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The Traveller's Magazine
  •   2 min read

When it comes to travelling and getting in with the locals there are a few things you should know about, one of them is table manners which, maybe quite unseemingly, vary from by country. Knowing your etiquette, especially at the dinner table will not only win points with the locals, it’ll make your stay much easier and meaningful. So, how to eat in China?

Whether you’re invited to dine with a Chinese family or you’re eating out at a traditional-style restaurant, it certainly pays to read up on table etiquette beforehand. Although more and more locals are becoming accustomed to less-savvy travellers and their Western table habits… Brush up on your etiquette before boarding your flight to China!

What you need to know

  • Knives never make an appearance at the table. Your tools of choice include chopsticks, bowls and soup spoons. Food generally comes already cut into bite-size pieces (convenient!) so there shouldn’t too many difficulties.
    How to hold chopsticks (img: cc)
  • Never point your chopsticks directly at someone and don’t ever stick them straight up in a bowl of rice. This is how rice is offered during a funeral in Buddhist tradition.
  • Use a clean spoon for taking food from a communal bowl on the table. Also, if you use your chopsticks use instead the blunt ends that don’t go into your mouth.
  • Chinese hospitality means more food than you can probably handle. Don’t reject it, take and if you cannot finish, don’t fret. It’s more about the host than about you eating everything on your plate, like your mum taught you.
  • It is customary for the host to pay the meal. It’s polite to offer to pay your share but expect them to turn down the offer.
  • Pass food to the eldest at the table before taking some for yourself. Respect for elders is very important and this also applies when clinking glasses for a toast, making sure your glass is lower than someone older than you.
  • Slurp when soup is served. Loud slurping is a sign of real gusto and burping out loud is a compliment to the quality of the food. Don’t hold back!

Have you ever been caught in an embarrassing table no-no situation while travelling? Tell us about cultural customs (at and away from the dinner table) you’ve picked up on while travelling abroad!

Apart from table manners, you may also want to check out what different hand gestures mean around the world, because you may find yourself in deep misunderstanding without evening knowing it!

Img: johnjoh / flickr cc

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