Being invited to a Chinese dinner either at the restaurant or at someone’s home is a great experience and is usually loads of fun. However knowing Chinese table manners and etiquette is necessary to avoid cultural faux pas and general awkwardness. Of course as a foreigner you should be forgiven fairly quickly for any mistakes you might make.
Still here are a few tips to get that best guest status you have been trying to reach.
Arriving on time with a small gift is classy move in any country, Chinese people appreciate it just as much as everyone else. Upon arrival it is well regarded to introduce yourself to fellow guest, the host might do the introductions which will make your job easier. Once that is out of the way, you should only take a seat after the older members of the dinner party have taken sat down. The same rules apply for eating, wait for seniors to start first.
Tea is a big part of Chinese culture and is commonly found in Chinese dinning. When it comes to tea this is the way to do it: keep cups full, serve yourself last and always start by serving the oldest members. If you ever toast with tea, holding your tea cup with two hands is the standard.
If you know how to use chopsticks, you should be fine, just try and avoid doing these things :
- Sticking your chopsticks vertically into your rice, indeed seeing chopsticks in that manner reminds Chinese people of incense sticks burned in honor of deceased ancestors.
- Stabbing food with your chopsticks to pick it up.
- Using your chopsticks as drumsticks may be fun but you will be better off not doing that at a Chinese dinner. Sporting chopstick teeth is also fun, but this is something you might want to keep for entertaining your western pals.
If you don’t feel comfortable using chopsticks, you should learn how to use them, meanwhile you can ask for a spoon. Forks and knives won’t be as easy to come by.
Chinese dinners are eaten family style, everyone shares everything and to share dishes around the table Chinese people use a Lazy Susan. Use it respectfully and wait your turn.
Slurp those noodles
While eating noodles, Chinese people tend to slurp and make quite a bit of noise doing so. This is not what your Mom taught you to do when eating spaghetti obviously. But to be fair, slurping actually helps cool down the noodles, preventing them from burning your mouth. Slurping also aerates the broth, allowing the flavors to develop.
Chinese dinners can definitely get boozy and Ganbei’ing is the way it happens. Ganbei: “dry glass” in Chinese, is the equivalent of the western “bottoms up”. As a foreigner you might be the center of attention during this time as everyone will want to toast with you, so beware, if downing glasses of light Tsingtao beer is usually fine, shots of 50 proof Baijiu might be another story.
Paying the bill
This end of the meal ritual might seem strange to a foreigner but it is customary here in China. This is how it goes: the host or the eldest member will most likely pay, but you should argue a little bit and offer to pay. Not doing so would entail that the host owes you something. In the end though, not letting your host pay would be considered very rude and would insinuate that he doesn’t have enough money to pay.
I hope these tips are helpful and will boost your Chinese dinner skills.