When on an overseas trip, you undoubtedly spend considerable time exploring the food. Nothing represents a country more than the cuisine. You can tell so much about the country’s history, contact, and influence from other countries, and geography based on their most common food.
And if you are from the west side of the earth visiting the opposite countries from you in Asia, you have a lot to plan and prepare for. You will likely get culture shock. At the same time, there is a steep learning curve of things you are not allowed to do in a foreign country very different from your own. As they say, when in China, do as the Chinese do.
Before You Leave
A pro tip: before you go away for a long time, make sure to settle your responsibilities and keep your home safe. If you own a dog, you can hire a sitter, trust them with a friend, or leave them at daycare. Pay your utility dues, such as water and electricity bills. You don’t want to be coming back to a home with cut internet or power after your vacation.
If you have time to get to the things that need your attention, such as your heating and air systems, contact a heating contractor weeks before your scheduled trip. When you come home, you’d want a long hot shower. Avoid getting bummed after realizing you should have had your heating systems done before you left.
Now that all that is out of the way, get ready to learn some tourist stuff.
What to Do with Chopsticks
The Chinese are very particular about the use of chopsticks. You can neither twiddle with them nor lick them. You also can’t stir something using your chopsticks or use them to point at something or someone. Never stick your chopsticks into a bowl of rice. Except for soup, you are to use your chopsticks for everything.
You cannot poke your food with chopsticks to get them. It’s better if you use forks instead of doing this. Like in China, do not suck or lick your chopsticks. And finally, do not use them when you are still deciding what food to get, moving from one plate to another.
In South Korea
Table setting in South Korea is not complete without a spoon along with the chopsticks. They primarily use spoons for rice and soup and chopsticks for everything else. As with China, don’t stick them into a bowl of rice. They resemble a food sacrifice at Korean funerals. The best place to leave your chopsticks is on the plate or bowl. In Korean homes, they usually place it back on the table.
What to Do with Bowls
Lift your bowl correctly. If you bend over the table to slurp on soup, that is considered bad table manners.
Of course, you should pick up the tea bowls when you drink. The same goes for the wooden bowls. But the big bowls stay on the table.
In South Korea
The bowls are expected to be glued to the table until you finish. If you want to savor all the remaining few slurps and bite, your spoon will help you just fine.
How to Drink
If you are to make a toast, do it to the most important person at the table first. The toasts after that won’t matter. If you are considered a “lower person,” always position your glass below the other person’s as a sign of respect. Drinking in China is a competition on who can go all out. However, women are neither expected nor required to drink as much as men. You’ll get more free passes if you’re a female.
When you get dragged to a drinking session and you don’t know everyone, you are expected to get to know them first or, at the very least, get their names. Wait for everybody to get their glasses filled before you touch yours. Same as in China, seniority matters. Level your glass below that person’s and face them when they make a toast.
In South Korea
You will likely be drinking a lot in South Korea. The only thing to remember is to move your face sideways away from the person older than you or “higher” than you. Don’t pour your drink, and don’t let others pour theirs. Hold your glass with one hand and the other on the side facing you as someone pours you a drink. Basically, you hold everything with two hands in South Korea as a sign of respect.
Most of the time, foreigners get a free pass when doing things considered rude because they don’t know better. But if you can take the time to adjust to them and learn their culture, as you are the intruder, your hosts will appreciate you for it. This is an excellent way to start a conversation and make friends with the locals, which will truly enrich your experience in these countries.