Business Dinner Etiquette in China: Chopsticks

Part 1 of 3



Chopsticks (筷子kuàizi) were first used in China over 3,000 years ago. Simple to manufacture and use, they are utilized during cooking, serving, and eating. Typically, Chinese meat will be cut small enough while it is still in the kitchen, so there is no need for a knife at the dining table. Aside from chopsticks, spoons are used for eating soup and assisting with slippery foods. Chopsticks replace the fork on the Chinese table and have the added benefit that it is not necessary to pierce the food to pick it up.

When using chopsticks to serve yourself from the communal dishes (dishes are typically shared in China), there are a few things to keep in mind. At more formal occasions or restaurants, there may be a set of public chopsticks or 公筷 gōng kuài. These will typically be slightly larger than your personal chopsticks, colored differently, and placed horizontally, close to the dishes. Avoid using the chopsticks to rummage around in the dish for the piece you like. This is considered quite rude. Choose beforehand and take a convenient piece directly. After taking the piece, place it on your plate or in your rice bowl before eating it. One shouldn’t eat directly from the communal dishes.

There are also some taboos concerning chopsticks that you should be aware of before sitting down to a Chinese meal. Never place the chopsticks vertically in a bowl of rice. This can look like two sticks of incense burning at a funeral and it is associated with death. Also, while tapping on your dishes isn’t exactly polite in western society, doing this with your chopsticks will associate you with the beggars on the street. And finally, avoid crossing them over your bowl which would signify that you are finished eating. Even if you are finished eating, it is best to place the chopsticks back on the holder. If you leave a little bit of food in your bowl, this is a polite way to avoid being served more as the host will know that you have had enough to eat. 

Lastly, if you aren't sure how to hold your chopsticks, consult the diagram below. Happy eating!


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