Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Chinese Table Manners

Now that you have your chopsticks well in hand, it's time to get the rest of your Chinese dining ettiqutte down pat. Food is huge in China. Our students list "delicious food" as their first delight. But in a culture that has favored delicious food for several thousand years, there's bound to be a few rules attached; especially in a society where appearances and decorum matter very much. I'll let Leslie, Olive and Cheris tell the rest of the story.

Eating is dominate aspect of Chinese culture, and eating out is a most common way to honor guests.   Similar to westerners, eating together in China is way to socialize and deepen friendships. No matter at home or restaurant, there are many eating manners that one must pay attention to.  There are rules for inviting guest over. When guest of honor enters into room, hosts stand until the guest of honor is seated. The host then orders dishes brought and the guest should be silent. When dishes arrive, the meal begins with a toast from host, and guests then make a toast in turn in honor or host. 

A round dining table is more popular in China than a rectangular or square one since many people can be seated comfortably facing each other. Seating arrangement is most important part of CHinese dining etiquette. In ancient times it was enacted according to a 4-tier social status: 1. imperial court, 2. local authorities, 3. trade associations, 4. farmers & workers. Respect in modern times is simplified to: 1.master of the banquet, 2. guests.  Seat of honor is reserved for master of banquets or guest with highest status or most aged and that person is one who always faces east or facing entrance. In China, left is the sign of being respectable; so, the host can take the seat beside The Big, or sit opposite The Big, and next to the door. Why' that? Obviously  it's convenient to pay the bill. Those with high social position sit closer to master of banquet and lower positions sit furthest from the seat of honor. 
Guest of honor should be first one to start the meal. The best food in a dish should be left for the guest of honor.

Unlike the West where everyone has their own play of food, in China the dishes are placed on the table and everybody shares. Sometimes the host will serve some dishes with his/her own chopsticks to guest to show hospitality. This is a sign of politeness. 
If the dinner is held in the host's family and the meal is cooked by the beautiful hostess, then when she serves the dishes and told you she's very sorry that the soup today is not so tasty, or the beef is a little bit over-fried, and if you believe she really thinks that way, alright, you may be out of her list next time. The appropriate thing to do would be to eat whatever-it-is and say how yummy it is. If you feel uncomfortable with this, you can just say a polite "thank you" and leave the food there. 
Never try to turn a fish over yourself, since the separation of the fish skeleton from the lower half of flesh will usually be performed by the host or waiter. Superstitious people deem bad luck with ensue and a fishing boat will capsize if you do so. This is especially true to southerners in China.
As Chinese food contains meat with bones, so it's OK to spit the bones on the plates or table.

Men, women and children participate in the custom of toasting. During the 1st toast of the night, all stand. The toaster may say "gan bei" (dry glass) which is like the western  "bottoms up" and all are expected to finish the entire drink. If the beverage is not baijiu then gan bei is not said; rather, "thank you for coming" or something similar is said. All are expected to clink their glasses with other guest within reach. Women & children do not normally drink alcohol but still participate in the toast with what they have. Anyone can propose a toast. If you are too far from the person you want toast, then tap your cup or glass to get attention; don't raise your voice. And when you toast someone superior to you like a teacher or elder, you are supposed to let the rime of your glass tap lower than the rim of their glass to show respect.

Unlike the many western nations, a hand must be placed over the mouth while using toothpick to conceal the action. Not doing so is considered rude. Used toothpicks should be placed on your bowl or plate that you do not intend to use again. Never should be left on tablecloth for a waitress to have to pick up, nor thrown on the floor. Such throwing is rude on floor is rude to restaurant or host and putting on tablecloth is inconsiderate to servers.  

…One should not point teapot spout directly at others as this is same as using the finger to point at somebody, which is very impute and also means that this person is not welcome in the house. Obviously, at circular table, the teapot mouth must point at someone, but it is not supposed to point directly to the person on the left or right of the teapot. Across a table does not count, so it is fine.
… When pouring tea for other, hold teapot with right hand and press lid with other hand to show honor and sedateness. If you are getting teach for yourself, make sure to ask other first if they would like some more tea. Then serve yourself after you have served them. Using teach to force the visitor out, there was a rule in Qing Dynasty's officialdom as "the tea that given by the boss shouldn't be taken." So if the boss give tea to his subordinate by his own hand, which is given by a servant, that means he is impatient to the subordinate, and the subordinate should leave immediately. If the boss is visiting the subordinate house, the subordinate must not give the tea to the boss by his own hands, either because that's very impolite and means to force the visitor out.
… If you are not pouring your own tea, but at a restaurant where the service is attentive, in the region of south CHina (especially Canton and Hong Kong) the one who gets the tea uses the knuckles of first and middle fingers to tap the table 2 or 3 times to show thankfulness. This looks similar to knocking on a door, but don't knock as heavily as if it were a door. It is a tap, not a knock; the motion resembles a knock.
…  When the teach runs out and requires more hot water, you may leave the life ajar but still on the teapot -- this is a signal for attendant to refill it. Do not entirely remove the lid and place it on table. The lid touching the table is allowing good luck to escape, and also the table might be dirty. Do not leave a teapot with lid ajar in  middle of table. It should be toward the side of table so that the attendant may refill it without rehang across patrons in an invasive/taking manner.

In most restaurants in Chinese countries, there is not tip required unless it is posted, and will already be on the bill. Guests should not truly 'split the bill' with the host. A gust who splits the bill is very ungracious and embarrassing to the host. If you do not accept the host paying for the bill, it is implying that the host cannot afford it or you do not accept the friendship or hospitality of host. However, it is expected for the guest to offer to pay for the meal multiple times, but ultimately allow the host to pay. It is also unacceptable to not make any attempt to "fight for" the bill. Not fighting for the bill means you think that the host owes that meal to you somehow. Therefore, if you are the guest, always fight for the bill but never win it on the first meal in your host's hometown. After the first meal at your host's hometown, and sometime before you leave, it is customary to bring the host's family to a meal out to thank them for your stay if you did not bring  initial small present for them when you arrived. For that meal, you may pay but you must request your host's attendance and cooperation with allowing you to cover that particular meal.
If you and an acquaintance are on a business trip, it is acceptable to split the bill, but more common to rotate who pays for the meal, with meals of similar cost. Though it is a rotation, here is still the same mock-fight for the bill. The difference is that you may say, "Fine fine, since you are my elder, this is fine this time, but the next meal, I cover." Or something to that effect and pay for the next meal. This rotation does not have to be a meal necessarily. For example, you may rotate a meal and a game of golf. The key to the rotation being viewed as acceptable or not, is the enjoyment both parties actually get from the activity and the approximate cost. Golf would not be an acceptable oration of the other person does not enjoy golf, is rather bad at it while you are excellent at it, etc.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. Some serious rules and regulations for eating. We Americans must drive them crazy.