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Food and Eating

People in other countries eat differently from Americans. In some countries, it is impolite to keep your hands under the table and improper to put your knife and fork down and change hands after cutting a piece of food. You may also encounter a few “food-surprises.” Words used in the U.S. may mean something different abroad. For example, “spaghetti” in Italy is a first course, and french fries (“chips”) might be served with mayonnaise rather than ketchup.

Menus may state whether the tip and/or taxes are included in the bill. Check the customs of the country which you are visiting. Tipping customs vary. In some countries a gratuity of 12-15 percent is expected. In others, customers don't tip at all.

Take time to explore local taverns and restaurants. You can learn a lot about a country from its cuisine. At the same time, be aware of food and water safety precautions, and watch out for “extras.” In some places you may pay extra for a napkin!

Food is available on most trains, but is more expensive. Plan ahead, and bring something with you. In big cities, restaurants inside and around train stations are generally more expensive. Trekking a bit down a few side streets may lead you to something a little more special and in your price range. Travel guide books often contain good information about restaurants.

Bring along any special dietary supplements or food items you are accustomed to: black pepper, vitamin C, peanut butter, etc. Keep in mind that it is illegal to carry perishable food or plants across country boundaries.

Water and Food Safety

In countries where the tap water is not safe to drink, never drink the tap water, avoid ice cubes, wash produce in boiled or bottled water, and remember to use boiled or bottled water to brush your teeth.

Review food and water safety guidelines specific to your country. In countries where the tap water is safe to drink, the slight difference in mineral content in the water might be enough to upset your system. Be patient. Don’t panic if the change in diet affects your health adversely when you first arrive in a new country.

For health and safety issues particular to the country you plan to visit, check updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .