Chopstick Etiquettes You Must Know About
Having lived in China for what feels a really long time, it was inevitable that I was going to learn to use Chopsticks the right way! When I look back on it, sitting at all of those lunches and dinners, it was rather enjoyable learning how to pick up some of the easier foods, chicken or vegetables, to the more difficult foods like noodles and the ultimate food…. peanuts! It is also a sign of respect given by Chinese for even attempting to use them, so don’t worry about form!
I laugh even to this day, once sitting around a table of colleagues and I made my first attempt at a peanut. Everyone was staring, no one breathing, everyone watching. I slowly reached down, placed the tips of the chopsticks around the peanut, and slowly picked it up and ate it! Everyone let out a sigh of relief and approval. But what I did next earned me the most respect.
No matter how much you try avoiding using chopsticks while eating a meal (and believe me, I’ve seen people outright refuse to try them even), you will eventually have to encounter these sticks while staying in China. They have a huge history with ancient China and chopstick etiquettes are an integral part of the Chinese culture and eating customs.
While knowing how to use Chopsticks to eat food is already fantastic, it’s great to be aware of the important chopstick etiquettes as well.
- You might think it is normal to leave the sticks standing while eating noodles or rice, but your Chinese host could feel extremely offended by this gesture. Leaving chopsticks at rest or vertically standing in your bowl is one of the biggest mistakes you could make while using them.
- It is the Chinese belief that leaving chopsticks at rest in the rice bowl invites death. If you leave Chopsticks standing in the middle of your bowl, then you are actually sending an invite to death or the dead spirits moving around you.
Oh my goodness, I remember now a chopstick etiquettes blunder I once had…
It was the first year I was there, 2003, and I sitting down at a really local diner type restaurant. My foods came, I think some noodles and spicy chicken, but during the meal I put the chopsticks standing right into the food. Someone at the table quickly grabbed them out of the food and placed them across the top of my bowl. I didn’t know then that I had caused an offense! But don’t worry too much, most Chinese will be happy to explain why.
When a person dies in a Chinese house, his death is mourned by continuous wailing. The family of the deceased wears white clothes and carries out several other customs. One of these customs is to place a bowl of rice with chopsticks placed vertically either close to the grave of the deceased or in front of his photograph placed at the main Buddhist altar in the house.
According to certain sources, the pair of chopsticks is left standing straight in the rice bowl, while others state that they are placed on top of the bowl in a horizontal position. One reason to place them vertically is so that the spirit of the dead person could eat the meal easily. The family of the dead person does not use chopsticks the entire day and resorts to spoons only because the edges of chopsticks are prickly and their use, by the family, can hurt the spirit of the deceased.
The reason by behind this chopstick etiquettes and is recommended to not use chopsticks this way is because it is a Chinese custom to stick incense into a bowl of rice for honoring the dead. Some people use chopsticks instead of the incense, and some may use both.
Moreover, often guests in a Chinese household wait for their host to say ‘qi kuai’, which means ‘let’s start using chopsticks.’ It is believed that this is their way of respecting their spirits and waiting for them to show them the right time to eat their meal by using chopsticks.
So, while you are in China, try to make sure to use chopsticks the right way. Try to never leave them at rest in your rice bowl. Moreover, make sure to use them together as they are attached to each other because using them separately isn’t considered a good sign by the Chinese. And lastly, never leave them in a crossed position on top of the table.
In Chinese culture, crossing the chopsticks is considered a sign of denial. Therefore, if you cross the chopsticks, then your host will think you are rejecting them and will certainly feel hurt. One thing more, remember not to dig your food with the chopsticks as it represents digging your own grave.
I personally always found it interesting to learn about how much something we in the west consider a tool, like a fork, is an intricate part of life in Chinese society. And like I said, never worry about form or how much food you’re getting onto your chopsticks. And if you’re looking for a great, fun read, yes actually enjoyable, I’d check out this wonderful story: Chopsticks
The most important thing is to have fun! Enjoy learning how to use them and if you’re really unsure, ask for help or even a fork! No one will be offended.