Chinese Table Manners
When we moved to England, we only have one pair of chopsticks which my wife brought it from Shanghai with her. so I changed to use knife and fork. One day my friends came to dine with us, they just came to England for several weeks. When we sit down, one girl just sat there watching, I asked why she didn't eat. She said, "I am waiting for you to show me how to use a knife and fork, right hand forks left hand knife or vice-versa." I have to tell her never mind, right-handed person use knife and forks in different manner as left-handed person.
I learned to use chopsticks very late. When I were not high enough to sit beside the table without a high chair, my parents let me sit upon the Eight Immortals Table, a small stool were placed in the center of the table, my wooden bowl with half full of noodles on the stool. I held one chopstick in each hand, and struggled to pick up noodles and tried to put into my mouth, but alas, noodles fell off before it reached my lips. After several tries and fails, I changed to use my hand instead.
We learn table manners when we eat, although as peasant family, we don't have so much etiquette rules. Some bad manners are originated from superstition. such as:
Don't stand your chopsticks up in a bowl of rice, that's the manner of burning incense for the dead on a Chinese traditional funeral.
Making noises by striking dishes with chopsticks, or use your chopstick as a drum stick and your bowl as drum, because only beggars often strike the bowl when they are begging food. My mum always tells me, "Strike chopstick drum, three year of misery life."
Never eating just one dish continuously. In western world, people may doesn't like peas or Brussels sprouts, Mum will give their children one thousand promises to let them eat peas. My father may just scold me when I "forget" to eat pickled vegetables.
We don't mind of flipping a fish when we finished eating one side. But people in Southern China will get upset when you turn over a fish. It's really bad luck to flip the fish - bad luck for the fisherman, because fishermen believe if you flip the fish, the fisherman's boat will flip. So, in places like Shenzhen, people just pick at the bottom half once they've finished eating the top. In places farther to the north, nobody seems familiar with this superstition. But you may break the bad luck as long as you say "the boat next to you" when you flip the fish.
We never have a serving chopsticks. Even in a public feast such as wedding feast. But, some people think that using your own chopstick to get food from shared plates is regarded as bad manner. I never accustomed to using serving chopsticks. I know it, but always forget it. As soon as I use my own sticks to get food from shared plates, I realize I have to use the serving chopsticks.
I always feel uncomfortable when I eat soup with western people around, especially noodle soup. Western people seems never make any noise. How can you eat noodle without suck it into you mouth loudly? How can you drink soup without any noises? Yes, we DRINK soup rather than sending a spoonful soup into mouth and close lips and then swallow it.
We can tell fortune by chopstick manners. Chopstick head smaller and round, tail bigger and normally square. Some people hold the chopstick at the position close head, some people may close tail. The best way position is at the point of two-third from tail, so you can move freely to grab food. You can tell the distance of your wife's home to yours. If you hold the chopstick very close to tail, you will married a woman who live far far away from you hometown. and vice-versa.
Struggling for the lower seat
In a feast, such as wedding or festival, you may see Chinese guests struggling for places. Not by any means for the chief seats, but for the lowest. There is much clutching of sleeves, pushing, and dragging. Which is top and which bottom is a subject that would require a chart of the room ;
Generally speaking, the north side of the 'Eight Immortals' table is the honour seat, 'sitting at the north and face to the south,' the direction of the grain of the central pieces of wood in the " Eight Immortals " tables may give you a clue.
But nowadays, round tables are more popular in restaurants, so in a certain room, the seat far away from the door, where the the guest needn't to give way to waiter (or waitress), who brings the meals or clear up the plates.
Don't be surprised when your host helps you with his own chopsticks
The places having been fixed, the wine is poured out, each drinks to the other.
Your host may help you with his own chopsticks to the trifles before him, these are placed in your china spoon or dropped into your little saucer of soy. Your host actually wishes to honour his guest.
More Bad Chopsticks Manners
There are some other bad manners for you reference. They fall into three categories, one concerns with "health and safety":
- Picking up or grabbing a cup/bowl with the hand that is holding your chopsticks. Because your bowl/cup may slip off you hand and broken.
- Passing food from your chopsticks to somebody else chopsticks. Most probably the food may drop.
The second categories of bad manners reveal greedy or gluttonous characteristics:
- Waving chopsticks above food dishes or hovering chopsticks over the dishes while humming and hawing about what to eat.
- Aiming to pick up one dish, but then suddenly switching to another.
- Picking up food but not eating it.
- Washing chopsticks in soup, or stirring soup trying to find that last chunk of tofu, etc.
- Pushing away disliked food with chopsticks.
- Holding a bowl to your mouth and shovelling food in.
- Stuffing too much food into your mouth.
- Sucking off grains of rice, etc, stuck to the chopsticks.
- Holding chopsticks when asking for more rice.
The others fall into the third categories:
- Resting chopsticks sideways across the top of dishes, this may be regarded as finish eating in some place.
- Sticking chopsticks into food instead of picking them up. Similar taboo as westerners lift up middle finger in Beijing.
- Allowing tears of soup to drip from your chopsticks.
- Licking or Sucking or chewing chopsticks.
- Pointing at people or things with chopsticks, this is said to be very aggressive, when you often do it during a quarrel.
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