Chopstick etiquettes: the do’s and don’t

When Europeans first saw chopsticks, they were probably very puzzled: What is this? Can these two sticks be used as tableware? Compared to regular cutlery, using chopstick isn’t the easiest way, right? Especially, because they need to be held a certain way, but just see it as a yoga practice for your fingers.  

However, the Chinese use this cutlery for a reason. They reflect the Chinese culture and – as many Chinese habits do – to the royals. A book written in the Shang Dynasty (c.1700 1045 B.C.), tells us that King Zhou got food served to him using a jade hairpin, which can be considered as the base for the chopsticks we know now. Also, there’s a story behind the shape. The round end of the stick symbolizes a circle, which stands for heaven in the traditional Chinese culture, while the square end symbolizes the earth. This is the ancient Chinese understanding of the natural world, because ancient Chinese people believe that the heaven is circle and the earth is square.

Although, many Europeans have gotten used to eating Asian food with chopsticks, there’s lots of taboos that must be avoided to counter embarrassment. Want to become a chopstick-pro? Read about the do’s and don’ts:

First of all, do not set the table or eat with chopsticks of different lengths. This will remind people of a Chinese idiom “three long and two short”, which is used as another name for coffin (because a coffin without a lid is composed of five planks, three long, and two short). Therefore, it’s considered extremely unlucky.

Second, do not bite on the chopsticks, or make noise by sucking on them. This kind of behavior is seen as cheap and rude by the Chinese, because of the unpleasant sounds that are created by doing this. Eating gracefully is the way to go.

Third, although it might be fun to do, do not drum dishes with chopsticks. This is considered beggars’ behavior, as in the past beggars used chopsticks to beat rice pots to ask for food. Combined with their crying sounds, this way the way to get the attention from people walking by. Therefore, this practice is regarded as extremely cheap and despised by people.

Fourth, do not use chopsticks to move food around on the plate to keep searching for ingredients you like best. The Chinese see this practice as ‘digging a grave’, which makes them feel disgusted while eating. The correct way is to first look at the food you wish to eat first, and then immediately go get it.

Fifth, do not insert chopsticks vertically into the bowl. This has another reference to death, because of the Chinese tradition to insert incense this way into the sand when the dead are worshipped. Not something you want to think about while having a lovely dinner, right?

Sixth, do not rest the chopsticks on the table crisscrossed. In Chinese culture, crossing is seen as negative, linked to the sign used when grading papers that primacy school students receive for a wrong answer.

Seventh, do not point at others with chopsticks. This is considered impolite. Generally speaking, pointing at others means criticizing. Therefore, it’s not done.

Eighth, do not use chopsticks upside down. Always use the round, thinner end to grab your food. Using it the other way around, stands for being so hungry that you just want to get food in your mouth paying no regards to basic dinner etiquettes.  

After all this learning, it’s time to end the article with a fun fact! Chopsticks are called ‘Kuaizi’ in China, which means having a child as soon as possible. Therefore, chopsticks are often used as wedding gifts, to bless the newlyweds to have a baby soon.

Now, it’s time to invite your friends for dinner and show off your skills!

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