You Are How You Eat – Chinese Table Manners

Try not to be rude on the dining table.

What are some of the common Chinese table manners?

When visiting your Chinese friends, it’s very likely to have a meal with them, or even with their family! There are some rules in Chinese table etiquette. Although Chinese would not be strict on you because you are from different cultures, you should know some dos and don’ts to prevent any embarrassment. Also, knowing some background knowledge about Chinese table manners is good for you too.

Chinese Round Tables (“The Chinese Lazy Susan Table”)

dining table - Chinese table manners

The “Lazy Susan”, a.k.a. rotating tray on round table.

Dining tables in Chinese countries are usually in round shape instead of long tables. There are two reasons about this habit. First of all, round table keeps people closer. People can talk face to face easily around the table without yelling at each other due to distance. Second, “round” in Chinese is 圆 (yuán), and the Chinese word for “reunion” is 团圆(tuányuán). Therefore, the round shape symbolizes “gather of family” in Chinese countries.

When dining on the round table, there’s always a rotating tray, or “Lazy Susan” on the center of the table. People around rotate the tray to get the dishes they want; it’s easier for people to get their meals even it’s a big round table. You should make good use of the rotating tray instead of standing up or extend your arm and chopsticks through the whole table.

Let Chinese Elders Eat First: Chinese Table Manners

When having a meal in Chinese countries, people always wait until the elder people say “Let’s eat”, and everyone will start their meal. The concept of respecting the elder, or   “pecking order”(长幼有序, zhǎng yòu yǒu xù) is pretty strong. Therefore, we have to eat after the elder one says so.  

In addition, we are encouraged to pick up food for our elder relatives, it’s polite and respective deeds. If our grandparents or parents pick up food for us children, we should also politely say thanks to them.

Chopstick Etiquette in China: “The Do’s and Don’t of Chopsticks”

 Chinese table manners with chopsticks

Using chopsticks as one of the main eating utensils in Chinese countries.

Communal serving chopsticks(公筷, gōng kuài) are used for picking up food to your own plates only, not eating with this pair of chopsticks. On Chinese dining table, sometimes there’s just one pair of communal serving chopsticks, sometimes there’s one pair for each dish. Particularly in the dining occasions such as wedding banquet or in a friend’s house. If it’s not a family dining, serving chopsticks are commonly used due to sanitary problems.

What’s more important, there are many chopsticks’ dos and don’ts in Chinese customs, since chopsticks are the main utensil for eating.

Chopstick DO’S:

  1. After you finish your meal, place the chopsticks flat beside your bowl or plate, or put them on the chopstick rests.
  2. In some of the restaurants, there may be some chopsticks with different lengths. Try to choose a pair of chopsticks with the same length. There’s a Chinese chengyu “三长两短(sānchángliǎngduǎn)”, meaning “three long and two short” on the surface but extended means “have accidents and bad fortune to your life”.However, in families or most high-class Chinese restaurants, all the chopsticks would be at same length.

Chopstick DON’TS:

      1.You must know this. Do not stick your chopsticks upright in your meal. It’s a part of the Chinese taboos.         Chopsticks stick upright in the meal is the way Chinese people worship and serve the dead. Therefore, try not to do that in front of Chinese people.  

  1. Don’t play around your chopsticks like drumsticks or other toys.
  2. Don’t knock your bowl or plate with chopsticks on purpose, Chinese people would see this as a deed that baggers would do.

Chinese Hospitality: Chinese Etiquette and Customs

Chinese banquet is a way to show Chinese’ hospitality. The host of the meal would order the best dishes to treat their guests. Also, the guest would be seated next to the host to show the guests’ importance.

There’s another saying that Chinese people order an abundant of meals in order not to make others think they can’t afford it. It may be true, but if you are treated very well by a Chinese family or friends, just believe that they want to show you passion and care!

Etiquette on Chinese dining table is not that different from other cultures, sit upright, turn away when you are about to sneeze, etc. However, you should notice and take note of some of the differences before you go to Chinese speaking countries.You can also check out our previous post on ” how to order food in Chinese“. Want to dig out more about Chinese cultures, Chinese language learning, and more? Sign up for our newsletter or come take a free trial class to learn Chinese online — where we’ll help you learn Mandarin with a free Chinese class. If you have an Android phone, feel free to download our learn Chinese app as well to get updates on more Chinese language materials! 

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