Because the Chinese have developed an exquisite cuisine and regard food as being most important in a man’s life, they do not greet each other with “How are you?” but instead they ask, “Have you eaten?”
This greeting is often given without a particular desire to know whether the person has eaten but rather whether he or she is feeling quite well.
The Chinese not only created countless ways of cooking but also invented chopsticks to eat with. The oldest chopsticks were found in a grave dating back to the 13th century BC. A pair of chopsticks can be made out of ivory, plastic, bamboo or wood.
Many traditional table manners are still observed today. It is best if the table used for a Chinese dinner is round. Once everyone is seated and the food is served the guests wait for the host to invite them to eat by saying “qi kuai” (let start to use the chopsticks). Some still practise calling the names of people dining with them as a form of courtesy.
Do’s and Don’ts
The bowl of rice is held with the left hand and brought close to the mouth while the rice is lifted into the mouth with the chopsticks which are held in the right hand. One should not make any noise when chewing the food.
While waiting for the next course of food one should place the chopsticks neatly on the chopstick rest and avoid crossing them or putting them on the rice bowl.
Whenever one attends a wedding dinner one should bring a present wrapped in colourful or reddish gift wrap (never black because it represents grief) or cash in a red packet (never in a white envelope because it is a colour for mourning).
Presents must symbolize good luck or blessing such as gold pendants with symbols of luck (never a clock as the word for clock sounds like zhong, meaning die).
When one is invited to a Chinese New Year party one should dress cheerfully (never completely in black because black is a solemn colour) and bring one’s hosts oranges and new year red packet for luck and good wishes.
Whenever tea is served one should say “thank you” or make a gesture of thanks.
If you wish to take a drink of wine at a formal dinner, you must first toast another diner guest regardless of whether he or she responds by drinking. If you are toasted and don’t wish to drink, simply touch your lips to the edge of the wine glass to acknowledge the courtesy.
It is incumbent upon the host to urge the guests to eat and drink to their fill. This means ordering more food than necessary and keeping an eye out for idle chopsticks.
It is polite to serve the guest of honour the best morsels, such as the cheek of the fish, using a pair of serving or “public” chopsticks or with the back end of one’s chopsticks.
If you have had enough to eat, yet your host still plies you with food, or if you do not wish to indulge in fish lips, sea cucumber or duck web, graciously allow your host to place the delicacy on your plate; leaving food uneaten indicates you do not care for it.
It is socially acceptable in China to spit bones on the table, belch, slurp soup and noodles and smoke while eating.
Rice can be eaten by raising the bowl to the mouth and shovelling the grains in with the chopsticks in a rapid fanning motion, even though this may resemble a Beijing duck force feeding itself.
Chinese banquets commonly have 12-20 courses in succession and can last for hours, but the dinner is over when the host stands up and offers the final toast; one is expected to leave immediately thereafter.
The spoon should not be used at the same time as the chopsticks.
Toothpicks should not be used during the meal but rather at the end, and always whilst covering the mouth.
Don’t point with your chopsticks and don’t stick your chopsticks into your rice bowl and leave them there standing up, for in this position they resemble incense sticks set before a grave.
Don’t use your chopsticks to explore the contents of a dish. Locate the morsel you want-on top of the pile, not buried in the middle of it- with your eyes and go directly for it with your chopsticks without touching any other pieces. A wait-and-see-attitude is recommended if you wish to land the white meat, the wing or the chicken heart.
Chatting at the table over coffee after a meal or retiring to the drawing room is not part of Chinese etiquette.