No Slurping Allowed

By Brett M.

I have always had difficulty enjoying my pasta, ramen, or other noodle dish silently.  My mother would instantly reprimand me as a child if I were to make even the slightest of slurping noises while eating.  This is how I learned that eating noodles or other food in the United States should be a silent act.  In fact it is considered quite taboo to make noises while eating.  However, in Japan, slurping noodles is actually considered to be a flattering action for the chef who has prepared one’s food[1].  In some circumstances it is even considered rude not to make noises as this signifies a lack of enjoyment.  Surely such polar opposite, culturally defined, “acceptable” behaviors require the analysis of a few cultural anthropologists.

A Boasian anthropologist would maintain that in order to understand the eating practices of both Americans and the Japanese, we must view the discrepancies through a separate cultural lens thus practicing cultural relativism[2].  Perhaps for the Japanese, body language and indirect sound is more important than it is in the United States[3].  The unique history in the development of Japanese culture has allowed for a difference in accepted communication practices.  Slurping serves to give thanks to the person who made the food, in an indirect manner.  For Americans, however, making noises while eating does not function to indicate satisfaction. It is actually through the use of spoken language, that one should indicate their satisfaction toward a delicious food[4].  Conversation at the dinner table has been incorporated as an essential American value and slurping merely takes away from this form of direct communication, thus it is labeled an unacceptable practice.  Even though both cultures are equally developed and share a general belief in thanking the chef, they are not completely equivalent as emphasized by separate cultural entities and histories.

As he sits in his armchair, the cultural evolutionist disagrees with the Boasian anthropologist.  He believes that the Japanese still have barbarian characteristics associated with their eating habits[5].  An act such as slurping is not something that a white, civilized, European or American should be doing.  Thus they have purged these characteristics from their culture as they advanced in the timeline of civilization.  In fact, it will only be a matter of time before the Japanese stop slurping their noodles and progress towards silent eating.  This will be a clear indication of development and a greater hierarchical ranking.  Slurping is simply an indication of one’s social level of advancement.

Although fundamentally different, each anthropological theory seeks to explain the cultural differences in American and Japanese eating norms.  Food has such a vast array of cultural elements; even the practice of eating itself has many dimensions.  Regarding this specific category, I hope American resilience with eating quietly will eventually change as there is just something so satisfying about audibly enjoying food.

[1] “Japanese Table Manners.” Japanese Table Manners. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2014.

[2] Lecture, Professor Carole McGranahan, ANTH 2100 Frontiers of Cultural Antropology, 15th September 2014.

[3] “US / Japan Culture Comparison.” CultureComparison. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2014.

[4] “US / Japan Culture Comparison.” CultureComparison. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2014.

[5] Lecture, Professor Carole McGranahan, ANTH 2100 Frontiers of Cultural Antropology, 15th September 2014.

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43 Responses to No Slurping Allowed

  1. Juliana says:

    It is so interesting how different cultures communicate and praise in their own unique ways. In the US, like you mentioned, we show appreciation verbally by saying “please” and “thank you” whereas in Japan, the slurping sound of the noodles says it all. When we are children, we get reprimanded for not using our manners, I wonder if Japanese children get in trouble for not slurping loudly.

  2. Andrew Sullivan says:

    It would be awesome if the US would allow for things like slurping to be allowed as I feel it would make us more of the “melting pot” we claim to be because it keeps the unique traits of individuals own unique cultures. People should take pride in their cultures and not have to conform to what another one asks of them.

  3. Anna Wood says:

    I thought it was really interesting how this post hypothesized that the stigma against slurping is related to the US value of dinner conversation. By that argument, any type of uncommunicative language would also take attention away from deep conversation. I wonder if this is the same reason we have negative connotations tied with other noisy bodily functions. Of course bodily functions tend to be deemed “unsanitary” in US culture, but it is possible that they also play a similar role as slurping?

    • Ben Sardinsky says:

      Anna, I like your observations about the way Americans relate to bodily functions in general. Words are often considered the domain of Westerners by non-western cultures, and our attitude towards the body is often considered to be a product of western religion. Judeo-Christian religions are transcendent in nature, their goals are to transcend this mortal world to a higher plane of pure goodness, ie heaven. Conversely, the world we live in now is often considered to be unclean, or drenched in sin, and the objects of this world to be ‘wordly’ where the word of god is ‘heavenly’. The physicality we experience in our bodies is our strongest connection with the world, and so our culture tends to distance it’s members from bodily experiences and encourage cognitive experiences.

