Lesson Notes

Unlock In-Depth Explanations & Exclusive Takeaways with Printable Lesson Notes

Unlock Lesson Notes and Transcripts for every single lesson. Sign Up for a Free Lifetime Account and Get 7 Days of Premium Access.

Or sign up using Facebook
Already a Member?

Lesson Transcript

Amber: Welcome to Amber and Victor’s Chinese Buffet.
Victor: Ta-da! Our first show ever!
Amber: Yes! This show is the smorgasbord of Chinese cultural quirks. What do you think, Victor? News and…
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: Probably things you always wanted to know about China but had no idea even could possibly exist.
Victor: Yeah. A little bit of everything. That’s why we are calling it the ‘Buffet’.
Amber: Yes! You can also sort of pick and choose a different topic every week.
Victor: Right.
Amber: And this week, the topic we chose, because we think it’s very suitable considering the theme of Chinese Buffet. Very natural thing to start with.
Victor: Food is also big topic in China always. So, today we give you the Do’s and Don’ts in China - table manners.
Amber: That’s right. Do’s and Don’ts.
Victor: Right. So, if you go to China, you’d discover that eating is a big part of the culture.
Amber: It’s huge. It’s very important.
Victor: Right. A lot of things happen over dinner tables and whatnots. You know, business meetings, people getting together.
Amber: Family get-togethers.
Victor: Right.
Amber: Almost everything. Every holiday we also have food, every social event. I find the way that Chinese socialize is with food.
Victor: Right.
Amber: So, you’re going to need to know some important things of what not to do when you sit at the table with your Chinese friends, also what you should do.
Victor: Right.
Amber: So, the Do’s and Don’ts.
Victor: Yeah. There are some table manners that are quite different than in the west.
Amber: Yes! So, the biggest no-no is the one I think we should start with, Victor. It’s a mistake that I can say a lot of people… for some reason, we tend to do this as foreigners.
Victor: From personal experience for you…
Amber: Yes! Yes! Which is sticking the chopsticks into your rice. It sounds so innocuous. What could be wrong with that? You got to put them somewhere. The table might be slightly dirty or sticky. Where else you’re going to put them?
Victor: Okay. So, the story behind this is that this is something you do at a funeral.
Amber: Every huge ‘don’t’ in Chinese culture, we will tell you right now, always has to do with death.
Victor: Right. So, when you try to offer the rice to the spirit of the deceased person…
Amber: Yes.
Victor: You put the rice bowl in front of their picture or whatnot and you stick the chopsticks in the rice bowl. Right.
Amber: So, it’s easier for them to eat, or something?
Victor: Not sure but this is what they do
Amber: It’s good enough for the dead people. Isn’t it good enough for us? We can’t do it? Okay. Just a big don’t. Don’t put the chopsticks in the rice.
Victor: Right. Like Amber said, a lot of the social taboos in China have something toward death. Usually, the topic of death is avoided socially. People don’t like to talk about it because it kind of makes them feel uncomfortable.
Amber: Right. Okay, this leads us to talking about social taboos. Here is one you don’t want to do maybe anywhere, but especially at the table.
Victor: Don’t blow your noses.
Amber: Now, Victor, this… please elaborate because I have seen people like spit and like everything else. That’s okay but you can’t blow your nose in a tissue?
Victor: Not in public. Usually, I think a lot of Americans… because you know, in the west, people kind of do it and in sometimes even at the dinner table and it’s considered kind of okay. But in China, not so much. People find it very…
Amber: Very traumatized.
Victor: People find it very disgusting. Yeah. So, if you need to blow your…
Amber: I mean, it is kind of disgusting but sometimes you got to do it.
Victor: Right. So, if you had to do that in China not just over a meal, anywhere, try at least to find privacy.
Amber: Don’t blow your nose over a meal.
Victor: Right, right. Especially not over a meal.
Amber: I think it’s a good tactic anywhere but yeah, I kind of subscribe to that one.
Victor: Right.
Amber: Okay. These are all these ‘don’ts’. Here is the ‘do’, Victor.
Victor: Yeah?
Amber: Chinese table manners. Now, this is in a restaurant, of course. Do yell for the waiter.
Victor: Right.
Amber: You have to.
Victor: Right.
Amber: So, how do you yell for the waiter?
Victor: It’s 服务员 (fúwùyuán).
Amber: Yes. And that is a very, very mellow version of what you’re going to have to really yell because it’s going to be pretty noisy.
Victor: 服务员 (fúwùyuán). Yeah, it’s part of the energy flow in the restaurant.
Amber: It is. Everyone’s yelling.
Victor: People are too loud and people are talking and whatnot. It’s more lively that way.
Amber: But I bring this up because in the west, if you yell “Waiter!” you’re probably not gonna get the best service. However, in China, if you don’t yell “waiter”, no one’s going to come.
Victor: Right. People don’t come to check on you as people do in the west. So, you kind of have to let them know what you need when you’re in a restaurant.
Amber: Yeah.
Victor: And here is another ‘do’. But, you should pay attention to: do wait until whoever is treating or the oldest person on the table takes the first bite.
Amber: Okay. Important! You do not want to make this faux pas.
Victor: Right. So, in China you will find that people pay more attention to social order.
Amber: Like rank or status or age or whatever.
Victor: Exactly. Yeah, the age means a lot more. So, if you’re treated to a restaurant or if you’re going to a big party where some people are older, then you’re always wait and you’ll see everybody else doing this too until the oldest person or whoever is treating you takes the first bite.
Amber: Hopefully, they have an appetite so they won’t wait too long or they don’t want to eat.
Victor: Right. Sometimes it is a problem for me because I also want to eat and they are always talking.
Amber: Yeah.
Victor: But I have to wait and so should you.
Amber: Very important.
Victor: So just wait.
Amber: Very important manners. Okay, here is another one. Don’t clear your plates all the way if you’re really full.
Victor: Right.
