One evening while in Naples, Italy, Tim, a fellow crewmate, and I decided to go out for dinner. We chose a tiny restaurant on the edge of a little harbour filled with colourful fishing boats. The tables were laid with white linen cloths and napkins, the evening was warm and still, and the lights twinkled on the water - it was a fabulous setting for an alfresco meal.
Halfway through the meal, while enjoying the atmosphere, good conversation and the great food and wine, Tim put his knife and fork down on his plate. He did this in such a way as to show that he had not yet finished his meal – or so he thought! The waiter, however, came up to our table and whisked Tim’s plate away. Tim was annoyed to say the least, and it was only after much upset and gesticulating that he finally got his meal back.The waiter was also upset and went off muttering, soon returning with the maitre’d who could speak some English. He explained to us that while in England, the way Tim had put his knife and fork down indicated he was not finished his meal, in Naples it showed that he wasfinished, and the waiter was thus only doing what was expected of him. Tim and I were fascinated at this complete contrast in table etiquette. We had had no idea.
Don’t ever assume that your own customs are the way of the world. Take time to find out about the customs of other places so as not to cause offence. (Ask open-ended questions so that you can find out about things you don’t know you don’t know!)