Chinese Table Manner
When an au pair starts a new life in Chinese host family, “Do in Rome as Rome does.” may be a pretty important proverb for him or her.
In China, as with any culture, there are rules and customs that surround what is appropriate and what is not when dining, whether it is in a restaurant or in someones home. Learning the appropriate way to act and what to say will not only help you feel like a native, but will also make those around you more comfortable, and able to focus on you, instead of your interesting eating habits.
The main difference between Chinese and western eating habits is that unlike the West, where everyone has their own plate of food, in China the dishes are placed on the table and everybody shares. If you are being treated by a Chinese host, be prepared for a ton of food. Chinese are very proud of their culture of cuisine and will do their best to show their hospitality.
And sometimes the Chinese host use their chopsticks to put food in your bowl or plate. This is a sign of politeness. The appropriate thing to do would be to eat the whatever-it-is and say how yummy it is. If you feel uncomfortable with this, you can just say a polite thank you and leave the food there.
The customs surrounding Chinese tables’ manners is ingrained with tradition, and some rules are not to be broken. Failing to understand and follow all of the rules could result in offending the chef and ending the night in an unfavorable way.
1. The food is served via large communal dishes, and in nearly every case, you will be supplied with communal chopsticks for transferring food from the main dishes to your own. You should use the communal chopsticks if they are supplied. If they are not or you are unsure, wait for someone to serve food to their own plate, and then copy what they do. On occasion, an eager Chinese host may place food into your bowl or on your plate. This is normal.
2. It is rude to not eat what you are given. If you are offered something you absolutely can't stomach, finish everything else, and leave the rest on your plate. Leaving a little food generally indicates that you are full.
3. Don't stab your chopsticks into your bowl of rice. As with any Buddhist culture, placing two chopsticks down in a bowl of rice is what happens at a funeral. By doing this, you indicate that you wish death upon those at the table.
4. Do not play with your chopsticks, point at objects with them, or drum them on the table - this is rude. Do not tap them on the side of your dish, either, as this is used in restaurants to indicate that the food is taking too long, and it will offend your host.
5. When setting down your chopsticks, place them horizontally on top of your plate, or place the ends on a chopstick rest. Do not set them on the table.
6. Hold the chopsticks in your right hand between the thumb and index finger, and when eating rice, place the small bowl in your left hand, holding it off the table.
7. Do not stab anything with your chopsticks, unless you are cutting vegetables or similar. If you are in a small,intimate setting with friends, then stabbing smaller so as to grab items is okay, but never do this at a formal dinner or around those who adhere strictly to tradition.
8. Do not get offended if your fellow diners eat with their mouth open, or talk with their mouth full. This is normal in China. Enjoy, laugh, and have fun.