Cultural Encounters/Bon appetit

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INTRODUCTION[edit | edit source]

According to the Edward T. Hall's (1976) iceberg theory of culture, food is one of the aspects of culture that belongs to the upper part of the iceberg and can be perceived as a manifestation of the system of beliefs and values of a given society. In other words, by observing the ways in which the members of different societies live this aspect of their respective cultures, it is possible to gain an insight into their core values since the surface is indicative of what is beneath. In this section, the differences and similarities between the food cultures of Croatia, Germany, Ireland, Portugal, and Slovenia will be analysed. Focus will be put on the staple foods, the effects that the process of globalisation has had on different cultures, student food, and eating habits and etiquette.

STAPLE FOODS[edit | edit source]

This section will approach what every country usually eats during their breakfast and also their traditional dishes, including desserts and even snacks. In this section it will be shown that despite the fact that many modern events have changed our lifestyles and habits, traditional food is still an important symbol of national and regional identity. It will also be explained how the essentialist view of culture can be applied to this specific case (Holliday, Hyde & Kullman, 2004). This essentialist view states that culture is a homogenous and exclusive phenomenon and that each society is simple. This fact leads to clear differences in between cultures in almost every aspect, including food. Throughout this section it will be explained that traditional dishes and sweets can be a part of a national identity just like any other aspect of a culture, such as religion, habits and greetings.

CROATIA[edit | edit source]


There is no typical breakfast in Croatia. It is often a simple meal, cereals or fruit, but sometimes breakfast can be a larger meal, usually fried or scrambled eggs with bacon. As for the drinks, Croatians often drink coffee as well, sometimes even tea.


Croatian dishes vary from region to region. In the eastern part of Croatia, Slavonija and Baranja, most traditional dishes are usually made in a big pot for a large number of people and that can last for a couple of days. Some of these foods are: sarma (a savory dish made out of cabbage, rolled around a filling of minced meat), which is mostly eaten during winter; fiš paprikaš (fish stew) and čobanac (veal stew), which are made for special occasions like birthdays and celebrations; kiflice (baked dough filled usually with ham and cheese, but they can be filled with jam as well, and then they are sprinkled with sugar) and dishes made entirely out of meat like different kinds of sausages, bacon and hams. Hladetina (meat jelly) and krvavica (blood sausage) are also some of the traditional dishes, usually made of pork. Purica s mlincima (turkey with homemade thin dried flatbread) is a main dish, eaten traditionally on Christmas.

The mountainous regions and the Northern Croatian coastal zone supply people with kalapajsani kalamper (hashbrowns with onion and paprika). The Northern region of Croatia has different varieties of seafood and fish such as gilt-head bream for instance, served with cale and boiled potato or black rissoto, as well as lots of pasta dishes with seafood and desserts like paprenjaci (pepper cookies), smokvenjak (fig cookies), krošule (deep fryed dough) and fritule (pastry containing raisins topped with powdered sugar).Typical desserts in central Croatia are bučnica (pumpkin cake) and krafne (empty dough later filled with some kind of jam or Nutella).

The most famous seasoning made, produced and used in Croatia is vegeta, a salty mixture of spices and chopped dried vegetables. It is known and sold all over the world. In addition, burek (a pastry filled with cheese, minced meat or vegetables) and čevapi (grilled minced meat) have been taken from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

GERMANY[edit | edit source]


In Germany, cereal, bread and simple sandwiches are usually eaten during weekdays. On the weekends, it is common to cook more elaborate meals such as eggs and bacon. Furthermore, a lot of people would buy rolls from the bakery on Saturday and eat them with different sorts of cold meat like salami and liver sausage. Coffee is also popular and it is often mixed with milk.


German people usually eat a warm meal for lunch and a cold meal for dinner. For lunch there is a wide variety of meals from foreign dishes to more traditional ones, such as maultaschen, which is sausages, bread, minced meat with onions. This happens because Germany’s food differs from region to region and it is also greatly influenced by the country’s multiculturalism. For instance, it is common to eat fish in Hamburg while in Munich the white sausage is more common. Food in the Western region also used to be very heavy and Eastern Germany was and is still influenced by its communist history.

