Etiquette Tip of the Month

Dos and Taboos at a Chinese Dining Table

As another Lunar New Year approaches, The Year of the Rooster, on Wednesday, 9 February, I thought I would share a few tips on Chinese table manners to encourage you to enjoy a Chinese meal in the immediate weeks ahead (see last announcement) and to help you feel more comfortably the next time you're invited to a Chinese banquet.

  1. Wait for the host to begin before you start eating or drinking. In Chinese etiquette the host always begins each dish by serving the guest of honor and one or two other guests nearby.

  2. Sample at least a bite of every dish. Your host will be looking at you to see your fortitude.

  3. Always offer food or tea to someone else before you serve yourself. You would be considered a pig and without manners if you serve yourself first.

  4. Leave serving dishes on the table or lazy Susan rather than picking them up or passing them around. You may reach across others to get food from a serving dish.

  5. Second helpings of foods are fine. However, cleaning your plate can mean the host did not provide enough food to satisfy you.

  6. Do not take the last piece of food on the serving platter. It's considered bad luck, shows your greed, and seems you are too hungry to take the piece of a dish.

  7. Give chopsticks a chance. Practice manipulating the world's oldest eating utensils (keep in mind that even little children use them in Asia!). During a meal, it is considered rude and a sign of bad luck to lay your chopsticks vertically parallel on the top of the bowl or leave them sticking up in the bowl. Try not to drop your chopsticks either, as this, too, is a sign of bad luck. Most of all, in the absence of serving spoons, use the wider, top end of your chopsticks, not the end that goes into your mouth, to take food from serving dishes.

  8. Keep meal conversations light and general. Discuss the arts, food, and the well being of children and family members during the meal, not business. As in all cultures, no politics or religion.

  9. Avoid putting your hands in your mouth for any reason while at the table. If you must take something out of your mouth, such as bones, gristle, or another item, use your chopsticks and place the item to the side of your plate, or use a toothpick.

  10. Use both hands to hold your glass when giving and receiving toasts. Customarily the host will begin the dinner with a toast of welcome. After the second or third course, the guest of honor might say a few words and return a toast. Chinese historically do not clink glasses. Lifting a glass with both hands to shoulder height shows the utmost respect.

BONUS: Do not linger much past the end of the meal. The host typically encourages guests to take any uneaten food home. If offered food, take it. If you are the guest of honor, you should arrive first and leave first.



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