  4. Kelly Curtis says:

    This American tradition makes me wonder if at one point we were more bodily communicative at one point in history. Much of what Americans deem as polite was taught in boarding schools by “proper” adults, such as, no elbows on the table, fork on the left, scoop soup away from you so it has time to cool and you don’t have to blow on it before eating. So maybe with the changes in our culture we grew away from belches and slurping to express satisfaction to a more “proper ” and East Coast response of verbal assurances.

    • Andrew Deckenbach says:

      Kelly your comment struck very close to home because it was much of what I was thinking while reading this essay. That maybe in the history of our country and its defining of its national identity that we decided to make our changes in decorum to be more more “proper.” Proper might not be the right word where we need to be more dignified especially in the eyes of the world being a new country.We fought our Revolutionary War in not a socially acceptable and gentlemanly way. People always take about southern hospitality yet most of the racism problems root from that part of our country. These are just some examples of maybe way we keep on putting more and more rules into manners and decorum; to help smooth out some of our rougher edges and make us look more respectable.

    • Madeline says:

      This comment also struck really close to home for me because I spent my high school years in an East Coast boarding school and took cotillion classes as child. In olden times almost all children of wealth and class were sent to boarding school to learn how to be an adult in society. This included learning table manners, one of the most important being to be silent while eating. At my boarding school, every Thursday the whole student and faculty body would gather for “Formal Dinner” following chapel. At Formal Dinner one is expected to dress correctly and behave properly. This gets interesting when you acknowledge the fact that about 15% of the 280 students are international students, mostly coming from Asia. These kids have to go against what they were taught was proper growing up, (i.e. slurping noodles and eating loudly) and conform to traditional American standards.

  5. Taylor Thostenson says:

    I think that the idea of slurping, although in some cultures is a ‘praise’ is something that the US would never succumb to. I believe that we hold ourselves to a higher standard and etiquette by our manners we show at the dinner table. I think differences among the ways that other cultures show thankfulness or gratitude for a meal is what makes each culture different and interesting. Therefore, I think we as Americans should continue with our verbal thanks versus audible slurping. Just my thought on the overall topic but enjoyed reading your essay!

  6. Angela Gianficaro says:

    Slurping while eating is a very interesting topic to write about because of how differently it is interpreted culturally. I was specifically interested in the cultural evolutionist’s approach to describing the topic in this essay. I agree that slurping while eating would be looked at as a “savage” way to eat, or “less civilized” in the eyes of a cultural evolutionist. Historically, many groups of people that acquired different eating habits, such as eating with their hands instead of using utensils, were considered less evolved in the eyes of many Europeans during colonization. These people were seen as lesser humans, and many Europeans took a cultural evolutionary approach to progressively teaching these humans to eat, and eventually live, the way they do in order to be seen as equal.

  7. Camille says:

    I thought this was a very interesting topic to discuss, especially given the fact that our society views slurping as very differently, culturally, in comparison to the Japanese. How our society has evolved in the ways we decide what is and isn’t culturally “acceptable.” Not to mention that historically Japan and other countries probably were consuming soup and other cuisines that were liquid based before Americans. Right?

    • Larkin says:

      I think Camille brings up a really good point about the kinds of food that different cultures eat. Japanese food is historically much different than the food in the United States, and when talking about traditions such as slurping I think it’s really important to keep in mind that this cultural tradition has come about in completely different ways than food culture in America has. For instance I’m sure the fact that Americans generally use their hands to eat can be seen as impolite in the context of Japanese culture.
      I also think that as far as Americans adopting traditions such as slurping, though we may have the best intentions, may be culturally insensitive to the way the Japanese eat. I think that adopting someone else’s traditions that are not acceptable in our cultural traditions and trying to make it acceptable, can often offend people of other cultures. And it is important to be sensitive about not only the traditions of other cultures but also the meaning behind them.

  8. Stephanie Grossart says:

    I can see how a cultural evolutionist would view slurping noodles as a barbaric notion. If you think about it when you’re a child you initially slurp your noodles then be scolded by your parent thereby learning/evolving into a more civilized human. It is hard to believe that someday the Japanese would disregard a commonly known sign of satisfaction and gratification. All cultures learn and decide what is right and wrong in different ways. Cultural Relativism easily exemplifies this subject. I wish I had chosen this topic myself because it does such a great job of representing both theories. Tradition is tradition for a reason and I cannot see either culture changing their beliefs on slurping.

  9. Mackenzie Carson says:

    It fascinates me that different cultures can have such opposite beliefs about what is “proper” and what are the “correct” table manners. It makes me wonder why the English thought to make table manners so particular and at times unnatural. It seems that the way some other cultures behave at the table is a more natural way of doing things. Does it all go back to the days of white superiority and believing that white people are more civilized and should therefore eat in a more complicated manner?

