China is a country where elements of modern are still strongly entangled with traditional elements. You may notice all the high skyscrapers and advanced technology but can not avoid the traditional costumes that are a vital part of many aspects of daily life, dining etiquette being one of them. So, lets have a look at Chinese table manners and etiquette.
Chinese table rules are strongly connected to courtesy. We will cover some of the most important aspects of a dining occasion, such as seating arrangement, who starts eating first, how to use your chopsticks, drinking etiquette, and expressing one’s impressions.
When doing business in China, or building a relationship with Chinese friends you will sooner or later have an opportunity to go for lunch or dinner to a typical Chinese restaurant. There are certain things you need to pay attention to when attending such an event, firstly to show your respect to your friends or partners, and secondly to show you are committed to building a strong relationship.
The chair facing the entrance is reserved for the host or the highest-ranked guest of honor, as determined by age, social standing, or occupation. The second supporting host will usually take the seat directly facing the entrance doors, to have direct communication with staff and to make sure ordering of food goes smooth. The rest of the guests will be seated according to their status hierarchy outward from the seat of the highest level attendee. Those of higher position sit closer to the seat of honor. The guests of the lowest position sit furthest from the seat of honor.
We recommend you to wait until you are told where to sit, as you don’t want to take the wrong seat and lose face. On top of that, wait for the rest of the hosts to sit down first, before you do.
Elders or higher in status ranking eat first
As a general rule of thumb, it is recommended to always wait for your host, elder people, or the head of the table to set the pace. May it be for seating down, starting to eat, conversation, and so on. Eating commences with the main host’s signal, sometimes even after a welcoming speech. Make sure you allow the eldest or the highest-ranking person at the table to pick up chopsticks first, no matter how delicious that cold dish of vegetables looks!
Chopsticks and what (not) to do with them
It’s very simple: don’t point, stir, stab food, lick the tips of chopsticks, stick them vertically in food, play with them, drag plates around with chopsticks, dig around food, passing a piece of food to someone with them, or snatching it from someone else is also a no-no.
Did I say it’s easy? I guess it’s quite a lot to think of, but no worries. Couple of dinners and you’ll get used to these table manners and will dine like a laoban!
Rules for Drinking and Clinking With Glasses
Drinking alcohol during formal dinners is another important thing to pay attention to, or it can quickly get out of hand. Trust us, been there done that. Drinking to build relationships has been an important part of history, and China is no exception. It’s a way to show respect and face. The highest-ranked host or director at formal dinner will be the one commencing drinking and toasting, therefore we recommend to not drink by yourself, but rather wait for others to give the toast.
If you do decide to deliver a toast to your host, do that while standing and holding a cup with both hands. At the same time make sure you lower your glass than the one of your host. It’s another sign of showing your respect and gratitude.
Lastly, and equally important: Chinese people are amazing hosts, and they go more often than not out of their ways to make sure their guests are eating the best food, drinking the best rice wine, explaining the history and background of each dish, all entangled with interesting historical facts. Going to one of these dinners is definitely the best way to get to know Chinese culture and Chinese friends. And as much as you will appreciate their gesture, your hosts will also appreciate seeing you full and happy. Make sure you express your gratitude, give them all the compliments they deserve, and show your respect. Leaving some of your food on the plate as a sign that you are full and that the food was good will also go a long way. Guaranteed this is the best way to build a good relationship between two cultures.
We hope you enjoyed reading about Chinese table manners and etiquette! If you want to learn more about Chinese culture, considering having a look at the meaning of different colors in Chinese culture!