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 someone’s 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 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. When tapping glasses for a cheer, be sure that the edge of your drink is below that of a senior member, as you are not their equal. This will show respect.
9. When eating something with bones, it is normal to spit them out onto the table to the right of your plate.
10. 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.