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Chinese Dining Etiquette Guide: 8 Do’s and Don’ts

If you plan to join a Chinese New Year's dinner, remember these eight do's and don't that will help you understand Chinese table manners. (Image: Secret China)
If you plan to join a Chinese New Year's dinner, remember these eight do's and don't that will help you understand Chinese table manners. (Image: Secret China)

Chinese New Year is coming on Feb. 8 this year, and is the most important holiday for Chinese people. On New Year’s Eve, family members usually get together and have a sumptuous dinner.

If you just received your invitation to a New Year’s dinner, and are feeling nervous about all sorts of rules and taboos in Chinese dinning etiquette, here are eight tips that can help you do the right thing at the table.

Chinese New Year is coming. When you are invited to have New Year dinner with your Chinese friend's family, remember these dinning etiquette rules. (Image: internetcn.net/)

Remember these dining etiquette rules while enjoying New Year’s dinner with your friends or family. (Image: internetcn.net)

1. Don’t tap your foot

Tapping your foot is not only considered rude, but also indicates poverty in Chinese Fengshui. One who taps his foot suggests he’s constantly in a non-steady state, which is thought to be bad for collecting wealth in Fengshui.

There’s even a folk saying: “A man tapping his foot is poor, and a woman tapping her foot is indecent.” Therefore, tapping your foot at the table is impolite.

Don' tap your foot when being seated. (Image: Secret China)

Don’ tap your foot when being seated. (Image: Secret China)

2. Don’t stick chopsticks straight up in rice

Sticking chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice is a traditional way used by Chinese people to venerate their ancestors. It symbolizes death, and is considered bad luck.

chopsticks-taboo

Don’t stick chopsticks straight up in rice. (Image: beibaotu.com)

3. Don’t tap your bowl with chopsticks

Beggars at one time tapped their bowls to attract attention, and sometimes in a restaurant customers do the same thing if they think the service is slow. So tapping your bowl can insult your host.

tap-bowl

Don’t tap your bowl with chopsticks as that’s what beggars do to attract attention. (Image: szeat.net)

4. Be careful when asking for seconds

If you are learning Chinese, it can be fun to practice it while enjoying delicious food. But be careful when you ask for second helpings in Chinese, because “need rice/want rice” is usually translated to 要飯 (“yào fàn“), which also refers to “begging for food.”

Avoid saying "要饭" if you need refilling your rice. (Image: Secret China)

Avoid saying “要饭” (“yào fàn”) if you want more rice. (Image: Secret China)

5. Eat with your mouth closed

Not just in China, people in other countries get annoyed by the sound of someone eating with his mouth open. In dining etiquette, this is not only unbecoming, but also bothers people nearby. The same rule applies to drinking tea, soup, and various beverages. Slurping is considered rude.

Eat with your mouth closed and don't slurp. (Image: Lilla Frerichs via publicdomainpictures.net)

Eat with your mouth closed, and don’t slurp. (Image: Lilla Frerichs via publicdomainpictures.net/CC0 1.0)

6. Don’t start eating before your host

In China, guests usually wait until their hosts take the first bite, or invite everyone to start eating. Sometimes the hosts will begin banquets by first serving the guests of honor, and asking everyone else to help themselves. Children need to wait until adults begin to eat.

Don't eat before your host do. (Image: neisheng.com)

Don’t eat before your host. (Image: neisheng.com)

7. Serve someone else first before you serve yourself

If you serve yourself first you will be considered very rude, and don’t know about manners. So when you want another helping or to refill your drink, offer it to other guests first.

If someone is in a conversation, don’t interrupt but just go ahead and pour the drink into his cup.

Serve someone else first before you serve yourself. Image: (theowl84 via Compfight cc)

Serve someone else first before you serve yourself. (Image: theowl84 via Compfight cc)

8. Don’t leave your hand under the table

Don’t rest your hand under the table, or out of sight. The same etiquette rule is followed in Russia and Spain.

Don't put your hand under the table. (Image: Secret China)

Don’t put your hand under the table. (Image: Secret China)

Table manners are more than just learning how to use chopsticks. Besides the eight tips listed above, the video below gives you more dining etiquette rules including where to sit to show your respect to your host or guest of honor, how to order, how to pour tea and show gratitude, and how to eat fish, which is a must dish at a Chinese New Year dinner.

Enjoy your food at the coming New Year’s dinner, and use these tips to impress your Chinese friends.

Researched by Monica Song and Cecilia Kwan

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