  10. Charlotte Thompson says:

    I really enjoyed your article . I thought that comparing Japanese and American cultures made it an easy and interesting read. However,I think that a Boasian anthropologist might have gone further into the meaning and history of slurping in Japanese culture.

  11. Cody Patten says:

    I found this reading very interesting. I went to a Boarding school and there were kids from all over the world that went to my school. I feel like this is a perfect example of when we would have formal meals with the teachers almost every night, and table manners were a big deal at our school. One of the first days the teachers got mad at one of the Asian students for lowering his head and slurping his food. It is so interesting to know this information now, and I am curious if the teacher knew that this was a common practice for this culture.

    • Julia Marino says:

      I think Cody brings up a really interesting point here. I attended boarding school that had a variety of ethnic backgrounds. We had formal dinner meals that allowed for everyone to sit with different people a few times a week. You were able to see cultural differences in manners and with eating etiquette. Our school provided us with a few events a year that were lead by students from different countries to show traditional food and cultural practices that were associated with this. I believe that this allowed me to already know that in Japan slurping your food is considered to be a flattering action and allowed for me to not make judgments based on the manners that I was taught by my parents. I think learning at Holderness School about different traditions and customs of other countries was very beneficial to me and allows me to not make instant judgments about an individual’s behavior.

  12. Kaleigh C says:

    I had a similar experience as many of the other responses, yet I grew up in Texas. Southern hospitality and manners ride very heavy still in southern culture. Growing up, we didn’t even begin a meal until everyone was at the table ready for dinner. These social constructions of “manners” vary inside our country, so it was very interesting to read about another culture and how drastically different “being polite” can be.

  13. Jenna Scott says:

    I enjoyed the part in which you ‘played’ the cultural evolutionist. The idea of slurping not being considered a sign of enjoyment but rather a sign of barbarianism was very intriguing. Because in societies such as in America certain manners must be upheld to ensure a civilized nature. However the manners that we hold here are majorly differing from those manners that are valued in Japan. While these manners may differ widely they still hold great value to each society. However in a cultural evolutionists point of view the manners of Japan would be seen as barbaric and inferior to our own.

  14. Kelsey Spalding says:

    Interesting essay about the ways in which norms can vary across cultures, in particular between the western world and the far east. I would be interested in learning more about the origins of this cultural difference, and how the Japanese might view American eating practices and costumes. Good use of a cultural evolutionist point of view in this essay and great concise topic.

  15. Jacqueline Joyal says:

    I have an idea as to the reason behind why America east silently and Asian cultures eat more noisily. Our utensils are so vastly different! I can’t help but think that has some impact on eating styles. Regarding noodles, forks allow for more silent eating, whereas chopsticks require one to slurp the noodles up.

    • MelissaDanielle Lauro says:

      This is a very good point! I would be interested to see whether other cultures that use chopsticks also considering slurping to be polite. A friend of mine from Japan told me that you are meant to slurp ramen noodles, rather than biting off the excess, because it allows you taste all of the flavours of the soup. I wonder if this is why they slurp, or if they say this because they slurp?

  16. Sydney Britsch says:

    I love that in this essay you chose two theories that contradict one another. It is interesting to think that at one time the evolutionist theory would have been used to seriously characterize Japan as barbaric because they slurp their noodles. It is important that we look deeper into phenomena like eating habits and try to explain why there are such discrepancies between cultures. It is weird to think that I could attend a dinner with people whose culture I am unfamiliar with and unknowingly offend them because of the vast differences between our traditions- even if I was using what our society considers proper manners.

  17. Frank Minor says:

    I would agree with Sydney regarding the two theories that you applied to Japanese and American eating norms. The first of those two, cultural relativism, I found really interesting in particular, notably how it is seen as thanking the chef by slurping, which Americans would not do, despite believing that it is good to thank the chef. Also, I thought it was interesting how you said it is typical to talk during American dinners, and I think that it is very true.

  18. Annie Birkeland says:

    This is such a funny topic, but it is true that ideas about how to eat politely vary across the world. I think it was great that the Brett gave inferences as to why each culture developed their way of eating noodles. I think it is true that conversation is valued during meals for Americans and any sounds that people make while eating their food could disrupt conversation and be a distraction. I can see how it would be rude to make loud slurping noises over someone who is talking, and how audible eating would be considered rude. Brett also includes that for the Japanese making sounds while eating shows the immediate satisfaction with the meal and indicates that the food is delicious.I thought it was great that Brett was able to make inferences as to why each culture eats noodles differently and how such contrasting customs came to develop.

