Etiquette in selected European countries

By Philip Wagenaar
This item appears on page 53 of the March 2014 issue.

(Second of two parts, go to part one)

Last month, I described etiquette in various European countries. This month, I cover etiquette in a few more countries.


Italians are guided by first impressions, so it is essential to demonstrate good manners when greeting people.

Do not wrap gifts in black, as it is traditionally a mourning color. Also, don’t wrap them in purple, as that is a symbol of bad luck.

If invited to an Italian’s house…

• punctuality is not mandatory. You may arrive between 15 minutes late if invited to dinner and up to 30 minutes late if invited to a party.

• If an invitation says the dress is informal, you still should wear stylish clothes.

• When dining, follow the lead of the hostess. She sits at the table first, starts eating first and is the first to get up at the end of the meal. It is acceptable to leave a small amount of food on your plate. Pick up cheese with your knife rather than your fingers. If you do not want more wine, leave your wine glass nearly full.

The Netherlands

If invited to a Dutch home, take a box of good-quality chocolates, a potted plant or a book.

Men generally remain standing until all of the women have taken their seats. 

Most food is eaten with utensils, including sandwiches. 

Don’t cut salad; fold the lettuce onto your fork. 

Always start with small amounts so you may accept second helpings. 

Finish everything on your plate.


The following was paraphrased from this website.

Names — It is common for people to have very long names. Usually, the first in the list is the first name, and the rest, as many as five or six, are family names. The exception is that some women’s names are compound, usually with Maria as the first part (e.g., Maria Luisa, Maria Teresa), in which case it is common to drop the “Maria” and just use the second half (Luisa, Teresa, etc.). 

The very last name is usually the last name for purposes of addressing a person, but it is common for the last two to be used. It’s a matter of listening how they are referred to by others, but you won’t offend by using just the last name as a family name. 

Addressing people — Titles in Portugal are a minefield that can take years to traverse. The simplest is not to try to understand and to use the English “Mr. (last name)” and “Ms. (last name).” Do not use first names unless invited to do so.

Don’t be alarmed if they call you “Mr./Ms./Mrs. (first name)” (e.g., “Mr. John”) or slip in a “Dr.” or whatever, even if you’re not an MD or PhD. 

If you really want to use Portuguese titles, you have to be careful to avoid giving offense. Otherwise, all you need to know is that the “Dr.” title refers to someone with a normal degree (slightly more than a bachelor’s) and not a PhD or MD. 

Portuguese people will not be offended if you have difficulty pronouncing any of their names, but they will be very pleased if you ask them to explain how to pronounce it correctly. 

For more on Portuguese titles, see this website.

If invited to a dinner…

• arrive no more than 15 minutes after the stipulated time.

• Most food is eaten with utensils, including fruit and cheese. 

• Leave some food on your plate when you have finished eating.


The formal greeting is “Dobry den.” “Dobre rano” is used early in the morning. After 6 p.m., you use “Dobry vecer.” “Dobru noc” means “Good night.”

 People are generally introduced by the titles “Pan” (“Mr.”) or “Pani” (“Mrs.”) followed by the surname. 

Slovaks generally entertain outside the home… in pubs, pivnice (taverns), vinárne (wine bars) and restaurants.  


Many men use a 2-handed shake in which the left hand is placed on the right forearm of the other person. 

Expect to be interrupted when speaking. 

Be patient. Nothing is done in a hurry. Procrastination and delay are Spanish trademarks. 


It is more common for guests to be invited to a Swede’s home for coffee and cake than to a meal. 

Address each of your hosts with either their professional title or their honorific title and surname: “Herr” (“Mr.”) or “Fru” (“Mrs.”).

As personal space is important in Sweden, avoid any unnecessary touching.

Be punctual, but do not arrive too early. If necessary, walk around the block until the expected time of arrival has arrived! 

Do not take the last helping from a platter, and ensure that you finish everything on your plate.


Regarding table manners, use your fork, instead of a knife, to cut food such as salad and potatoes.

Break bread with your hand, but most other food should be eaten with utensils.

Eat everything off your plate, and sample a little bit of everything.

Don’t be more than 30 minutes late to a dinner party, although showing up 15 minutes late is acceptable.


When meeting, shake hands firmly. When departing, it is not always customary to shake hands.

At social occasions, greet the person closest to you, after which you go around the room counter-clockwise.

Greet people with either the Islamic greeting of “Asalamu alaykum” (“Peace be upon you”) or “Nasilsiniz” (“How are you?” pronounced na-sul-su-nuz). 

Other useful phrases are “Gunaydin” (“Good morning,” pronounced goon-ay-dun), “iyi gunler” (“Good day,” pronounced ee-yee gun-ler) and “Memnun Oldum” (“Pleased to meet you”).

Before giving alcohol to anyone, be sure that the person drinks.

Evening meals, comprising a few courses, including meat or fish plus bread and a salad, may be accompanied by some alcohol, usually rakı (pronounced rak-uh).

Turks smoke during meals and will often take breaks between courses to have a cigarette and a few drinks before moving on to the next.

Tea or Turkish coffee is served at the end of a meal, sometimes with pastries.

United Kingdom

Four countries make up the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Residents of any of these countries may be called “British.” Use “English,” “Scot” or “Scotsman,” “Welsh” or “Irish” or “Northern Irish” only when certain of a person’s heritage. While the four countries share many customs, each has its own set of cultural nuances. 

The British are very reserved and private people. They expect others to respect their privacy, which means that you should not ask personal questions. The inquiry “Where are you from?” may be viewed as an attempt to “place” the person on the social or class scale. 

The handshake is the common form of greeting. 

The British might seem a little stiff and formal at first. Staring is considered impolite.

Arrive on time when invited to a home. If an invitation says “6:30 to 7,” it means you shouldn’t arrive any later than 6:50. Don’t be too early, though, because your host may not be ready yet.

Wear conservative clothes. Don’t wear striped ties that are copies of regimentals. Ties are important symbols. School, army, university or club ties are worn. 

Wear shoes with laces. 

Don’t make the “V for victory” sign with your palm facing yourself. It’s considered to be an offensive gesture.

Tap your nose if you are saying something that should remain confidential.

Do not touch others in public.

Regarding table manners, an invitation to someone’s home is more common in England than in the rest of Europe.

Eat most of your food with eating utensils. However, the following food is usually eaten with your hands: sandwiches, potato chips (called “crisps” in the UK), corn on the cob, and fruit.

In pubs, order both food and drink at the bar. A barmaid or barman will bring your food to the table.

UK tea etiquette

1. Learn the difference between “high tea” and “low tea.” Low tea is in the afternoon, at 4 p.m., and high tea served around 5 or 6 p.m. Low tea has declined in popularity over the years.

2. Wait for tea to steep for a few minutes after the water has been poured.

3. Cut a scone in half with a knife, spread jam and clotted cream on it and eat the halves open-faced.

4. Food served during afternoon tea is usually finger food.

I hope that this short review of etiquette will facilitate your interacting with the native populations.