Amber: Now, what I mean is don’t eat everything on your plate, just to be polite.
Victor: Right.
Amber: Because actually that’s a signal to your Chinese host…
Victor: …that you want more food.
Amber: Yes! And you’re going to get more and more full the more you eat.
Victor: Yeah. Chinese people are very courteous. Especially they are treating you to a meal, they always want to make sure that the guests are comfortable and full.
Amber: Very hospitable.
Victor: Right. And without having to ask for extra food. So, they always kind of watch you and kind of anticipate what you need. So, give them a good sign if you’re full. No need to clear the plates. It’s okay to leave a little bit food on your plate.
Amber: Yeah. And another thing is that people will also try to put food on your plate as a sign of being a good host. Now, my question was, do you or don’t Victor? Do I put food on other people’s plates to be nice or is that kind of weird?
Victor: You don’t have to do that.
Amber: Would they think it’s weird if I suddenly did that?
Victor: This is something you should know – people will do that, especially older people as a sign of courtesy or trying to look after you or give you food. However, if you don’t do it, no one is going to find fault in that.
Amber: But there is one thing about being in China as well is you have to be less picky of an eater because the chances are the thing that they think is the best thing on the table, they’re going to give it to you and one of the thing you’d think as the worst thing on the table.
Victor: Right.
Amber: Like, maybe a bird’s head or something. Who knows? And you’re like “Don’t!”
Victor: Right. It’s not very polite to refuse either. So, what I do is leave on your plate. If you don’t want to eat it, just leave it. Eat a little bit and they will forget after a while.
Amber: They’ll be like, “Why does the foreigner’s plate have all these, like, body parts on it? They are like really diverse.” Okay. And this actually brings us to another ‘do’. Speaking of people putting food on your plates, do you put your own chopsticks into the Comino plate? Don’t get grossed out by it.
Victor: Right.
Amber: Because this is just the way it is.
Victor: That’s how Chinese people will eat.
Amber: Yeah. Yes.
Victor: It’s very collective and especially when you’re at the dinner table or a meal, it’s considered impolite to separate your own plate of food.
Amber: So, this is all really interesting. The other day in New York, my friend here was telling me her boyfriend’s mom is Chinese. And they went to a Chinese restaurant and the mom went over to the other tables even and asked the people if she could try their food before they ordered.
Victor: I bet the people were polite or really happy, right?
Amber: I know! Those people were like, “Sure!” Taking your own chopsticks is like digging in. So, yeah. You could see that this is okay and you’re just going to have to get used to it.
Victor: Right. Sharing is very important.
Amber: It’s not good for your immune system you know, some things.
Victor: But yeah, that’s a very collective community feeling so be sure to participate.
Amber: Yeah. Now, here is another thing about restaurants. Don’t try and order your own dish when you sit down on the table. Don’t be like, full of many like, “Can I have this?” No, it doesn’t work like that.
Victor: From personal experience, Amber?
Amber: Yes. No, you can’t have your own dish. You got to share. Plus, you wouldn’t really want to eat the whole plate like pork or something.
Victor: It’s all about sharing once you get it.
Amber: Sharing. And generally, the person who invites you to the meal, they will do the ordering for you. So, you just have to surrender. Sit back and relax.
Victor: Right. Don’t try to construct a very balanced meal with soups and meats and things like that.
Amber: Victor is highly skilled at this, I have to say. Master order.
Victor: Another thing in China – don’t tip.
Amber: Don’t tip!
Victor: Right.
Amber: Hey, is it good news? I don’t know if it’s good or bad because the service may suffer a little bit. But, you really don’t tip. People won’t know what to do with it.
Victor: Yeah. The waiters are paid by monthly wages or whatever so their wage does not come from the customers.
Amber: Yeah. There is no tipping culture in China so you don’t have to tip.
Victor: If you do tip, people might seem a little confused.
Amber: Yeah. And here is one more kind of about paying for the meal as well. Do treat people to a meal or let yourself be treated.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: In China, no one ever splits up the bill.
Victor: It’s very rare. Very, very rare.
Amber: If you would… even I feel weird about it now because I’m so used to that. Just what you do is, if someone treats you and they pay, invite them next time.
Victor: Right. It’s more like I look after you, you look after me. The person in boundary is kind of like diminished in this way.
Amber: Yeah. Okay, and our last one for today. It’s a ‘do’ and a ‘don’t’, and it’s something to do with eating manners but more related which is the drinking manners.
Victor: Yeah. Chinese people love to drink, especially the Baijiu which is the white rice wine.
Amber: Just to give you a hard ‘do’ and ‘don’t’.
Victor: When someone make a toast to you, do drink the whole thing.
Amber: Yes, down it. Everyone else will be… many, many times. But I will say maybe… actually, don’t drink it. There were many times I pretended.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: You could just play dumb. Pretend you don’t understand.
Victor: Pretend you don’t know this rule.
Amber: Yeah. It’s just that I couldn’t stand the taste of it. Everyone could go out and try it and see. Maybe they want to down the whole glass.
Victor: Yeah, something you have to try.
Amber: Scary.
Victor: It’s like the Chinese version of vodka.
Amber: Right. Okay, so those were the few of the Do’s and Don’ts of Chinese table manners. If anybody else have some of their own they want to share, they can come to the website at chineseclass101.com and share your Do’s and Don’ts of Chinese table manners or your funny experiences.
Victor: Yeah. And that’s it for our first show of Chinese Buffet.
Amber: Yes! We’ll see you next time for another dish of the Chinese Buffet.
Victor: See you next time.
Amber: 再见 (zàijiàn)
Victor: Bye.