Different Table Manners in China and the West

Different Table Manners in China and the West

Food is so fundamental to our life so that all the other aspects of our living are influenced by and built on it. Healthy daily meals ensures physical fitness for us to work and play. The diet has become part of the culture. As culture various from country to country, so do table manners. It is helpful for us to learn table manners in different countries, because there are more and more international exchanges in the globalized world and banquet is an important part in such communication.

Diet plays an important role in both China and Western countries, but table manners vary from country to country. In China, banquet ceremony has become an indispensible part of people’s lives. When a child is born, parents will invite friends and relatives to host a cerebration, Later on, when the child is one month old and one hundred days old, similar celebrations will be held. During the process of growing up, parents will hold a birthday party for their children every year. Even when one passes away, funeral dinners will be offered by descendants to the deceased. On occasions such as settlement of an issue and promotion, Chinese people will invite friends to dinner for celebration and exchange. In short, banquet performs many social functions for Chinese people. Unlike Chinese, people in western countries do not attach much importance to social functions of diet. They think that diet ensures normal function of human body. They care more about the benefits of food than its socialization roles.

Table manners are closely associated with the characteristics of Chinese and western banquets. There are some similarities in table manners of China and the West. These rules show the consensus between Chinese and Westerners on the proper way of eating. For example, it is impolite for diners to smoke at table. Smoking is harmful to people’s health and considered rude at banquet, unless permitted. It is advisable for people to sit straight up at the table to make a good impression on others. Dinners should not talk with each other when their mouth is full. It is polite
Although there are some similarities in table manners, more obvious differences exist between Chinese and Western table manners. Chinese people pay much attention to the content and arrangement of dinner. They usually provide ten or more main courses at a formal banquet. The more pompous the dishes are prepared, the more the host’s hospitality and the higher the host’s status. In western countries, a banquet consists of no more than six dishes, and it is similar to common dinner. In the U.S., friends may contribute to a dinner. They take their dishes to share with each other amidst joyful exchange of ideas. What really counts is the relaxed and cheerful atmosphere at dinner. Clearly, western banquet symbolizes freedom and relaxation.

In china , any banquet ,no matter for what purpose , is held in the same way .That is , people sit around a round table eating, drinking and chatting. This creates an atmosphere of unity, happiness and politeness. Delicious dishes are put in the center of the people and naturally become the media by which people exchange their feelings and emotions. They toast to each other and drink to their heart’s content. It is a symbol of great union among Chinese people. In the west, people have their dinner in a completely different way. They never eat food which is put in the same plate or bowl .Each of them has his/her own share of the food placed in his/her own plate .This displays individualism in Western culture. Westerners encourage individual freedom and independence. Though they also sit around a table, each of them has his/her own set of tableware and own share of dish. In this way they do not interfere each other. It seems somewhat cheerless and cold, though it is healthy and clean. The individual has more say on the dish they choose. For example, when you go to a western restaurant and ask for a share of steak, the cook may probably ask you questions like: would you like roasted steak or fried steak., how long do you want your steak cooked etc.The cook will prepare the steak strictly according to your request. Besides, seasons are usually put on the table for guests to choose.

Before dinner, seat should be arranged by some rules. The seating order is different between China and the West. In China, senior people or people of higher social status are often assigned the seat of honor, for it is customary to arrange seat according to social rank and seniority. In feudal society, Chinese women had not a single right and were not respected at all. They were, of course, not allowed to attend a banquet. But this situation has changed a lot, as women have been paid due respect now. Today, Chinese women do go to a banquet, they, however, often, play a minor role at table, especially when going along with their husbands. Unlike Chinese, Westerners follow different rules. They adopt the code of of “ladies first” in both seat arrangement and during the dinner. When the banquet starts and dishes served, the chief female guest is the first one to be served, and then other female guests. The hostess will be the last. After that, it is the turn for male guests. When the dinner comes to an end, others cannot leave until the hostess stands up and leaves her seat while gentlemen should move chairs for ladies to leave.

In addition to seating order, the order of dish served is also differen in China and the West. In China, ordered dishes are usually served all at once. The order, however, still exists. Cold dishes will come first with drink and wine, followed by hot dishes. The staple food comes then and the desserts and fruits are served in the end. If there are many tables of guests in a banquet, the same dish should be served for each table at once. In a formal Western cuisine, the first dish is usually an appetizing one, such as salad. The first plays as a kind of prelude. The second dish is soup. When Chinese people have dinner in a foreign banquet, they should never think that the soup means the end of the banquet.

