Food Finishing Etiquette



A Bulgarian proverb goes, “A  hungry bear won’t dance.


  • What do you think it might mean?
  • Do you have a similar one in your culture? If yes, does it translate using the same or different metaphors?
  • Read the following scenario, then choose the option below which seems most likely.


You are on an exchange, staying  with a Bulgarian family. Everyone is at the table and the host mother serves the meal. You thank her and everyone starts eating. You finish your plate and thank the host mother. She offers you another helping. You are not hungry but you accept to be polite. Once your plate is finished, you are offered another one. At this point you are so full, you are about to explode. However, your host mother keeps  refilling….  Strangely, your partner has left a bit from her first helping on the plate.


What’s going on here?

  1. Perhaps it is good manners to accept every time the host offers to refill your plate or glass.
  2. Your host mother might probably want to get rid of the meal as she has cooked a bit too much.
  3. Your host mother thinks you liked the meal as your plate is empty so she is just being polite to offer more.
  4. You are being tested how much you can eat – a trick played on every foreigner in Bulgaria.

Possible Interpretation of the options above.

  1. As a guest in a Bulgarian family you can indeed expect to be treated to a lot of food. You will also be expected to empty your plate(and drink, for that matter!)  This is a sign of appreciation of the quality of the food and drinks  and “breaks the ice”, especially when you visit for the first time.  The thing is that if the hosts see your plate or glass empty, this is a sign for them to offer more. But no one would expect you to eat more than you can take. There is a better option.
  2. The host mother has certainly cooked more than you can all eat – food is important and there will be  more than plenty on the table –  but she has a fridge to store the leftovers if there are any.
  3. This is most likely the case. Bulgarian people tend to eat more slowly than their western counterparts. Evening meals, for example,  may last for more than  a couple of hours, with chatting and eating – they are meant to be  a form of social interaction. It is common for the host  to offer a refill and often this is done several times. Eating more shows appreciation so on the initial serving take little to allow for a second serving. Leave a mouthful at the bottom of the glass if you do not want to drink more as glasses, like plates, are always refilled.
  4. One never knows when you might be played a trick on but this is certainly not the case here.


What would you do if you were a host or a guest in the above situation?

Suggested topics for further discussion:  timing of meals, normal ingredients or very usual foods, the role of alcohol, meanings of particular foods or ceremonies


* A hungry bear won’t dance is a Bulgarian  proverb which shows the importance food has in Bulgarian culture. One needs to eat well before they deal with everything else. Perhaps this dates back to the times when food in the family was scarce and consisted of bread and cheese. To this day Bulgarian grannies tend to spoil their grandchildren, especially when young,  with delicious meals to make sure they are “well fed”

Read two of the students’ incidents here and here.

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