We all know Chinese people use chopsticks to eat. Perhaps you know how to use chopsticks, but do you know how NOT to use them? Chopsticks etiquette is important!

Here, I will share with you 10 forbidden ways to use chopsticks.


10 things you should NEVER do with chopsticks:

1. DON'T use a pair of chopsticks that aren't the same length. It reminds traditional people of an idiom in the Chinese language, 三长两短 [sān cháng liǎng duǎn] which literally means “three long, two short”. In ancient times, the lengths of wood used for making coffins needed to be three long ones and two short ones. Later, “three long, two short” came to refer to unexpected misfortune, or even death.


2. DON'T use your thumb, index finger, ring finger and little finger to hold chopsticks, leaving only the middle finger free. I don’t need to explain why it goes agains the chopsticks etiquette; you know why, right?


3. DON'T put the ends of chopsticks into your mouth and suck them loudly. This behavior is regarded as the result of poor breeding.


4. DON'T knock the bowl or dishes with your chopsticks. In China this behavior is associated with beggars.


5. DON'T use your chopsticks to dig down into the dish for an ingredient you prefer – meat among the vegetables, for instance. This is regarded as bad manners. It’s long tradition that Chinese people use their personal chopsticks to take bits of food from a common dish, so after your digging, other people will feel they are eating the food you rejected.


6. DON'T hold the pointed end of one or both chopsticks when using them to eat. This means you cannot tell what’s face and what’s feet, in other words, you are 'losing face'.


7. DON'T use only one chopstick for stabbing or dangling food or anything similar. Other diners will feel annoyed, because usually, it’s only immature children who try this awkward, useless technique.


8. DON'T stick your chopsticks straight into your rice. Chinese people stick burning incense into rice to honor the dead people.


9. DON'T lay your chopsticks crossed on the table. In China, the symbol √ means approval and × means denial. So, if you cross your chopsticks in front of people, you are denying them.


10. DON'T drop your chopsticks to the floor, even by accident. Traditional Chinese people believe, their dead ancestors are sleeping underground, the noise of chopsticks hitting floor will awake their ancestors’ sweet dreams.


Dinner table seating etiquette

At a Chinese dinner, are there any differences between those seats and who sits where?

Of course there is.

Generally speaking, the seat that directly faces the door is for the most important guest. The further a seat is from that one, the less important it is. So, if you are a newcomer to a company and you are invited to a business dinner, just choose the seat that is furthest from the big boss. Then both your boss and your colleagues will feel you are a well-bred person.


Other important matters of dining etiquette:


In western countries, if you invite people to a special event at a restaurant, such as your birthday party, or maybe to celebrate your promotion, it is common practice that you don’t need to pay for their meals, and the people who are invited by you will feel there is nothing wrong if they need to share the bill.

In China, the custom is different. If you invite colleagues or friends to such events, you are informing them that you will pay the bill. If instead they are asked to share the bill, it is unexpected. They will pay, but they will feel disrespected and go home angry. Even if it’s an unimportant event, like coworkers going out for lunch together, the person suggesting the outing should expect to pay – but then usually, the guest will do the inviting and paying the next time.

Moreover, it’s Chinese tradition that if you invite guests to your home for a dinner, you’d better prepare a feast. It’s your western brain thinking that friends gathering together only need to have some drinks and snacks, but this will only make your Chinese guests feel they are seriously neglected.


In China, it is just good manners for the host to insist that you should eat more.

This kind of story happens frequently: an American girl was invited to a wonderful Chinese dinner, and after she had eaten her fill, she put down her chopsticks. She was just about to offer her sincere compliments to the host, but the host interrupted, to ask:


“What? You ate enough? But, you ate so little! Yeah, today’s dinner is a bit too thin…”

“No! No! No!” the girl protested, “The food is wonderful, but…”

“Then you should eat more!” And, he served her a full plate of food.


In that moment, the girl was afraid that if she refused to continue eating, the host would think she really didn't like the meal. So, she continued to eat, though it soon became torture. After she stuffed herself by eating the whole plate, the host again suggested she eat more.


She finally cried: “I really can not eat any more!”


She just didn't realize the host was simply being polite. So as a guest, if you’ve really eaten enough, just tell the truth. Better yet, eat modestly, and pretend to be full, since you’re sure to be invited to eat more.


You don’t need to take words like “today’s meal is a bit too thin” seriously – the host just wants to be modest. Even if he has prepared a feast fit for a queen, in his modest manner, he will still say that it’s just a thin meal.



Image by Lohb (CC BY SA 2.0