‘Everyday is a school day’ when it comes to learning the Chinese etiquette around the dining table. It was hard growing up to Chinese parents who gave those evil stares indicating you had done wrong on those family gatherings.
At home, learning various Chinese etiquette was like learning how to ‘wax on and wax off’ or sit in a ‘horse riding stance’ when your learning martial arts.. The punishment for getting anything wrong was the chopstick raps on the knuckles.
Once you have mastered the various Chinese etiquette rules, not only will you look like an angel or a saint to others but it also reflects on your family and how they brought you up. Why do we call it Chinese whispers? If you don’t know them now, get knowing!
To help you avoid those stares from your elders and give them great respect and face they long for, here are a list of things you need to know.
1. Master the art of using the chopstick. Even my Indian friend Alpesh is better than me and I get the knuckle raps.
2. Don’t go drumming with the chopsticks. You will look like an insane chimp and only beggars are known to tap on bowls.
3. Don’t point your chopsticks. The chopsticks are seen as the extension of your fingers so pointing at people is seen as aggression. We don’t want a fight at the dinner table.
4. It’s REALLY offensive to stick your chopsticks into the rice bowl. The image will convey burning incense sticks at a funeral. ” Don’t be tool. Stick to the rule’….write that down.
When you have finished your meal, place your chopsticks closed, at 5 o’clock and on top of the bowl. If you’re resting, place the chopsticks on the table to suggest your loosening your stretchy pants and taking a rest.
5. Finger tap when someone serves you a drink to show your appreciation. Two finger tap when a senior pours you a drink and one finger tap if you’re a junior.
6. Treat your elders first. Whether food or drink, treat your elders first by giving them the first dibs of the food or help them pour a drink. This will mean you’re last in the pecking order. If there are younger people, teach them the rules.
7. Do not pile the food up in your bowl. There is plenty of food to go around so you don’t need to stock pile.
8. Give the last piece of food to someone you love. As a common courtesy, you should always leave that last piece of food on the plate and ask the elders to finish off. How much more food can you fit in anyway? Its demonstrates that your greedy if you clean the plate. Say “Please take the last piece so as not to waste it”.
9. Don’t go searching for the best pieces of food. It’s really rude. It’s seen as grave digging. At the dinner table, you take the food nearest to you even though it’s the chicken’s bum staring at you. Everyone will notice you trying to fish for the duck breast or the lobster tails and not the vegetables.
10. Clean your rice bowl. Every kid is told they have to clean the rice bowl when you finish, leaving no rice grain behind. Why? Your girlfriend/boyfriend will have loads of spots, a rubbish kisser and would suggest they are sloppy eaters. Kids believe anything….
11. Never drink alcohol without toasting to the host and other guests first.
12. Never let someone else pay for the bill unless you put up a fight. This wrestling match will go on for a few minutes until someone wins. Its a strange scene to observe but the gesture to be eager and willing to pay is appreciated. Don’t pay the bill as it suggests the host cannot afford to pay the bill. Equally let the host pay and it would suggest the person owes you something in return. So where do you stand?…..play fight.
13. Eating with your mouth closed. That’s just general etiquette. No one wants to see what you have shovelled into your mouth.
14. Offer a drink with two hands to your elders . You do this even when your toasting.
I’m sure that I have missed some other traditions but these are the ones my parents always taught me and my brother. No doubt, learning these essentials will put you ahead of the game. Trust me, you don’t want to be frowned upon or talked about in the community.
Let me know if there are others.