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It is kind of strange question but let's give it a try. Several times after paying a bill in a restaurant in Japan, my friend was going to take a toothpick to carry it outside but a waiter said/warned something which we couldn't understand. As I know, it's nothing wrong to use it at the table if you hide your mouth. Is there some unwritten rule for carrying them out?

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    Maybe the waiter was worried about littering? Anyway, why were you taking the toothpick with you? – user3169 Jun 25 '18 at 2:48
  • I would guess so too. It's funny that the question attracted so many upvotes. – Justas Jun 25 '18 at 15:43
  • I am a bit confused as I have never had this experience; I just took them and left and no one said anything. Of course I'd like to hear what the waiter said, but as you do not seem to understand Japanese, this clearly wouldn't work out. Are those just ordinary wooden toothpicks or something special? – xuq01 Jun 30 '18 at 5:45
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+50

I did a bit of research and as far as I can make out, Japanese etiquette dictates that you do not use toothpicks in public i.e, you find a secluded spot to use toothpicks. However, since that is not practical, people try to cover their mouth with the other hand while using a toothpick (reference). I couldn't find any other reason for why your waiter might have stopped you from taking a toothpick. Your friend might have been picking his teeth in full view of everyone in the restaurant and your waiter probably did not want him to do the same outside the restaurant. A history of toothpicks in Japan can be found in this very well written Quora answer (reference).

  • Wel, picking your teeth in the public is clearly a faux pas in any culture, just like picking your nose in public... – xuq01 Jun 30 '18 at 5:47
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    @xuq01 it doesn't seem like an uncommon thing to do in China or Taiwan, where the standards of etiquette is not quite as high as compared to Japan. – Michael Lai Jul 1 '18 at 22:48
  • @MichaelLai I am not sure if this is still true. Nowadays doing so in China/Taiwan would likely raise some eyebrows at least, unless perhaps if you are in a rural region. – xuq01 Jul 2 '18 at 0:39
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    @xuq01 Not in America. It wouldn't strike me as rude in the least for someone to pick their teeth while walking down the street. While eating, maybe. – Azor Ahai Jul 2 '18 at 22:20
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    @xuq01 - similarly in the UK it wouldn't even be noticed in most places. – Rory Alsop Jul 5 '18 at 14:49

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