Germany’s favorite fast food is the döner kebap, a beef filled bread combined with vegetables and a yoghurt sauce. The döner kepab was created in Berlin during the 1970’s to answer the need of a faster and busier city life and it actually has Turkish influences, but it is now deeply sunk in Germany’s eating habits. There is also Currywurst, a Bratwurst made out of pork which is generally served with curry ketchup, mayonnaise and French fries, however, recipes also vary according to the city.

As already mentioned, Germany’s delicacies vary from region to region. In Bavaria, the most known dishes are the white sausage and pickled pork knuckle. The most inhabited part of Germany is located in the West, especially in the Ruhr Area, an industrial region. In this region, simple meals like Frankfurters with potato salad are served along with mustard and ketchup. Traditional dishes from Northern Germany are based on fish due to the sea in the vicinity and are often served with vegetables that are also common in Eastern Germany.

IRELAND[edit | edit source]


During the weekends, when the Irish usually have more time to prepare meals, breakfast is quite similar to British and Welsh breakfast. It is often fried made up of sausages, rashers (bacon), eggs, tomatoes, beans and black and white pudding. On work days, the Irish prefer to eat a quick meal such as cereal, toast and fruit. Tea and coffee are the chosen drinks to accompany both types of breakfasts.


As an island nation, Ireland used to be very influenced by fishing and its potato farming. Irish eating habits eventually changed due to cultural influences and the development of globalization. Irish food is simple and includes gravy, meat (lamb in particular) and potatoes. Fish is usually eaten in the regions closer to the sea. Yet, in the South East the citizens tend to eat other kinds of food such as seaweed or crubeens (pigs' feet).

As already mentioned, potatoes are a huge part of almost every traditional dish. For instance, the Irish love colcannon, which is a soup made of potatoes along with kale. Their eating habits were greatly influenced by the British cuisine, which is why the Irish also eat a lot of fried food. However the most widely known dish is bacon and cabbage. Dairy products are also a result of their farming industry due to the major countryside. As a matter of fact, more cows live in Ireland than people and as a consequence, beef and dairy products influence their dishes as well.

PORTUGAL[edit | edit source]


Cereal, toast, yogurt and fruit are often part of the Portuguese breakfast. Toast is usually accompanied by ham, cheese and/or butter. There are also other types of bread, marmalade and baked cakes. Coffee (commonly known as bica), milk, latte, tea and juice are the most popular drinks for breakfast.


Portugal's history and geography are present in its culinary. The Portuguese were, for a long time, a people of seamen and farmers and so, heavy meals (depending on the region, one could find either fish or meat as the main ingredient) were a crucial part of a worker's daily routine. Nowadays, due to globalisation, Portuguese people often have a wide variety of choices but it is still a country quite connected to its traditional food.

Portugal is known as one of the biggest fish consumers in the world thanks to its long coastline. In the north of Portugal, where the temperature is usually colder, there are typical dishes such as cozido à portuguesa (Portuguese stew, which consists of different kinds of meat, potatoes, cabbages and other vegetables), feijoada à transmontana (baked red beans with typical Portuguese sausages, meat and cabbage),dobrada (baked beans with carrots, fish and typical Portuguese sausages), bifanas (beef sandwiches) and caldo verde (“green” soup, made out of potatoes and kale). There also vineyards in the Douro valley that produce vinho do Porto (Port wine), which is not only a traditional drink but is also exported to many countries such as England, USA, South Africa and Argentina. Furthermore, the city of Porto has francesinhas (beef sandwiches with cheese, ham, bacon and fried eggs) which are a fundamental part of one's visit to the city, as well as the acclaimed wine which takes its name after the region. However, in the more central cities it can be found another kind of cuisine which differs from the northern dishes in terms of variety which is due to a larger exposure to the sea as well as a great tradition of rice cultures (mostly due to the Arab invasion of the Iberian Peninsula in 711 a.d.). One can find the much appreciated sardines (a typical Portuguese fish), but also arroz de pato (duck rice), canja de galinha (chicken soup), and arroz doce (sweet rice). In the national capital Lisbon, people love their sweets and pastéis de nata (custard pasteries) which can either be served as a dessert or as a practical snack alongside some coffee.

