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Doing Business in China: Table Etiquette

By Jesus David Cano Romano
November 13, 2015
Photo by  Min Liu

Eating with your Chinese counterpart will be normally part of the business process and if you haven’t take a look into the Table Etiquette in China this can turn into an unpleasant surprise. The main difference between Chinese and Western eating habits is that unlike the West, where everyone has their own plate of food, in China, the dishes are placed on the table and everybody shares.

Here we show you a list of do’s and don’ts when dining in China.

The use of chopsticks

Chinese table manners are mostly concerned with the use of chopsticks. Otherwise generally Chinese table manners are rather more informal.

• Chopsticks are traditionally held in the right hand, even for the left-handed, although chopsticks may now be found either hand, a few still consider left handed chopstick improper etiquette.

• When communal chopsticks are supplied with shared plates of food, it is considered impolite to use your own chopsticks to pick up the food from the shared plate or eat using communal chopsticks.

• Never wave your chopsticks around as if they were an extension of your hand gestures, bang them like drumsticks, or use them to move bowls or plates.

• When picking up a piece of food, never use chopsticks to poke through the food as if you were using a fork. Exceptions include tearing larger items apart such as vegetables.

• Chopsticks can be rested horizontally on one’s plate or bowl to keep them off the table entirely.

• Never stab chopsticks into a bowl of rice, leaving them standing upwards. Any stick-like object facing upward resembles the incense sticks that some Asians use as offerings to deceased family members. This is considered the ultimate faux pas on the dining table.

• Chinese traditionally eat rice from a small bowl held in the left hand. The rice bowl is raised to the mouth and the rice pushed into the mouth using the chopsticks.

• Don’t tap on your bowl with your chopsticks. Beggars tap on their bowls, so this is not polite.

Some extra considerations

• People in China tend to over-order food, for they will find embarrassing if all the food is consumed. When you have had enough, just say so.

• Is a sign of respect to pass food to the elderly first before the meal starts.

• Never turn over the fish. In Chinese restaurants, the standard is for a fish to be served whole. After working your way through the tender top side, it may seem logical to simply flip the fish and continue. Unfortunately, doing so has an unforeseen consequence.