Mind Your Manners

It can be challenging to keep track of proper manners in different cultures. Our guide to behaving at a traditional Chinese dinner.
Story Michelle Phung

Traditional Chinese Dinner Setting

  • When offered food, it is rude to refuse. Accept it graciously, but don’t worry about finishing it if you can’t.
  • When toasting, hold your glass below that of the eldest person at the table to show respect.
  • Fish is usually served whole. Never flip the fish over, as it is believed that the next boat you pass will flip as well.
  • When pouring tea, pour for your elders first as a sign of respect.
  • When tea is being served to you, tap your index and middle finger three times to the table. This gesture dates back to the Qing dynasty, when it was used as an alternative to bowing to the Emperor while he was in disguise.
  • Never tap your bowl with your chopsticks; it is perceived as rude.
  • Never stick your chopsticks upright in a bowl. It is almost like wishing death upon someone, as it resembles incense in a shrine. Instead, rest your chopsticks across the top of your rice bowl.
  • Use the thicker ends of the chopsticks to serve food from the main dishes. Use the thinner ends to eat with.
  • Eat all the rice in your bowl. Even a single grain left behind can be considered unlucky.