In the Alentejo region, which is situated between central and southern Portugal, people usually eat a lot of bread and smoked ham. Some traditional dishes are sopas de tomate (tomato soup), migas (which consists essentially of bread and is mostly used as a side dish with fried fish or pork), and carne de porco à portuguesa (Portuguese pork meat). Additionally, the touristic southern area of the Algarve provides all different kinds of fish which are a big hit among visitors in the Summer. Fish such as the aforementioned sardines and also tuna can be used in a great variety of dishes, such as salads, or alongside potatoes and vegetables. Other fish commonly present in Portuguese dishes are dourada (golden sea bream), robalo (sea bass) and bacalhau (codfish), this last one being the main ingredient in bacalhau com natas (codfish cooked with cream and milk) and bacalhau à brás (codfish with fried chips and parsley) are. The undeniable relevance of fish in Portuguese dishes is closely related to the country's coast line and to its fishing tradition.
If on the one hand Portuguese culinary shows a wide range of variation in between regions, there is a common factor to all of them: soup. It can be served as a first dish, as a main dish (if it is a heavier soup, such as sopa da Pedra, which consists of meat, typical Portuguese sausages, vegetables and its broth) or as a sort of dessert, at the end of the meal. It does not matter if it is summer or winter, spring or autumn, if one is invited for lunch or for dinner to a Portuguese home, one will certainly be offered soup.
Last but not least, the Portuguese also have a strong tradition when it comes to bread, such as Broa de mel (a sort of Sugarcane syrup Bread) that is part of Madeira’s traditional cuisine and bolo do caco (sweet bread) from the Azores.

SLOVENIA[edit | edit source]


In Slovenia breakfast often includes cereal, sandwiches and bread with marmalade, honey or nutella. Bacon and eggs are also common. They often drink coffee, tea, milk and cocoa.


As far as the traditional food goes, certain ingredients prevail over specific parts of Slovenia. The food from the northern parts mostly consists of buckwheat, potatoes, cabbage, turnip and pork. Some of the most popular dishes are žganci (buckwheat cooked in boiled water), govnač or presnek (stew made of cabbage and potatoes mashed together with cracklings) and krvavice or blood sausage (pork meat and pot barley cooked in blood).

The south-western parts of Slovenia have quite a different traditional cuisine. It is mainly based on sea food since it lies along the coast, but it also includes corn, pork and Mediterranean vegetables like egg-plants. The climate plays an important role in the production of food, since egg-plants can only grow in warmer areas. Similarly, pršut or prosciutto (dried pork) can only be made in the Karst region because of the wind.

The eastern parts of Slovenia include the Panonian Plain and it is common in their cuisine to eat a lot of turnip, soups and also goose meat. Part of the population eats goose meat with mlinci (homemade thin dried flatbread) as a side dish, especially during holidays, for example the Slovenian holiday in honor of St. Martin. Soups are also quite common in the eastern parts and they have many varieties ranging from meat to vegetarian soups. The Prekmurje region is also known for its pumpkin oil.

Unlike many other European countries, almost no one in Slovenia eats lamb. Sheep were mainly bred for wool and not for meat; therefore, people are not used to eating this type of meat, therefore it is not included in the traditional cuisine. However, people in the past used to eat dormice in the central part of Slovenia although they are nowadays rarely eaten, they continue to be a specialty.

Foreign cuisine has also become very popular in Slovenia, e.g. Chinese and Mexican food. However, the immigrants from Bosnia and Serbia were the ones that have made the biggest impact on the country’s cuisine by introducing dishes like burek (phyllo dough filled with meat or cheese) and čevapčiči (baked minced pork and beef). Kebab is also one of the dishes that are very popular in Slovenia, but originate from Turkey.

GLOBALISATION[edit | edit source]

Globalisation has been defined as "a compression of time and space, an intensification of social economic, cultural and political relations, [and] a series of global linkages" (Pennycook, 2007, p. 114). This ongoing process has had a significant influence over the ethnic structures of these countries, as it has worldwide. The movement of people implies the movement and encounter of different cultures. Each one brings with them the pieces of their own, negotiating and adjusting, but keeping their essence. Being yet another of the numerous manifestations of a system of beliefs and values of a given culture, food is sometimes used as a means to establish cultural identities. Different foods are associated to different countries, each having its specific staple food, as has been presented in the previous section. But during the process of negotiation, food, as any other aspect of a given culture, is often adapted to the target culture. The essence is kept, but certain features are always adapted so as to achieve successful intercultural communication. This necessity of compromising by creating the third, hybrid culture has also been stressed by Kramsch (1993).

