Although food is a universal language, dining etiquette isn’t always the case. It’s something we’re taught at a young age and it might not translate perfectly when we travel to new places with different cultures.
Here are a few tips and tricks on dining etiquette in China to avoid an embarrassing party foul:
1. Washing Utensils Before Eating
In Hong Kong, your server might bring you a large bowl of water or tea before your dim sum. Whatever you do, don’t drink it. This bowl actually allows you to rinse your chopsticks, spoons, and other utensils before dining. It’s not that the utensils weren’t washed in the kitchen prior, but it’s a custom passed down through generations.
2. Tapping for Tea
When the tea is being poured for you, it is customary to tap lightly on the table as a way of showing gratitude. Legend has it that this custom dates back to the Qing Dynasty when Emperor Qianlong traveled to a teahouse in disguise. The teahouse owner assisted the emperor in pouring a perfect cup of tea for his companion or servants in disguise. It was customary that they would bow to the emperor, but since they were incognito, they decided to tap their fingers as if to bow with their hand.
3. Lay Chopsticks Flat Down
When you’re not eating, be sure to lay your chopsticks down flat. Do not leave them upright or poked into food. It is believed that upright chopsticks too closely resemble incense for the deceased. It is also taboo to cross the chopsticks in an X, as that is a symbol of death. Sharing is caring and most meals are served family style but don’t hand food directly from chopstick to chopstick.
4. Chain of Command
Respect and honor for elders are extremely important in Chinese culture. When eating, it is customary for an older person to eat first or wait for them to tell everyone to go ahead and start digging in. No matter how good the food looks, you should always wait for your elders to make the first move!
5. Fighting for the Check
Footing the bill shows that you are very generous and kind, which is why when the check comes, a small brawl may ensue. It’s not uncommon that children may have witnessed their parents and all their “aunties” and “uncles” fighting over the bill.
One Reddit user recalls, “I actually even explained/taught my non-Chinese boyfriend (now husband) that he needed to do this whole fight song & dance the first time he met my parents, to show that he was worthy of marrying me.”