  19. Justine G. says:

    I think this topic is so interesting! Personally, I never really considered the cultural differences in slurping food. Sure, I had always heard that in Japan it is polite, but it was something that I had never really given much thought to. Of course, in American society, most people (if not all) learn that it is considered rude, and it’s so automatic for many Americans to even be offended by the slurping itself.
    I also like how you applied your theories, Brett. I found it interesting that you included the armchair concept, because it made your transition smooth and made presenting the theory much more interesting.

  20. Alexis Johnson says:

    I really liked that you chose two theories that completely disagree with one another. It’s interesting to see what two sides would say about slurping. I love that you chose slurping, I never knew that slurping is a widespread cultural difference. Also the sense that slurping indicates that you enjoyed the meal is even better, same as the point that professor made about burping.

  21. Christian Rencken says:

    A lesser known American stereotype is our hatred for silence, and if you spend time with any Europeans it will become easy to recognize. This is why I like your assessment of why our verbal family dinners may be upset with the sound of a slurp, not the concept. Comparing American notions of slurping with those of the Japanese is definitely a polarizing topic, and you did a good job using boasian theory and cultural evolution to explain.

  22. Kirsten Jaqua says:

    I loved your segway from Boasian anthropology to cultural evolution theory. The subtle sarcasm there made this all the more fun to read! Good analysis of the two cultures in comparison. Were this assignment longer, I would have been interested to hear some description of exactly what is and isn’t acceptable for Japanese, since I”m sure there are lines they too don’t cross in dining behavior.

  23. James Cumming says:

    Would the cultural anthropologist taking on the armchair perspective say that the slurping is related to individual status within the Japanese population or would he/she say that it is a sign of the status of the country as a whole? I am gearing more towards the latter, since cultural anthropology implies a whole system but it could also be focused on levels within the system. Of course since the armchair perspective is automatically skewed through ethnocentric views it is hard to say what good the critique would do to enlighten us to new dimensions within a foreign culture.
    The Boasian perspective is clearly better for gathering information in such a way that little is skewed. Through your description the reader can automatically understand the Boasian lens and the Armchair perspective, you used clear simple examples and compared their specific qualities well. Well done!

  24. Laura Graham says:

    I think this was a very interesting topic to pick. Its interesting what different cultures deem polite and impolite and why.

    I lived with a Japanese host family for a while and I always struggled to try and slurp the noodles up. My Japanese sister tried to teach me how and one time mentioned how by sucking in all that air not only do you manage to pull the noodles up into your mouth, but the air helps to cool down the hot noodles. I had never thought of that before. Being an American I had been kind of peeved by the slurping noises, but her explanation helped me to see it wasn’t just for lack of care about the noises, the slurping had a real purpose! After having been burned by hot noodles whenever I tried to eat ramen or udon and being the slowest eater at the table every time, I eventually gained a weird admiration of people who could successfully slurp noodles. Now I try (with no success) to slurp up the noodles every time I order them.

    • says:

      I thought your story was funny and insightful! It is obvious that a functionalist anthropologist would have a particular way of understanding slurping as much as a cultural evolutionist and Boasian anthropologist would. The author of this blog did an impressive, and entertaining job, of investigating the slurping phenomenon. Just as Laura elucidated, there may be other possible anthropological reasons for the value American and Japanese cultures place on slurping. Is there a functionalist interpretation for the dislike or negative attitude Americans have towards slurping, or any other bodily function while enjoying food? It is obvious there are differences in appreciation of slurping between the two countries, but are there any similarities? It seems as if slurping, in both Japanese and American culture are situated in the realm of manners, whether polite or impolite. Manners are, usually cross-culturally, significant of class, education, and social order. Maybe slurping, though in opposite ways, function as a means to uphold hierarchies in everyday situations such as eating?

  25. Olivia Smith says:

    After reading the third paragraph, I am curious to find out if this will be a practice that dies out amongst the Japanese! That was a very good point. I feel as if a lot of cultures across the world are greatly influenced by western ideal and ways of thinking, many of which have conformed to this way of life. Think about how Africa has drifted from tribal life and traditional African religions to more of a western/european way of life and Christianity. Its very interesting to watch these changes.

  26. Brian Clark says:

    I love the essay, the only problem I’m having is the way a cultural evolutionist would view “slurping” up food. I feel like they would have a hard time saying that the Japanese have barbarian characteristics based solely on the way they consume food. They’re civilization and society are extremely civilized and advanced for one characteristic to change that view.

