There have been many articles on Chinese table manners. China’s eating culture can be as confusing as is its drinking culture.
Having good table manners in China can help you to avoid embarrassment. There are certain rules of of etiquette. For your own convenience and to fresh up my own knowledge I have listed the common Do’s and Don’ts of Chinese table manners.
You are allowed to smoke while eating, and even socially encouraged
It is considered polite to serve the guest of honor the best food, usually using a pair of serving chopsticks or with the back end of one’s chopsticks
When taking a break, leave your chopsticks on the side of your plate or bowl; use the chopstick rests if they are provided or lay them even and tidy on the table, avoid crossing them or putting them on the rice bowl.
It is socially acceptable in China to spit bones on the table, and preferable to removing them from your mouth with hands or chopsticks and putting them back into the bowl
Making slurping noises when drinking soup and eating noodles is acceptable
Rice can be eaten by raising the bowl to the mouth and shoveling the rice in your mouth with the chopsticks
If you are not hungry anymore, or don’t want to eat something, let your host to place the delicacy on your plate and just leave it uneaten
The dinner is over when the host stands up and offers the final toast; you are expected to leave immediately thereafter
Wait until you have been offered a seat. Usually the guest of honor sits to the right of the host
Never begin to eat or drink before your host does
Serving dishes should not be picked up and passed around
The spoon should not be used at the same time as the chopsticks
Do not use your chopsticks to point at food or for gesturing in the air while talking
Do not use your hands to handle food. Lift large pieces of meat with your chopsticks and nibble.
Don’t point with your chopsticks and don’t stick your chopsticks into your rice bowl and leave them there standing up
Never consume alcohol alone. You can toast someone, or wait until someone toasts you (however, you can drink tea and water whenever you feel like).
8 Chopstick No No’s
- Do not leave your chopsticks pointing directly at someone across the table.
- Do not use your chopsticks to point at food or for gesturing in the air while talking
- Do not play with chopsticks
- Don’t use them to move anything other than food
- Do not suck sauce off the ends of your chopsticks, even at the end of the meal
- Do not spear food that you are having difficulty holding onto
- Don’t stick your chopsticks into your rice bowl and leave them there standing up
- Do not dig around or pick through your food with your chopsticks to find a special piece
Let me know if I missed anything important. I have to add, that how strict those rules are applied can vary. And especially during family gatherings those rules are not followed that strict. There is also a significant difference between small towns and big cities.
The overall rule of thumb is: Relax, and if you make a mistake, no one will cut off your head. After all, you are a foreigner. But it helps to know the etiquette in advance to avoid a major faux pas.
Do you enjoy Chinese banquets? What are your experiences with Chinese table manners?
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