international dining etiquette
Dining etiquette for discussing business. The business dinner mainly takes the form of the Chinese banquet; this is an important aspect of doing business in China, and one which needs to be taken very seriously. Women are expected to partake in the evening's business entertainment as long as they are seen by the Chinese as equal business partners.
Dining etiquette for compliments. Compliments are expected. Praise the food throughout, as well as the wisdom and taste of your host. Leave controversial topics and business matters for later.
Dining etiquette for toasts. If you are the honored guest, you will be expected to make a toast, usually soon after the host does or at the end of the meal. An appropriate toast is to the health of the host and all those present, and to the prosperity of the business that brought you together.
The toast in China is gambai, which means "bottoms up" or "drain the glass."
Dining etiquette for chopsticks. China is one of the traditional chopstick cultures, along with Japan and Korea. Please see the information about proper chopstick on the Japan dining etiquette page. There is one major difference, though; Chinese chopsticks are usually round, as opposed to the more square-sided Japanese kind, and do not come attached (they do not require snapping apart).
Proper chopstick etiquette means no waving chopsticks around over different dishes trying to select what you want, no sticking the chopstick ends into the food like a spear, and no drawing the bowl or plate nearer to you with your chopsticks. Chinese chopsticks are rarely presented in paper wrappers, so unless you have little ceramic chopstick rests, you need to rest the "mouth" end of your chopsticks alongside the plate, the idea also being that the food end of the chopsticks should never touch the table. Use chopsticks to eat soup, rice, peanuts, and practically every item on your plate, no matter how small, round, or difficult. Never use your fingers; always use your chopsticks. Also use your chopsticks to cut up pieces of food, if necessary. The meat or fish is cooked or marinated, so it will be easy to break up the flesh with the chopsticks: there will be no need for knives. If you cannot master chopsticks, it's acceptable in the major cities to ask for Western cutlery.
Sauce may be mixed with the rice, and the main dish may be eaten with the rice. You are expected to hold the rice bowl by your mouth, take a bit of food and sauce from the plate below, hold it over the rice bowl, and shovel it all in together. If you're eating noodles or broth, it is not appropriate to slurp the food; however, hot tea may be slurped quietly to cool it off as it enters the mouth.
Because the banquet is a communal affair, with enormous numbers of dishes set out for everyone to enjoy, each dish usually comes with its own set of serving chopsticks, which are to be used by everyone, one person at a time, to serve themselves or their neighbor by picking out the food from the main service and placing it on their plate. Never keep the serving chopsticks after using them. But sometimes the dishes are presented without serving chopsticks. Serve yourself with your own chopsticks. As China has modernized, however, a trend has developed of "reversing" the ends of your chopsticks to take food from the serving plate if serving chopsticks are unavailable. It's tricky, but considerate. It goes like this: Hold your chopsticks by the pointy end and pick up food from the main service with the "blunt" end, then place the food on your plate. After that, place the chopsticks down on their rests. When you're ready to eat from your own plate, pick up the chopsticks so that the "food" end is ready, and eat as you normally would.
Dining etiquette for toothpicks. Handle a toothpick by working it away at your teeth with one hand, while keeping the other hand in front of it over the mouth.
Dining etiquette for seating. The most honored position is at the middle of the table, with the second most important person seated next. This means that the host will sit at the middle of the table on one side, and the honored guest in the middle on the other side, opposite the host. The honored guest sits on the side of the table farthest from the door. (This is the same at business meetings, with the key people sitting in the middle, flanked on either side in descending order by their aides, with the least important people sitting at the ends of the table farthest from the middle, and closest to the door: the arrangement is mirrored on the other side, because the rules of hierarchy demand that everyone must be able to speak with their opposite peers and those who rank below, but those below cannot speak with those above.)
Dining etiquette for drinking. Never refill your own glass; always refill your neighbor's glass, and he or she will refill yours.
Dining etiquette in a restaurant. In China, it is expected before you begin eating or drinking anything that you say "youyi" (basically, "here's to friendship"), and after the meal that you thank the host. Remember, it's best not to drink or eat until your Chinese host does; in fact, throughout the meal, try to follow the colleague’s lead in when to drink, eat, or make a toast.
In informal restaurants, you may be required to share a table. If so, do not force conversation; act as if you are seated at a private table. Summon waiters by making eye contact.
Tapping the first two fingers on the tabletop in southern China is a way of saying "thanks," and then rolling the same two fin¬gers forward is a way of adding a special humility to the gesture.
Dining etiquette in the home. Remove your shoes. You will be told where to sit. Allow the more senior members of your party to enter rooms ahead of you.
Dining etiquette for paying the bill. Usually the one who does the inviting pays the bill.
Dining etiquette for tipping. Tipping is still technically illegal in China: don't worry about tipping. It is not done. Period. There is no need to leave any odd change.
- Mike Lininger, Editor, Etiquette Scholar
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