During dinner, Chinese people like to persuade others to drink and use their own chopsticks to put food in the plate or bowl of guests to show politeness and hospitality. In China, it has long been held that people should not eat alone, without considering others when many people dine together. A person should not possess one kind of dish totally and he should not jolt his hot dishes in order to make it cool quickly either, for it is not decent and polite. In the West, people do not act as enthusiastically and courteously as the Chinese when they have a banquet. Westerners pay more attention to personal independence.

If it is a formal dinner by government officials, huge amount of food will be ordered that is impossible to finish. A typical meal begins with a set of at least four cold dishes, like boiled peanuts and sliced cooked beef, to be followed by the main courses of hot meat and vegetable dishes. Finally soup is served, followed by staple food, rice, noodles or dumplings. Chinese people tend to over-order food, for they will find it embarrassing if all the food is consumed.

Generally speaking, there are many taboos in Chinese table manners. Over time, some have been abandoned while others still remain. To name a few as follows: First, do not stick your chopsticks upright in the rice bowl. Instead, place them on your dish. The reason behind it is that when someone dies, the shrine set up for the deceased includes a bowl of rice with two sticks of incense stuck upright in it. If you put your chopsticks upright in the rice bowl, it looks like something in the shrine and therefore inauspicious. Second, make sure that the teapot spout is not facing anyone. It is impolite to place the teapot where its spout is facing somebody. The spout should be directed to the place not occupied by anyone. Thirdly, do not tap on your bowl with your chopsticks. It is inappropriate because beggars often tap on their begging bowls. It is impolite also because people may tap on their bowls and saucers when the food comes slowly. If you are in someone’s home, the tapping is insulting to the host.

In China, if you invite people to dinner, the person who invites others would pay for the meal. But people in western countries usually think that it is not your responsibility to make payment though you invite them. They may prefer to go Dutch. They will not be happy if you pay for them. Chinese hosts and hostesses would like to put dishes into guests’ plate to show their hospitality. In formal dinners, there are always ‘public’ chopsticks and spoons for this purpose, but some hosts may use their own chopsticks. This is a sign of friendship and politeness. But westerners may think it unhealthy to do so because their chopsticks have been used by themselves. It is western practice to give tips to waiters or waitresses after they have finished meals in a restaurant. If you refuse to give tips, they will be unhappy because tips are a major source of their income.
On dinner tables, the most obvious difference is the choice of their table wares. Chinese people use chopsticks to pick rice and dishes, whereas western people cut food with forks. The thin and long chopsticks cannot be used to cut food, so we usually use our teeth to cut food. We hold the food, meat or vegetable, with chopsticks, deliver them to mouths, bite off part of it and keep the rest on the chopsticks. That is the usual and acceptable way we Chinese eat. But these habits may be deemed rude in western countries.

Among the tableware, knives and forks are two kinds of table wares with very long history in the west. With knife in one hand and the fork in the other, Westerners cut and put food into the mouth with the fork. This has become a daily habit of people when they are eating.
What Chinese people care about is the delicacy of food .They emphasize the idea of using some cooking skills to unite and harmonize the tastes of foods which have different natural properties, Chinese people value the similarity of different things. According to their traditional idea, they tend to seek the relationship between two different objects, and make them adapt to each other. So they value the unity of different tastes and they always try to put food of different natural properties into one. And food of different nature will achieve unification. Since the westerners believe in separation of the universe and human in their cultural spirit, they emphasize the form and structure and value hygiene and nutrition. They believe in separation of the universe and human world. Diet of balanced nutrient is the most important concern for them. But Chinese people consider it important to make the proper match of food out of a variety of raw materials. Cooking of different raw materials achieves a unified good taste and nice flavor. Chinese way of cooking is not only to meet the physical needs but also to satisfy the psychological and aesthetic needs. For example, the taste of crab lobster and sea fish is completely different. Westerners will not mix the tastes of them to prepare a dish. Therefore, understanding of Chinese dishes from a cultural perspective can help Westerners appreciate Chinese meals and accept Chinese table manners.
Having good table manners show respect and decency to others with whom you eat together. Chinese and western table manners have their own characteristics deeply rooted in their respective culture. Chinese table manners is the product of an agricultural society, reflecting collectivism and unity. In contrast, western table manners is the outcome of industrialized civilization, valuing individualism and independence.

Though table manners change over time, much remains and calls for our attention and compliance. As the saying goes, when in Rome, do as the Romans do.