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Chinese Dining Etiquette by Dan MacDonald
For a general introduction please refer back to Chinese Etiquette (Part 1) in Issue 1.
 
If you’ve never seen the movie “The Joy Luck Club” you should rent it if you are truly interested in getting to know and appreciate Chinese Women.  In it there is a great scene about a Western Man who is in a relationship with a beautiful Chinese Girl, albeit an ABC (American Born Chinese) who attends a family dinner and really blows it.  His good intentions do not save him as he unknowingly insults his Chinese Love’s mother even as he tries to be helpful.  Not appreciating cultural differences can really put you in danger.
 
While some of these are slowly changing, here are some traditional differences in dining etiquette between the Chinese and the rest of us.  In China:
 
1.  It is polite to slurp your soup loudly at a meal, to not do so is to insult the cook by suggesting you don’t like the soup.
 
2.  It is impolite to touch your food with your fingers except in rare circumstances, and it is very rude to touch your fingers to your mouth, no matter how irritating that thread of pig gut wedged firmly between your teeth has become.
 
3.  Likewise it is impolite to visibly pick your teeth with a toothpick, and you must cover this action with your other hand to hide what you are doing from public view.
4.  It is polite to eat from the communal plate with your chopsticks, rather than using a separate serving utensil to take a separate portion for yourself (a growing recognition of the health concerns with this practise is causing some change of attitude lately).
 
5.  No matter how annoying you may find it, your Chinese Wife will want to constantly feed you, from her chopsticks to your mouth, with little morsels from the communal plates.  It does not matter if you just stuffed an entire chicken breast on your mouth and you are almost suffocating, she is determined to add that piece of fish to the mix, so make room, or you will cause her to lose face in front of her family.
 
6.  Take equal portions from each communal dish, trying not to show a preference for any one dish over the other, and try to take whatever piece is most readily available, avoiding the appearance of trying to nab the best morsel.
 
7.   Don’t add soya sauce or salt or anything else to a communal dish - you will greatly offend the cook (see “The Joy Luck Club” above).  
 
8.  Apparently it is polite for everyone to speak at the top of their voice and at once while dining in a restaurant, at last judging by what I see everywhere I go.
 
 
The Finger Drinking Game
A traditional Chinese drinking game associated with food and drink. 
Painting of unknown origin.

9.  At large gatherings the drinking of spirits is frequently an important aspect of the event.  Almost invariably the drink of choice is Chinese White Wine, which is not wine at all but some kind of distilled rice alcohol, varying in potency from about 35% to as high as 65% alcohol.  Many Westerners detest it but I think it is fair to say it is a drink that requires one to develop a taste for it, much like whiskey in our culture.  More and more beer seems to be an acceptable replacement or at least a companion to the Chinese White Wine.  On these occasions you should not drink alone, but must find someone to toast or be toasted by so that you are always drinking your drink in accompaniment with someone else. 

 
10. Your toast can be as simple as a mutual nod, but frequently it is expressed with the words “Gam Bei” said as we might say “Cheers”, which means bottoms up or empty your glass.  You are not required to empty your glass, but you both increase the strength of the toast and impress your new Chinese friends if you do.
 
11.  It is okay to smoke during your meal and impolite to suggest that someone shouldn’t.
 
12.  Dining is the single most popular social and recreational event, and from start (your host discussing his order for seeming hours in the finest of detail with the waitress) to finish (everyone slowly rising and saying individual goodbyes to everyone else in the room) it will seem to you to have lasted for about a week, but in truth it will just be about 3 hours.  No matter how strong your childish inclination is to pretend to go to the bathroom and then just go hang out at the bar for a couple of hours, resist it.  You will cost your new Chinese Bride an incredible loss of face.  Besides, there is no bar and you’ll just get lost looking for it, ultimately causing yourself considerable loss of face as well.
 
These are just a few examples, there are far too many to list or remember, and after 5 years I’m still learning new ones myself.
 
Next issue – Driving Etiquette in China (or lack thereof).


From: Original         Author: Dan MacDonald         Time: 3/5/2010 3:29:40 PM

 
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