The Etiquette of Eating with Your Hands

When you travel to foreign countries, there is always new etiquette to learn. In many places all over the world, it is customary to eat with your hands. If you find yourself in a position where you must eat with your hands don't freak out. Here are a few tips.


Join the Group

It is very important when you are invited to a meal to carefully observe the traditions. Follow the timeless rule of, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” If the woman all gather in one area to eat and the men in another, join your respective group.  If they sit on the ground, then so do you.


Which Hand?

Once you are in a group, there may be one large bowl that many people eat from. Yes, you have to share. Here is where the etiquette comes in. First you must not eat with your left hand, even if you are left-handed. That is the hand that is used for the bathroom not for eating. Next, you only eat in the section that is right in front of you. Don't even think about reaching across the bowl to get a choice piece of meat.  Instead, eat what's in front of you and often the host will divide the meat among everyone.

What to Avoid?

Sharing from one bowl means lots of extra etiquette. There are often big chunks of vegetables to be shared. So don't be greedy and eat the whole chunk of carrot.  Its proper to just break off a small piece and leave the rest.  If you see something that looks like a red pepper, practice caution.   Chances are it will be very spicy and you may not want to try it unless spicy is your thing. Even if it is, still be cautious and only taste a small portion unless you like having your mouth on fire and tears running down your face.


Down to Eating

Now eating with your hands without making a mess is truly a difficult technique to master. If you have time to plan ahead, first practice at home with a bowl of rice. Take a fistful of rice and roll it in your hand while squeezing to make a ball. Then you pop it in your mouth. It's quite easy when you get the hang of it. The key is to keep the meal contained in your hand and not drop crumbs everywhere. Its also important to observe how your hosts are eating and imitate them.


Be Brave

When eating in a foreign country, don't expect the food to look appetizing. It might, but even if it doesn't, be brave and try it.   Don't be shocked if there happens to be a chicken head or chicken feet sticking up in the middle of the bowl.  In some cultures, that's to honor you.  So just smile and thank your hosts for their generosity.  In conclusion, eating with your hands is a valuable art that will serve you well in foreign countries and can even be practiced at home. Why dirty extra utensils when you have your hands?