Every culture has its own customs regarding eating, especially when it involves a bigger event such as a family dinner or a party. Chinese customs differ from Western ones, and here are the most important differences you need to know:
One thing that sets apart Western dining culture and the Chinese one is the difference in seating arrangements. This might seem like a small detail, but a lot of different customs come from the different shapes of the tables: Chinese restaurants often prefer using round tables, as opposed to the rectangular ones used in Western cultures. Because of that, the most important seat at the table is thought to be the one facing the entrance of the restaurant or household, as opposed to the head of the table. This is where the guest of honor is seated, and the closer you sit to them, the more important of a guest you are considered. In cases where there is no doorway, the guest of honor will be facing east, while in the case of banquets, they will sit at the table farthest away from the entrance.
Usually, the meal can only start after all the guests have arrived. “The meal seems to be directed by the person sitting in the seat of honor”, states Andrew Medina, language tutor at Britstudent.com and Writemyx.com. People are not allowed to sit down before the guest of honor. More than that, they will have the responsibility of signaling the start of a meal, and it is seen as rude to start eating before they do.
There are many customs related to the use of chopsticks in China. You should not use chopsticks to stab or skewer food, and you should not wave them in the air too much while talking. “You should also avoid pointing your chopsticks at other people, as it is seen as a sign of aggression and disrespect,” says Michel Simmons, lifestyle blogger at Australia2write.com and Nextcoursework.com.
In many cases, there are serving spoons and chopsticks to help you take food from the central dishes, as it is seen as rude and unhygienic to pick food with chopsticks that have been near one’s mouth. Knives and forks will not be provided unless you specifically request them.
Another important detail to remember is to never stick your chopsticks vertically into the food. This is seen as a symbol of bad luck, as people associate it with a Chinese funeral custom: usually, people put a bowl of rice onto the ancestor’s altar and put sticks of incense vertically on top of it.
A lot of the customs one should pay attention to during dining are similar to Western ones. However, in China you need to be extremely mindful of these manners, as doing the opposite is seen as a personal offense towards the guest of honor.
In Chinese culture, food is ordered by the host and is served in big plates from which everyone picks smaller portions to eat. It is seen as rude to take food from a plate that is too far away from you. During the meal, it is important to remember to savor the dish in front of you, instead of eating it quickly.
During a meal, you should always be more concerned about others than about yourself. When refilling your rice bowl, you should take initiative and fill the bowls of others at your table as well. More than that, if one of the plates is almost empty, you should never take the last piece before consulting others. Only if nobody else wants it, it is okay to eat.
These meals are important to the Chinese people, and it is seen as disrespectful to engage in other activities such as watching TV, looking at your phone, or simply not take part in the conversations.
In Chinese culture, splitting the bill is a foreign concept. The guest of honor is expected to offer to pay the bill but will not be allowed. It is important to not question this decision too much, but make sure to express your gratitude at the end of the meal.
Although there seems to be a lot of pressure on following the right customs, it is also important to remember to enjoy yourself at such social events. If you pay attention to what others are doing, you will definitely manage to behave respectfully.
Michael Dehoyos works at the McEssay and Academic brits, as a content marketer and editor, and also as a writer at Origin Writings. He has helped many companies develop marketing strategies and has contributed to many publications.
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