20 Things not to do with Chopsticks

Posted by Charlie @ Discovering Mandarin Sunday, 26 July 2009

This is a quick guide through the minefield that can be using chopsticks. This is a beginers guide to learning the do's and don'ts of Chinese chopstick etiquette. There are many types of Chopsticks which range from disposable wooden ones at Chinese take-aways and restaurants, Re-usable Bamboo Chopsticks right through to the higher standard, though harder to use Porcelain Chopsticks. You could also buy an entire chopstick set to get you started. The choice is yours, however the etiquette is fairly standard.

"Man who catch fly with chopstick accomplish anything." Mr. Miyagi

So here is Discovering Mandarins 20 Things not to do with Chopsticks:

Do not stick your chopsticks into your rice straight down. It resembles the incense that family members burn to mourn a dead relative. It also resembles an offering which is placed on the alter at an ancestral shrine.

2: Do not cross your chopsticks. In Chinese cultures, this is a symbol for death. Always lay them parallel to each other. When possible use Chopstick Rests .

Do not give food from your chopsticks directly to somebody other's chopsticks. Only at Buddhist funerals where the bones of the burned body are given in that way from person to person. Instead, place the food on an intermediary plate, preferably using a serving utensil or, if none is provided, turn your chopsticks around so the ends that have not been in your mouth touch the food, then give the plate to whomever.

4: Do not pick your teeth with your chopsticks, even if there is no toothpick where you dine. If you must pick your teeth in public, cover your mouth as it is seen as rude.

Chinese etiquette says that you may lift your personal rice bowl close to your mouth with one hand, as you use the chopsticks to push the rice into your mouth.

Do not hit the bowl or plate with your chopsticks. It was what beggars did in ancient China.

Do not point at people with your chopsticks, especially elders, or people of higher status than you.

Do not stick out fingers whilst using chopsticks, as a continuation of the rule above. It is considered rude to stick out our fingers whilst eating.

Do not rub chopsticks together. This is indicative of cheap chopsticks that splinter and is offending.

It is bad manners to wave your chopsticks around aimlessly over the food, trying to decide what to take next.

“Chopsticks are one of the reasons the Chinese never invented custard” Spike Milligan

11: Do not dig under food to get the best pieces. It is also considered bad manners to change the food you have selected after you have touched the food.

12: It is bad manners to spear food with the points of the chopsticks as if they were a fork.

13: It is bad manners to pull the dishes towards you using the chopsticks. Always pick the dishes up or move them by hand.

14: Do not lick, suck or nibble the ends of chopsticks.

15: Do not reach across another person with your chopsticks.

16: Do not eat food directly from the central plate; transfer it to your bowl first.

17: Do not eat with a broken or mismatched pair of chopsticks. If one chopstick does break or cannot be eaten with, take a new pair, not just one to replace it. The Chinese are very superstitious and like things in pairs.

18: Also do not use chopsticks as drumsticks, similar to the rule above, Chinese believe all good things come in twos. Therefore, by separating chopsticks between hands you are disturbing the peace.

19: Do not use chopsticks as hair accessories. The hair accessories are completely different from chopsticks meant for eating. You would look silly with an ornamental fork stuck in your hair...

20: Do not duel with chopsticks; again, they are for eating, and not fighting.

So you best get practising with your chopsticks and your newly learnt etiquette rules. Best of Luck and most of all enjoy your new chopstick eating experience.

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  1. Guus Says:
  2. haha, even though I'm living in Singapore and eating with chopsticks is a matter of survival, I didn't know all of these rules. But they do make sense!

    For those new to eating with chopsticks: fear not, the effort will be appreciated. It's not easy for most Chinese to eat with spoon & fork.

  3. I still struggle with chopsticks. Getting better each time I use them though.

    I think a lot of these rules are out of politeness and respect than anything else.

    Very much different from our culture around eating.

  4. Matthew Says:
  5. My wife doesn't seem to care if the chopsticks match--I think she enjoys having different colors together.

    As for #12, I've witnessed many Chinese spearing food that was difficult to pick up, like potatoes.

    You should also add, do not use chopsticks to impersonate a walrus.

  6. Matthew, thnks for your comments.

    Interesting regarding the colours and pairs, I think in general if one chopstick breaks, then you shouldnt use the other from that pair?

    Regarding #12 as far as I know; that rule is more to stop people that are starting to use chopsticks stabbing everything; including meat from soup etc.

    The walrus one would have been funny to have included. :D Great imagery.



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