How to eat Chinese food in China

[First published on the Pretati ~ Language Translation App Blog on 31st Aug, 2013]

You could be travelling to China for any reason. Your itinerary could be a wish list of myriad, leisurely things or a back to back schedule of business meetings, but friend, no matter what you’re doing there; you’ve got to eat, right?

So when it comes to food and the Chinese people, here are some tips that could propel you to the best visitor to China award in no time. All this, while all you really did was eat and drink!

No First Names on the table please

Chinese people have first and last names like the rest of us. But if you are Jill Anderson in California, you would become Anderson Jill in Beijing. In China, remember that the last name always comes first. The family name always takes precedence over the individual’s.

So if you happen to be at a dinner table with Lee Kong, you can safely refer to him as Mr. Lee and not as Mr. Kong. Also, just calling him Kong would be hitting the Chinese culture below the belt.

Use the wrong end of the chopstick at the right time

When you are gathered around a dinner table with a Chinese host, you may find that serving spoons for the numerous communal dishes laid out on the table in front of you are missing. Don’t panic. This is simply because in Chinese culinary culture, everyone serves themselves (or you for instance) by turning their chopsticks upside down to pick up food from the main dishes and transfer it to their own individual plates.

Essentially, the side of the chopstick you use to eat with is not to be jabbed into the dishes from where everyone picks up their food as needed.

If you are hungry and want to eat badly, say no first

We are not mocking you. This is a serious blog. According to the Chinese culture, no self-respecting guest immediately accepts whatever may be offered to her/ him. For guests like you, no matter how much eagerness you really have to accept the food, drink, or gift, bear in mind that proper Chinese etiquette prevents it’s people from doing anything that makes them appear greedy in the smallest of ways, so make it a point to refuse politely a couple of times first.

The opposite also holds true. You should not take the first ‘No’ or polite refusal from a Chinese literally. Ask again a few more times. Get the drift?

Offer a toast before you sip your drink, every time

Chinese meals are often elaborate affairs and are accompanied by alcohol of various types and origins. Some of their stuff is so potent that if you are new to it, you could find yourself knocked out pretty quickly. One way to slow the drinking down thus, is to observe the Chinese tradition by always offering a toast to the host or someone else at the table before taking a sip yourself. This not only prevents you from drinking too much too quickly, but also shows your gratitude toward the host and your regard for the other guests.

And finally;

Never let someone else pay the food bill without a good fight

As crazy as it may sound, fighting over bills at the end of meals is one of the most common sights at restaurants in China. The Chinese consider it good manners to put up a small struggle in an attempt to grab the bill out of the hands of whoever is holding it. This could go on, back and forth, for a good few minutes, until someone among all of you is victorious and finally picks up that tab.

The gesture of being eager and willing to pay is always appreciated. And if you can afford it, ensure that you win, without causing black eyes and bruised limbs.

There you are, bon appetit.




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