating alone is very unusual in both countries, however, when eating with a group of people could make the seating order chaotic and complicated. Therefore, the host might have considered coming up with an own seating order, suitable for all guests. The dining etiquette for seating in Germany is normally as follows: The position for the most honoured person is either at the head of the table or in the centre, with the guests of honour seated at both sides of the head of the table next to the host. In the case of the hosts being a couple, both will take the head seats. The South Korean system is comparably similar. The most honoured position, often the host, sits in the middle of the side of the table, with the second most important person, occasionally also the hostess, seated on his right side. The honoured guest will sit in the middle on the other side, opposite the host. He is seated on the side of the table farthest from the door.
When attending a formal German dinner, the food, usually being served by a waiter, is presented on a platter or in a bowl on the diner’s left. At a more casual meal, either the host dishes the food on the guests’ plates or the diners help themselves to the food and pass it to others if necessary. However, in formal South Korean restaurants, each dish is usually served with its own set of serving chopsticks. These are to be used by everyone to serve themselves or their neighbour. Yet another common rule for South Koreans to learn at an early age is: “No keeping after using!”. They are for everyone on the table to handle. Sometimes the dishes are presented without serving chopsticks. In that situation, the individual guests help themselves with their own set of chopsticks.
Oftentimes, it is considered impolite when guests begin to eat before they should do. It is customary to wait until the host has said “Guten Appetit” before beginning to eat. Similar, yet still different from the German practice, in South Korea it is expected of you to wait until the senior person is served and begins to eat before you begin eating or drinking.
After a dinner, there is generally time for drinks. The most common toasts in Germany are “Zum Wohl!” (with wine) and “Prost!” (with beer). “Zum Wohl!” is generally a wish for good health, whereas “Prost!” was considered rude and vulgar for a long time. It is important that eye contact is maintained from the moment the glass is risen to the moment it is placed back down on the table. The toast in Korea is “cangai”, which means “bottoms up” or “drain the glass.” The honoured guest will be expected to make a toast, usually soon after the host does or at the end of the meal. Because one must never pour their own drink, one must always be alert as to whether their neighbour’s cup or glass needs refilling.
In the German as well as the South Korean society, it is considered polite that the bill is paid by the one does the inviting, however, in Korea the guest is expected to make an effort to pay. Sometimes a person’s rank or status determines who pays. The tipping in German restaurants is included in the menu price and therefore optional. Often Germans and visitors would leave a bit more if they found the service satisfactory. Tipping is not common in South Korea, but waiters often do appreciate the equivalent of rounding up to around 5%.
Dining etiquettes diverge in disparate cultures, and it often is hard to acclimate oneself. Nonetheless, a straightforward way to master all kinds of eating habits is through learning by watching local inhabitants.


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