10 Surprising Things You Shouldn't Do At The Dinner Table

Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
A few weeks ago, I did something that stopped a party. Something that made perfect sense to me, but looked totally crazy to everyone else.

The Refinery29 team was toasting the launch of our #GimmeFive initiative with Michelle Obama — you know, popping bottles, having a good time. As we were celebrating, some champagne spilled out onto the table. I did what everyone in my family would have done: Immediately put my finger in the droplets and dabbed it behind my ears. This resulted in an awkward silence. It was like one of those scenes of a movie where the record comes to a screeching halt and everyone just stares at you like, "Um, who are you?" But, spilling wine or bubbly and NOT dabbing it behind your ears is considered terrible luck in Italy. Once I explained that to everyone, the party went on, and I even saw a few people discreetly partake in my superstition (a little luck never hurt anyone, right?).

This got me wondering about food superstitions around the world. What seems innocuous to one person can be bizarre to another. I asked everyone around the R29 office to share the food superstitions their families follow at home, and the results were surprising, funny, and often delightfully absurd. Click through to find out what the luckiest number of dinner party guests is in China, what you should NEVER pass hand to hand at the table, and how wasting food might influence your entry into heaven.

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Illustrated by Kiki Ljung.
Italy: Dab Spilled Wine Behind Your Ears, Like Perfume, For Good Luck

As already mentioned, when Italians spill wine, you'll inevitably see them dab it behind their ears. Admittedly, this can have the effect of making you smell like a bit of a wino, but your good luck will make up for it. If you have the good fortune to travel to Italy this summer (or plan to attend an Italian dinner party), this is a great way to send a discreet signal that you "get" the local traditions.
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Illustrated by Kiki Ljung.
China: Don't You Dare Puncture Fish Skin!

You will not see someone use chopsticks to flip over a whole cooked fish in China — if they puncture the skin, it means a ship will wreck.
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Illustrated by Kiki Ljung.
Italy (& Others): Ward Off Bad Luck With A Toss Of Salt

If you're like me and you tend to spill everything, you might like to know this: If you ever spill salt on a table, make sure you throw it over your left shoulder to get rid of bad luck!
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Illustrated by Kiki Ljung.
Russia: How To Stay Single Forever

My favorite spot at a dinner party is always the corner seat. But, if I was single and at a dinner party in Russia, I would never be seated at my preferred spot. Why? Because it means that I would remain unmarried forever. (Not necessarily a bad thing. Just saying...)
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Illustrated by Kiki Ljung.
Russia: That Falling Silverware Has A Secret Message

Also in Russia, a spoon falling to the ground is a signal that a woman is going to visit your house.
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Illustrated by Kiki Ljung.
China: Why Eight Is Great

In China, it is considered good luck to have eight plates on the table during a dinner party. My Chinese colleague explained to me that it's because the word for eight in Cantonese rhymes with "getting rich."
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Illustrated by Kiki Ljung.
Japan: Where You Park Those Chopsticks REALLY Matters

In Japan, it is considered terrible luck to stand chopsticks straight up in your rice. I can personally attest to the fact that the Japanese take this superstition very seriously. When I traveled there for work a few years ago, it was one of the very first things my Tokyo-based colleague warned me never to do while we were still driving in from the airport.
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Illustrated by Kiki Ljung.
Mexico, Russia, Italy, & Elsewhere: Do This & Expect A Fight

Okay, here is a widespread superstition that my family and I take VERY seriously: NEVER, EVER pass salt hand-to-hand — it means you will fight with the person and it also brings bad luck. If someone asks for salt, place it in front of them and remove your hand quickly.
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Illustrated by Kiki Ljung.
Russia: Your Wasted Bread Better Not Weigh More Than You

If you're ever in Russia, be careful not to waste any bread: When you die, all the bread you wasted in your life will be weighed and will supposedly determine your entry to heaven. If it weighs more than your body weight, you go to hell. Gulp!
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Illustrated by Kiki Ljung.
China: What Leftover Rice Means For Your Skin

In keeping with the theme with not wasting food, the Chinese say that however many kernels of rice you leave in your bowl will correspond to the number of freckles and moles on your face. Having freckles and moles is not considered desirable in China; in fact, they have a word for it — dòupí — meaning "bean curd skin." (This is probably a good time to mention that I have 86 moles on my body — yes, really.)
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