餐飲禮儀 – Chinese table manners

We had a little break in writing – you might not notice but I try to write once a week and this time it’s little bit late, all because of taxes. SSN, ITIN, federal taxes, applying for working visa – all those things are coming this week and I pretty much hate them. images (1)But that gives me a chance to eat out more often with my husband and I love eating. Not love, LOOOOOOVE.

As much as I love eating it’s always a lot of pressure for me – I’m stuck in our Western-Eastern relationship and when I’m eating in Western restaurants I have to remember all those savoir-vivre. When I go to Asian restaurants I have a need to do the same. Some of you might think ‘Why bother? They know you’re not local’, maybe it really doesn’t matter but my inner voice forces me to behave as proper as possible. I guess I was raised with that Chinese concept of ‘face’ (thank you, Dad) and I feel constantly judged, I really care about what people think of my behavior. Not to mention people close to me. Now you should realize how ‘fun’ family dinners are to me.

You think that family meetings are bad? Try dining out with my father in law. He is like a walking stereotype of Cantonese guy, especially when it goes to eating. That’s the type of a ‘rice man‘ – that’s how I call him because for him the center of the whole meal is rice. If rice is not tasty, no matter how good other dishes are, he will dislike that place. He has one restaurant he eats in because he trusts their rice.
4169324_211317077043_2Usually he’s very easy-going but mention food and you will see a different face. Even if he doesn’t say it out loud to you he will judge you. Everyone judges, but he is like supreme court of your Chinese table manners.
He knows the rules you cannot so easily Google and he used to beat my husband’s hand with the chopsticks if he didn’t behave. I’ve also noticed older my husband gets more he becomes like his father and he enjoys telling me how to behave. I guess I have a 3rd Daddy (after my real dad and father in law) to teach me some good manners.

To save you all the stress I had to go through and to give you a chance to surprise/impress your partner’s parents/landlord/friends etc. we made a list of things you should remember while dining with Chinese people but you might not know them.

We called it… WAHWAH’S LIST OF GOOD TABLE MANNERS:

  • First and the most important WahWah’s rule is do not put your hand above or below someone’s hand while taking the food – wait until the other person grabs his piece and takes his/her hand back. You’re not THAT hungry, you can wait. I hate it, I want my good nom NOW 😉
  • You know that you should not play with your chopsticks like it were drumsticks but you shouldn’t also spin them around. It’s not TWISTER game.
  • You share your food with others so instead of using your own chopsticks use ‘public chopsticks’ (beautiful phrase made up by WahWah) – they are mouth-water free and let’s keep it that way.
  • If you like only a part of the dish it’s more polite to grab a bigger part and look for your favorite meat (or any other part you like) while it’s on your plate than doing the treasure hunting on the ‘public plate’
  • Don’t shake your chopsticks if they are wet from soup. I never seen that thing happened in real life but WahWah is more experienced and I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened to him.c_3_004
  • Make sure your chopsticks have exactly the same length. You probably heard about this before but I just wanted to mention it so you can realize why you shouldn’t – 三長兩短, traditional Chinese coffins are two short pieces of wood in front and 3 long on a side so basically having one longer and one shorter chopsticks means you’re having coffin. Seems legit.
  • Do not spin your table counterclockwise, always spin it to the left. I asked why and the answer was: most of the people use right hand so you can avoid hitting someone sitting next to you in the face.
  • If you have a whole piece of food – for example a fish – the front of it should be facing the ‘most respectable’ person, then the oldest, then teacher and the guest – in that order.
  • During toasting your cup should be lower than the host’s cup.
  • I don’t know if that’s true but all the loud slurp you hear… is actually impolite. It’s OK for ‘small slurp’ when the dish is very hot, but making a ‘big slurp’ and adding ‘aaaahhhh’ at the end is seen bad. Is there anyone who can confirm this?

That list is made with my FIL’s experience and advice – I cannot confirm if all of them are true, maybe something is consider polite in Cantonese part can be impolite at North, maybe it’s just what he sees as polite etc. If you disagree or have any comments feel free to post it!

Is any of those rules considered good/bad in your country? What are the good manners in a place you come from? Do you know any other important rules for Chinese table manners? Share with us, so we can all improve ourselves! 🙂
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34 thoughts on “餐飲禮儀 – Chinese table manners

  1. I don’t know if this is a rule, but the people I know often choose the nicest piece and put it on the plate of the person next to them. If they are older or of higher status, they might dish up choices pieces to several people on either side of them.

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  2. Great post! Some of those rules I was not aware of, like the toasting rule. One important one that I see my western friends break all the time (resulting in me admonishing them) is using their bowl of rice as a chopstick holder by sticking their chopsticks in it. Big collective Gaasp!! from everyone around the table. Chopsticks stuck upright look like incense sticks associated with funerals and the dead, a big no-no and very taboo.

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  3. Haha great article! I also pay attention to the quality of the rice, also if it is well cooked 😀
    The slurp sound is terribly annoying but unavoidable… at least in China mainland hahaha.

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  4. I see the “not to dos” Chinese people do in Shanghai on a daily basis. I actually saw a Chinese woman use her chopsticks as if she was trying to create fire. My husband said that what she did was terribly rude. I can’t exactly explain what she did but it was an eye sore. I’ve also seen people stick their chopsticks in food like incense. On a daily basis and none of them were foreigners.

    “I don’t know if that’s true but all the loud slurp you hear… is actually impolite.”
    My husband does this and he defends himself by saying, “In Japan, it’s considered a complement.”
    Boom. He got me.

