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The Dinner Table on the Other Side of the World

By Catherine Tu


If you are visiting China and are from another country, there are some dining etiquette (礼仪)rules you may not know about. Here are some rules to remember when before you tuck into your rice:

Beginning of the Meal

  • Remove your shoes (鞋子) before entering the home.
  • Greet the eldest person first.
  • Wait until you are told where to sit by the host or hostess.

During the Meal

  • Try everything that is served to you.
  • Serve the people around you before serving yourself.
  • When accepting dishes or holding up a teacup (茶杯), use both hands instead of one.
  • Do not be offended if the people around you slurp their soup; it is a way to show their appreciation for the food and also helps cool down the soup.
  • Do not rest your chopsticks vertically in rice, as this symbolizes death, which is unlucky in China. The two vertical chopsticks resemble the incense (香 – noun) people burn to honor their loved ones. Always place your chopsticks on chopstick stands. Also, do not place your chopsticks on top of your bowl.
  • It is acceptable to hold up the bowl of rice while eating from it. However, do not hold up flat plates.

End of the Meal

  • Feel free to say that you’re full. The host will be pleased that he or she has fed you well.

If you are from China or another country and are visiting America but are worried about your dining etiquette, here are some pointers to help you out:

Beginning of the Meal

Dinner Napkin

  • If there is a linen napkin (餐巾), place it on your lap and keep it there for the rest of the meal.
  • The dinner napkin should stay on your lap. Do not use it to clean cutlery, wipe your face, or wipe your nose.
  • If you need to excuse yourself, lightly fold the napkin and place it on either side of your plate.
  • At the end of the meal, place it to the left of your plate. It should be semi-folded.

Starting the Meal

  • If you’re at a restaurant (餐馆), wait until all are seated before you start your meal.
  • If you’re at a private dinner party, wait until the host or hostess picks up his or her spoon (勺子) or fork (叉子). The only time you should start your meal before this is if he or she insists that everyone starts the meal.

During the Meal

Silverware and Dinnerware

  • If there is a lot of silverware, work from the outside to the inside (use the outer utensils first).
  • Any food dish to your left is yours, and any glass to your right is yours.
  • In America, most people cut their food by holding the knife (餐刀) in the right hand and the fork in the left hand, and then switch the fork to the right hand to eat (unless the person is left-handed). In Europe (欧洲), people do not switch the fork to the right hand and keep it in the left one.

Serving Food

  • Pass food from the left to the right.
  • Always use the serving utensils to serve yourself; never use personal utensils.
  • Do not intercept food when it is being passed to another person.

General Behavior

  • Never talk when there is food in your mouth!
  • Keep elbows off of the table.
  • Burping (打嗝), loud slurping, and other loud noises are extremely bad manners in America.

After the Meal

  • If you’re at a restaurant, remember to tip 15% of the bill for the waiter or waitress.
  • If you’re at a private dinner party, remember to thank the host or hostess later.

When experiencing the different cuisines of different cultures, always be sure to become familiar with the etiquette!

About Jerry Xu

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