Chinese dining etiquette tips

I think the CNNGO article titled “5 Chinese eating habits explained” has a good summary of Chinese dining etiquette. It’s just in time for Chinese New Year! If you happen to be going to a Chinese New Year banquet, make sure this is something you read before going. The list definitely solidified my ideas of a few habits and reminded me of differences between eating in formal situations (such as a banquet or large gatherings) and casual situations (such as a meal with family).

The issue of not putting chopsticks vertically is something I distinctly remember being told as a child. I actually take it further and apply it to the placement of any utensils for any occasion. To me, it’s improper to stab someone’s food with an utensil before serving. I remember observing fish bones always being picked off of a fish and not flipping the fish over. In fact, I think I do this out of observation and not because I was specifically taught it.

I’ve only heard of the other three habits in passing and a couple are important for special occasions. Even though tapping on the table is listed as proper etiquette when given more tea, I do not find it necessary and it seems rather improper to me. Verbally saying “thank you” or nodding one’s head seems to be better. Tapping on the table can be interpreted as impatience and may give off the sense that you are expecting to be served more tea.

A dining etiquette that is not covered, but I thought I should mention, is the use of 公筷 (gong kuai; common chopsticks). Chinese meals are commonly family style (unless it is a very fancy banquet) and dishes are shared between everyone. At home, each person uses their own chopsticks to pick up food from the dishes. However, if one has guests over (or it is a restaurant meal) there are usually common chopsticks placed with the dishes. These chopsticks are used to pick up food to place in one’s bowl and returned to the dish. The utensil may not be chopsticks depending on the dish, it may be a spoon or fork. Just make sure not to eat with it!


One thought on “Chinese dining etiquette tips

  1. Tapping on tea refilling used to be more of a Cantonese habit that has spread to other parts of China.

    Common-use chopsticks used to be a northern Chinese etiquette, and more often than not, reserved for very formal occasions. If you look into old news footage from the 1960s and ’70s of state banquets for foreign dignitaries by the Chinese bigwigs, you would notice common-use chopsticks are often absent. Of course, times have changed and, what with the various disease outbreaks over the last 20 years or so, these chopsticks are now beyond mere table manners.

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