Everything about China and it's culture

Everything about China and it's culture

Eating in Chinese way

Chinese food has a real international presence. Not many other countries boast restaurants with their national food across every continent, from Aberdeen to Ulan Bator. All the same, a trip to a Chinese restaurant that is actually in China has quite a unique etiquette, which even those who have been to several Chinese restaurants in their home country might not be familiar with.

Of course, some differences are well known. The custom of ordering lots of dishes to place in the middle of the table and share between the whole group seems to have spread across the globe in Chinese restaurants. Besides, the Chinese are world famous for their use of chopsticks.

When a Westerner comes to China and uses chopsticks, they might inadvertently be displaying table manners of which their Chinese friends would not approve. For example, it is seen as rude to stick chopsticks upright into a rice bowl. It is too reminiscent of an offering of incense sticks to the dead and thus could cause offence, due to the suggestion that those around the table are also approaching death. Likewise, tapping the bowl with one’s chopsticks is also frowned upon, because this is said to be how beggars behave. It is also a way of protesting at how long the food is taking to arrive in a restaurant, therefore if you do this in somebody’s home, your host might interpret this to mean that you are fed up with waiting.

There are other subtle points of etiquette at the dinner table that it is good to be aware of. Lots of Chinese meals are accompanied by tea. When your cup is empty and you want more, be sure to fill up your neighbors’ cups before your own. Exercise caution when placing the teapot back onto the table: it is considered rude to place the pot with its spout facing someone, so make sure it points outwards. Even though all the dishes on the middle of the table are to be shared by everyone, it is seen as bad form to root around in the plate for a nice morsel – the desired piece of food should be located by sight and picked up with chopsticks, not even touching the rest of the food in the dish.

On the more formal eating occasions, there are other differences in etiquette between East and West. In China, restaurants tend to have lots of private dinner rooms that are popular with businesses. In these rooms, guests tend to be ushered to the position at the table furthest away from the entrance to ensure that they are not bothered by the waiting staff.

On the other hand, other table manners that are instilled in the Western psyche from a young age are not necessarily shared by the Chinese. When eating noodles, slurping is mostly seen as socially acceptable. There is not the same stigma attached to smoking a cigarette while in the middle of a meal. Particularly in less formal restaurants, people will pick out bones and put them on the table cloths – lots of restaurants have plastic disposable table cloths for this very reason.

Naturally different cultures have got their own customs when it comes to what is considered polite around the dinner table. If you stick to the points of etiquette described in this article, you shouldn’t go too far wrong. Moreover people will know that you are new to their eating habits so are unlikely to be too offended if you make a faux pas. Even though they said I held my chopsticks like a peasant (too far down, apparently), my Chinese friends were still kind enough to introduce me to all kinds of Oriental culinary delights. Re-learning table manners, China style, is one step closer to being a perfect dinner guest.

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