One of the things we hear most at EHL is how excited our students are to meet other hospitality professionals from around the globe. Aside from the professional knowledge exchange and with more than 107 different nationalities represented on campus, this really means: new customs, new foods, new celebrations, and holidays to share.
As a new intake gears up and invitations come rolling in, navigate new social customs like a pro with these etiquette tips and general guidelines.
Being a gracious guest in Latin and South American culture
While many cultures are known for their warmth and friendliness, few are more renowned than Latin and South American culture for their generous hospitality. While each country in Latin and South America has its own norms and customs, it’s safe to assume that when you’re being welcomed by a Latin or South American host, you are going to be treated like family.
- Timing is Everything: Traditionally, dinner in Latin American cultures begins in the late evening (around 8:00 pm - 9:00 pm, or even later). Your host might expect to serve dinner later than some cultures normally would, so prepare accordingly to avoid arriving too hungry. There will likely be some pre-dinner socialization or drinks before the main event, so don’t expect to eat right away either.
- Be Fashionably Late: Most Latin cultures believe it’s rude to arrive right on time and bombard the host. For hyper-punctual Europeans and Americans, this can feel jarring; but don’t be surprised if your Latin guests arrive fashionably late (and don’t surprise them by arriving too early when they host you).
- Go in for the Hug: In Latin American culture, it’s appropriate to greet new people with air kisses on each cheek or a hearty hug. Unlike some Asian cultures that put great value on personal space, expect your Latin American friends to welcome you with open arms – literally.
Showing respect at social gatherings hosted by Asian nationals
In many Asian cultures, respect, decorum, and politeness are tantamount to hospitality. You can expect to be treated with the utmost consideration and care at any event hosted by an Asian national, so take time to learn what is considered polite and impolite in your host’s native culture to avoid unintentionally offending someone or not expressing your gratitude clearly.
- Cleanliness is Next to Godliness: While the old saying was originally coined by the Anglican clergyman John Wesley, it applies beautifully to much of Asia’s emphasis on aesthetics, cleanliness, and minimalism. Wearing clean, fresh clothes and taking off your shoes inside Asian homes is a sign of respect to your host (just be careful, because showing the soles of your feet in some South East Asian cultures is offensive).
- Go for Seconds: Because Asian cuisine is some of the most celebrated and unique food in the world, sharing a meal is a highly social, intimate affair. Try a little of everything and finish your plate whenever you can. Generously enjoying your meal shows gratitude in many Asian cultures, so don’t be afraid to ask for seconds or even thirds.
- R-E-S-P-E-C-T: In Japan, it’s considered polite for the most junior person to bow to her elders. In Cambodia, clasped prayer hands are the expected greeting of respect. In Korea, polite conversation and a calm, even-keel personality project kibun – or propriety and pride. Do your homework or ask your host what signs of respect are most important before joining the festivities.
Navigating North Western European etiquette
The North Western part of Europe, including the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and even parts of Denmark and Sweden, is often romanticized for its social code of conduct, reminiscent of a bygone era of gentlemen and ladies. Many of these social mores punctuate Northern European society today and have helped cultivate the formal hospitality customs many of these cultures are comfortable with. That being said, Europe is a vibrant and diverse geography, so we happily admit there is no one size fits all model when being hosted by or entertaining your European guests so you have plenty of exploring to do.
- Punctuality Rules: Unlike Latin and South American cultures, most European cultures prize punctuality, so arriving right on time or a little early is a good idea. Similarly, be mindful of the hour as the evening progresses as it may be impolite to linger too long after the meal has concluded.
- Choose Your Words Wisely: What is sometimes mistaken as European stoicism is often an effort to maintain polite conversation and a sense of decorum so all guests feel comfortable and at ease. It is considered impolite to ask extremely personal questions about health or private matters, so let your host set the tone and measure of the conversation if you’re ever in doubt.
- Bring a Gift: It’s customary to bring wine, food, or other hostess gifts in most European cultures. Ask in advance if there is something you can bring that would make the event smoother or what the host’s favorite wine is so this gesture of gratitude is thoughtful and timely.
During any cultural exchange, it’s important to remember that our social customs might not be shared among our friends from other cultures. In other words, what’s appropriate and considered “normal” in the United States might be hugely offensive in China or France and visa versa. Remember, when in doubt: just ask … and let the exploring and sharing begin!