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  5. “Don’t flip the fish.” When we lived in Dalian (on the coast of Liaoning Province) we often ate fish. A whole fish, sitting in the middle of the table. It was easy to eat the flesh on top of the fish, but how do you get to the flesh underneath the bones? In the UK I would just flip the fish over, but we learned that Dalian people consider it bad luck. Turning over the fish might bring bad luck to people out at sea, causing a fishing boat to capsize. Has anyone else heard this superstition?

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  6. When eating with Chinese people I’m often afraid to offend someone in some way or another. Why do they have so much rules? I didn’t know all the rules you listed. I’d better learn them before eating with a Chinese person again.
    The most important person in the room should also sit the fartest away from the door and the least important person the closest to the door. In the past the emperor could easily sent people outside (a.k.a. let them be executed) that way. At least, that’s what I have been told. 🙂

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  7. Interesting to read. In all my visits to Mainland China have eaten maybe three times rice in the restaurant. No matter what restaurant we visit, no one orders rice, everyone seems happy with the dishes and in case there is rice provided, barely anyone touches it.
    Also the table was “used” in both direction, clockwise and counter-clockwise and I have never seen those public chopsticks.
    But then again, nearly all people I eat with are kind of crazy, so maybe I am just experiencing the worst of it 🙂
    Btw, the main food facing the host or most respectable person, toasting with the cup lower than the host they actually do so it seems they have at least some basic table manners (except of the slurping, sounds sometimes like a pond being sucked empty!!)

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  8. oh geez, that’s plenty to live by. although many are quite common sense. well, in my chinese upbringing, at least. one thing for sure, i’m never allowed to have my chopsticks stand upward in a bowl of rice, depicting incense sticks used to pray for the dead or the gods.

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  9. I’ve heard of turning over the cooked fish and that it’s not just been believed to capsized a boat, some business partner may be particular as it may indicate that you are “capsizing” the business. I previously worked as a waitress in Chinese restaurant during school holiday and we have to remove the bones for the customer without turning over the fish. Some Chinese only abide to it during Chinese New Year and Wedding dinner but will flip the fish over for easy eating during normal days. For my family, we don’t really care and we don’t have such superstitious. It really depends on individual and it’s alright to check with the host what is their comfort level.

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  10. Quite interesting to read. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area and then living in Hong Kong, I was exposed to lots of these through my friends. Didn’t ever hear about the chopstick length issue, though.

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  11. Oh my god I would have needed this before my first time eating in China…I like this post! I didm´t even know that it was impolite to take some food at the same time…Thanks! 😀

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  12. In US, it is considered bad manners to reach across someone to get food, to crush out your cigarette in your used plate, to slurp, burp or smack during eating and to pick your teeth at the table. As probably in any country – good table manners are slowing disappearing. How disappointing.
    Very interesting post, thanks.

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  13. Sounds like good table manners might be disappearing with some ethnic Chinese. And it depends on the social-income class too.

    I am not surprised about the uneven chopstick use –it’s just common sense! Yes, no drumming with chopsticks or playing with them. It’s like playing with your dinner fork, knife or spoon.

    For public chopsticks, I often see people just flip their chopsticks and use the top, clean ends to pick at food slices from a shared table dish.

    You’re supposed to try to pick the slices of food in front you from the collective large dish of food. Try that first, before horning in one someone else’s territory.

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  14. This post reminds me of when I was a child how little I cared about manners and somehow in my early twenties all of the sudden it mattered to me. Your father-in-law sounds very respectable, though I’d hate to eat with him as I would contravene some of these rules through ignorance

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  15. I have never seen someone order “public chopsticks” in a restaurant in Mainland China, but one of the doctors here has advised me not to eat out beccause of being pregnant and having a low immune system – I wonder if she was meant that I shouldn’t share germs with other people (or rather they with me) when eating from the same plate.
    If only more people thought slurping was impolite. I have the feeling that it’s the other way around – that it’s considered polite, showing your host that you like the food. Sth I personally can’t get used to (which would be very rude in my own culture) is people talking while chewing their food at the same time (parents always tell kids in Austria that they shouldn’t talk while eating).

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  16. Chinese table manner is very important in China. In my hometown (Shandong), older people would use their own chopsticks got food from plates for guests for younger children. That behave is not considered as impolite, instead, it is a way for them to express their welcome or love. Another way that they express themselves is they would ask you to eat a lot food until you really get full. I don not want to judge if Chinese table manner is good or not. If it is the cultural, then it is there.

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  17. Don’t talk while eat is also important in Chinese table manner. Another one is don’t put chopsticks on upright in your rice or noodle because that relate to death. I found out western table manner is very strict too, such as don’t put elbow on the table or close your mouth while chew food.

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  18. Sometimes I think there is a perception among westerners that chinese people are impolite and don’t have any table manners. But this is extremely misguided and based on an assumption that our rules of politeness are universal. I too was guilty at first of having assumptions like this when I first came to Hong Kong, until I realised that with different cultural practices, and different forms of cutlery, different rules arise. For example its okay to slurp up noodles because with chopsticks you don’t have much choice. But with spaghetti you are expected to twist it around the fork, using the spoon. As much as I’m put off by certain chinese eating habits, I’m sure they’ve looked at mine with horror on occasions. From my British perspective I think each culture is just as concerned with table manners, but the forms these take vary wildly.

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  19. Those are pretty standard rules although like you, I have never seen that rule about shaking wet chopsticks but I guess you father-in-law knows more since he’s lived there all his life.

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  20. I always eat with Austrian table manners in HK (eat silent, must not smack, don’t talk while eating) and am always asked by my HK familiy if I do not like the food. Also do I eat so slow that Gonggong always complains that that’s the reason why I am so skinny. ._.
    Eating out with family is really stressful for me in general. I always put food in my bowl I do not eat anymore so just they won’t force me to eat more. That normally works most of the time, and I fake “eating”.

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