The ethnic diversity in which migration has resulted varies from country to country, depending on the level of immigration in each. And to observe the ways in which intercultural encounters come about when it comes to food, one must be acquainted with the ethnic structure of a given society. For instance, whereas Croatia and Slovenia are still mostly ethnically homogeneous societies, Ireland, Portugal, and Germany are populated by numerous ethnic minorities and therefore, experience intercultural encounters more often. This is due to the numerous pull factors (Lee, 1966), such as employment opportunities, pleasant climate, political stability, but also the ways in which a given government conducts its immigration policy. Despite the varying immigration level, each of these countries has encountered different types of foods specific to different cultures such as Italian, Mexican and Chinese. When it comes to food, members of these cultures interact readily and successfully. Being an easily adaptable aspect of a culture, food serves as a good medium when it comes to intercultural understanding.

The impact of globalisation in the aforementioned countries can be exemplified by McDonald's. If one analyses the spread of this particular food chain around the world, one will find that there is no stopping to this phenomenon due to the adaptability to each market. When looking at the figures, this statistic shows the amount of restaurants in each country:
Slovenia: 16
Croatia: 20
Ireland: 84
Portugal: 138
Germany: 1,468.
(List of countries with McDonald's restaurants)

In spite of the surprising amount of restaurants in Germany, it should be taken into account that it is the biggest and most populated one, with an amount of 54,000 inhabitants per McDonald's. This figure is similar for Ireland even though it has far less restaurants and is also smaller in size and population. No matter how big or how small the numbers are, it is a fact that these countries do have something in common when it comes to food. If in the past, food was a symbol of each culture, it is now also one of the signs of how globalisation is a phenomenon that touches each culture in its own way.

STUDENT FOOD[edit | edit source]

In Slovenia most students do not live at home. They reside in student dormitories or rented flats. In order for them to live and eat healthy, a number of precautions were introduced. Regarding food, the student organisation developed a system where every student is entitled to one subsidized meal every working day. They can, however, use two subventions in a day, but they have to be between 8:00 AM and 8:00 PM, four hours apart and they only get a certain amount per month. The amount the government subsidizes is 2.63€, which can make a big difference for the students and allows them to acquire hot meals sometimes for free. It is possible to try anything, from international cuisine (Indian and Mexican, for example), fast food to a proper Slovenian meal. It is commonly believed that because of the past socialist regime in Slovenia and the values it promoted, Slovenians expect the government to provide certain subventions and regulations that would not be customary in other countries.

Similarly, the student food in Croatia is also subsidised because of the very similar political past. The system, however, is a bit different. They also use student cards for identification, but the amount of subvention provided used to be higher: 75%, but because of the recession, the subvention was lowered to 50%. The amount is subtracted from a virtual account, where a certain amount of money per month is stored and differs from student to student according to their living status. While in Slovenia students can choose a student menu in many restaurants all over the country, in Croatia they have separate canteens for student, where hot meals are provided. In addition to that, the student card and the virtual money on it can also be used to buy some groceries (milk, spreads, jams, and so on) in certain shops covered by the student's canteen, but the articles and amounts are regulated daily.

In Portugal, on the other hand, meals are not subsidized directly. There are, however, separate canteens for students canteens which only students, providing proof of their status, can attend. Hot meals are provided for the amount of 2.5 € and students can choose among other menus. Presently, packed lunches are an option for a lot of students and in order to help them, Universities have begun providing microwaves.

Similarly, they seem to have such canteens in Germany, but everyone can eat there (even non-students), but they have to pay the full price. Hot meals for the students are subsidized, but the amount varies between 10 and 20%. Some students bring lunch from home or buy snacks in cafés, but that is not very common. The aforementioned goes for Essen, but it is thought that the case in similar at other universities.

The situation is also similar in Ireland, where hot meals are provided for about 5€, but the canteens are not restricted for non-students. Approximately half of the students go to the canteen and the other half buys sandwiches at a local supermarket. Some of the students bring a packed lunch from home.