  27. Madelyn Wisell says:

    This made me think about my childhood when my mom reprimanded me for slurping when eating soup or drinking through a straw. It would be interesting to see other cultures’ views on food etiquette, and see what they deem appropriate. I wonder if the cultural evolutionist would instead say that slurping is more of a civilized action. They might say that slurping shows the guest’s appreciation of the food. Maybe the Japanese are doing it right, and we’re doing it wrong. Or maybe this stage is somewhere in the middle of Japan and the US becoming fully civilized. I agree with the Boasian anthropologist in that they’re looking at the cultural differences. Overall it was a good paper, and I enjoyed the new perspective.

  28. Leah Longmire says:

    Your personal experience is probably one we have all shared, I can recall countless times where slurping my noodles turned into etiquette lessons. I like that you compared the two cultures and I found it interesting that something viewed to be improper here in our culture, can actually turn out to be something praised in another. I agree that cultural evolutionists would view slurping as barbaric simply for the fact that it is so frowned upon here.

  29. This is a great essay on an issue that I haven’t given much thought to in the past. I’m glad to think about it now, though, because I think that food and eating are deeply rooted parts of culture. Therefore table manners are going to vary by place and people. I have never been to Japan, but even in Europe there are different rules about how to eat and behave at the table.
    I wonder if the different manners have to do with the different sorts of food that people eat in Japan versus America/Europe. Laura mentioned above that slurping not only thanks the chef, but also cools off the food. I think that a lot of cultural values around food come from places of practicality, whether we realize it or not. Fascinating essay!

  30. AYURU KONDO says:

    I agree this idea, and it is familiar to me. First, I’m from Japan, especially SOBA (蕎麦, which is buckwheat noodles) when people eat that they make slurping noises, it is stylish (especially for men). In this article, “Slurping serves to give thanks to the person who made the food” it is true. However, when Japanese people eat pasta, it is not allow to make noise. Now Japan has traditional Japanese food manner and western food manner is mixed. Some SOBA restaurant people dislike to hear slurping noise. I think it is difficult problem because old people like to save traditional manner. And sometime old people are in high hierarchy. So I can’t guess they stop to make slurping noises. I like this essay!

  31. This was a really well written post. I found it particularly interesting to read about the food etiquette of another culture. Additionally the way you described cultural evolutionism with a little dig at the armchair anthropologist was fantastic. Very well thought out and intriguing paper with contradicting theories, you conveyed your point with humor and intellect. Well done!

  32. Jessica Wentworth says:

    The paragraph about cultural evolution was very unique and I loved the way you explained cultural evolution in contrast with boasian anthropology. I also loved the contrasting view with american culture. It is always interesting to read about something that has different meanings cross culturally.

  33. Charlie Travis says:

    I thought this was a pretty intriguing comparison. I really like how you juxtaposed American and Japanese culture in terms of how we show gratitude for an appreciated meal. In Japanese culture using “body language and indirect sound” is valued whereas spoken language is seen as the proper method of thanking one for a meal in America. I think this example can be used to critique cultural evolutionists because if anything, it shows that cultures can develop unique value systems. To critique Japanese society as being more “barbaric” in comparison to American values shows that the anthropologist is viewing the world through a very ethnocentric lens. Of course anthropology had to start somewhere and a lot has changed, but I think this serves to show us how much has changed and how much more can change. Perhaps theories that we are justifying now will eventually be defunct and replaced by more contemporary anthropological theories in the future.

  34. Josie Anderson says:

    I think this is a great topic to write about! You provided some interesting theories about why it is more acceptable to do this in Japan than it is in the United States. I never really thought about the great significance of spoken language in our society. I like how you were able to compare both societies’ norms about eating noodles and explain so clearly the reasons behind each. I disagree with the perspective of a cultural evolutionist. I personally don’t believe that slurping noodles is a factor in how advanced a society is culturally.

  35. As other students have stated, I like the comparison between Japanese and American eating cultures. I think they’re just so different, there are a lot of things that can be explored. It is indeed interesting how we internalize the sounds we make and the things we do while eating. As a kid, if I slurped at the table I was made fun of and then swiftly scolded. My elbows were flicked off the table if my grandpa ever saw them up there. But, this essay pointed out, slurping isn’t rude in all places; in fact, it’s done as a sign of gratitude. And having your elbows on the table, even here in the U.S., shows a certain level of comfortability with your hosts and guests. It allows people to feel more relaxed. There are a lot of things you can talk about with food etiquette. I think this essay examined its topic very well.

  36. daca4780 says:

    I found your essay very interesting how you compared the differences between Japanese and American eating culture. I myself found it confusing whenever I go out for pho or udon and I am unsure if it’s acceptable to drink of out of the bowl. I do disagree with you regarding the cultural evolutionist standpoint and would have substituted it with Culture and personality.

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