Chinese Dining Etiquette Guide: 8 Do’s and Don’ts

A table loaded with Peking duck and all the trimmings.

The food is on the table, but can you eat it without being rude? (Image: Alexander Shalamov via Dreamstime)

Chinese dining etiquette is quite strict. From saying “please” and “thank you” to politely waiting for someone to finish speaking instead of cutting them off in the middle of a sentence, having good manners is essential for the functioning of a civil society. But what do you do when dining with friends or potential business partners who are Chinese? If you are feeling nervous about all the rules and taboos in Chinese dining etiquette, don’t worry! Here are eight tips that can help you do the right thing at the table.

Chinese dining etiquette tips

1. Don’t tap your foot

Tapping your foot is not only considered rude, but it also indicates poverty in Chinese feng shui. One who taps his foot suggests he’s constantly in a non-steady state, which is thought to be bad for collecting wealth in feng shui.

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Cartoon drawing of an Asian man tapping his foot in violation of Chinese dining etiquette.
Tapping your foot indicates poverty according to Chinese feng shui. (Image: via Secret China)

There’s even a folk saying: “A man tapping his foot is poor, and a woman tapping her foot is indecent.” Therefore, tapping your foot at the table is impolite.

2. Don’t stick chopsticks straight up in rice

Sticking chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice is a traditional way used by Chinese people to venerate their ancestors. It symbolizes death and is considered bad luck.

3. Don’t tap your bowl with chopsticks

Beggars at one time tapped their bowls to attract attention, and sometimes in a restaurant customers do the same thing if they think the service is slow. So tapping your bowl can insult your host.

4. Be careful when asking for seconds

If you are learning Chinese, it can be fun to practice it while enjoying delicious food. But be careful when you ask for second helpings in Chinese, because “need rice/want rice” is usually translated to 要飯 (“yào fàn“), which also refers to “begging for food.”

Cartoon of someone with a bowl of rice in hand.
If you don’t choose your words wisely, asking for a second helping of rice can make it sound like you’re begging for food! (Image: via Secret China)

5. Eat with your mouth closed

Not just in China, people in other countries get annoyed by the sound of someone eating with his mouth open. In dining etiquette, this is not only unbecoming, but it also bothers people nearby. The same rule applies to drinking tea, soup, and various beverages. Slurping is considered rude.

6. Don’t start eating before your host

In China, guests usually wait until their hosts take the first bite, or invite everyone to start eating. Sometimes the hosts will begin banquets by first serving the guests of honor, and asking everyone else to help themselves. Children need to wait until adults begin to eat.

7. Serve someone else first before you serve yourself

If you serve yourself first you will be considered very rude, and don’t know about manners. So when you want another helping or to refill your drink, offer it to other guests first.

Asian cartoon character carrying an empty bowl.
You will be considered rude if you don’t offer to serve someone else before serving yourself. (Image: via Secret China)

If someone is in a conversation, don’t interrupt but just go ahead and pour the drink into his cup.

8. Don’t leave your hand under the table

Don’t rest your hand under the table, or out of sight. The same etiquette rule is followed in Russia and Spain.

Table manners are more than just learning how to use chopsticks. Besides the eight tips listed above, the video below gives you more dining etiquette rules including where to sit to show your respect to your host or guest of honor, how to order, how to pour tea and show gratitude, and how to eat fish.

If you master these basic tips you’ll be sure not only to impress your Chinese friends and acquaintances by following proper Chinese dining etiquette, but you’ll also make your mother proud!

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