Each country has their own cultural norms which dictate how people are expected to act normally in society. This process of normalization (Holliday, Hyde & Kullman, 2004) explains why social norms may differ from culture to culture. The aim of this section is to identify the social norms regarding the eating habits and etiquette of the five countries: Croatia, Germany, Ireland, Portugal and Slovenia and to raise awareness about the possible problems that may arise during intercultural communication based on these differences.

When in the context of the summer school, the students were asked to give information about their own experiences, in order to evaluate the eating habits and etiquette of the aforementioned countries. The participants formed a small homogenous group, therefore the results are not considered to be representative of their respective societies. However, based on the results, conclusions can be drawn about the possible cultural specific traits as regards the eating habits of these countries.


All of the aforementioned countries eat breakfast at similar times between six and nine am and often later on the weekends. Participants from Croatia and Slovenia stated that breakfast is considered to be the most important meal of the day. Clear differences can be seen in what certain countries consider to be the biggest meal of the day. In general, Slovenians deem lunch to be the largest meal of the day. In contrast, the Irish have a light meal for lunch which is eaten around one pm and a large hot meal for dinner which is normally eaten at six pm. The Portuguese put an equal emphasis on the importance of both lunch and dinner as they consume two hot meals at one pm for lunch and usually eight pm for dinner.


Cultural norms are reflected in simple everyday activities such as table etiquette. This section aims to evaluate the social norms regarding commenting on and complimenting meals, and the cultural norms about politeness.

The Croatians, Irish and Slovenians value giving positive feedback about a meal. They consider it normal to compliment the chef in order to show appreciation. They often do this even when they may not mean it. The Irish tend not to give criticism as this would be deemed negative, whereas Slovenians would see criticism as something positive and constructive. In contrast, the Portuguese and Germans have different attitudes towards commenting on a meal. The Portuguese are more inclined to give an honest opinion when they are eating with their family. As discussed by the students, it is acceptable to point out if the food is too spicy or if it could do with some salt. This is not considered to be rude, whereas it could be considered to be so in Ireland.

The participants were asked about how they would request for someone to pass them an item when eating with family or friends. The results give an indication about different attitudes towards politeness. The Slovenians, Irish, Croatians and Portuguese request an item in a similar way. They tend to ask a question such as ‘could you pass me the salt, please?’ It is also normal to say please and thank you, however, this is sometimes omitted. Germans have a different idea of politeness. They are more inclined to use a more direct request such as “give me the salt” or it may be sufficient to point at an item. It is vital to note that none of the cultures are any more of less polite, they are simply different.

These differences are important in terms of intercultural communication as the preferences for directness or indirectness differ among the cultures. Therefore, speakers can interpret each other as impolite in intercultural encounters. It has been suggested that Anglo cultures (Wierzbicka, 2003), in general, pose restrictions on the use of imperative mood. However, this may not be the case in other European nations or languages. One of the best ways to avoid being perceived as impolite is to become aware of intercultural differences in simple everyday activities such as table manners.

CONCLUSION[edit | edit source]

Based on the above analysis it is clear that food reveals a lot about the cultures of Croatia, Germany, Ireland, Portugal and Slovenia. Firstly, it has been proven that the national identity of these countries is strongly linked with their traditional foods. Secondly, the study of globalisation suggests that all of the countries are open to trying new foods. Finally, the observations of the varying cultural norms regarding etiquette and student food revealed interesting and useful insights into the differences that exist between some of the countries. Awareness of these differences is useful as regards successful intercultural communication. Although every country has its own traditions and customs in relation to eating habits, food is not restricted to borders or language barriers. Food is an international language which unites us closer together.

REFERENCES[edit | edit source]

1. Hall, Edward T. (1976). Beyond Culture. New York: Anchor Books.

2. Holliday, Adrian, Hyde, Martin, Kullman, John. (2004). Intercultural Communication. An Advanced Resource Book. London: Routledge.

3. Kramsch, C. (1993). Context and Culture in Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

4. Lee, Everett S. (1966). Demography. A Theory of Migration. 3.1, 47-57.

5. Pennycook, A. (2007). Global Englishes and Transcultural Flows. New York: Routledge.

6. Wierzbicka, A. (2003). Cross Culture Pragmatics. The Semantics of Human Interaction. New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

7. List of countries with McDonald's restaurants. (6 August 2014). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from's_restaurants