How to Use Chopsticks and Some Table Manners in China

Article by Lisa Guo (Yukun Guo)

“No , no , Yukun! You must wait for Granny to move the chopsticks first. ” Yukun is my Chinese first name and that is what my mother would often say when I broke the Chinese table rules during meals. Coming back to China in the summer of 2003 after living in the states for 8 years, I was only 12. I was a total stranger when it came to Chinese eating etiquettes. Let me share some eating rules and table manners with you to make your dining much more convenient and enjoyable when eating Chinese food in China.
Some Chinese food is often prepared and served in small pieces, making it easier to use chopsticks. But how exactly do you do this?
First, hold the first chopstick between your ring and middle fingers. This will keep the chopsticks fixed so they do not fall out of your hand. Use the thumb to keep them in place.
Second, make the second chopstick slide between your thumb and index fingers. You can move this chopstick by moving the index finger up and down. This movement will open and close the chopsticks, which is how you will pick up food.
Now let’s go through the rules when eating in China with Chinese eating utensils. First, we must wait for the oldest person to move their chopsticks first, then, we can touch our chopsticks. In China, elder people are very much respected. There is a Chinese saying “尊老爱幼”, which means to care for the youngsters and respect the old. Now let’s go on to some table manners.
During Chinese festivals, like Spring Festival, the youngest person eating should help serve the soup and serve all the others before serving oneself. This is an action of respect. You must help serve out the food for everyone before serving themselves.
When we eat, we often will sit around a round table with a round glass turntable, which is used to spin the food around so it is easier for people to help themselves get the food. Always pick the food that is closest to you from the plate with the chopsticks, don’t reach over to the opposite end of the plate for food. If you do, that is seen as impolite.
Try to eat slowly and talk politely during the special business meetings. Many business meetings are held in expensive restaurants and deals are often made when dining out. Don’t make sounds when eating, try to chew the delicious Chinese food quietly and gracefully. Keep your mouth shut when eating.
Some other tips: Don’t stick your chopstick into the bowl or rice. That is seen as disrespectful. Instead, place the chopsticks neatly on the table next to your bowl. Never hold the bowl with two hands, but with one, as beggars will often ask for money or help by holding the bowl with two hands under the bowl.
Chinese people love inviting their friends, family members, or business partners to dine out. So don’t be surprised or nervous when eating with chopsticks, just practice more. You can ask your Chinese friends or associates for help. You will develop good skills. The more you practice, the better you get. As we know practice makes perfect. It’s kind of like holding a pencil, many people do this differently but the goal is to write. With chopsticks, the goal is to get food in your mouth. So this Dragon Boat Festival coming up soon, you can try using chopsticks while eating out! Happy Dragon Boat Festival, enjoy your food and have fun!