Weird Chinese Dinner Table Rules


Everyone has probably been to a Chinese restaurant or got a glimpse of how Chinese people eat through watching movie, TV shows, etc., right? Some of them have, in my opinion, very bad table manners like randomly stick chopsticks into a dish after putting it into their mouths or shoving rice into their mouths with chopsticks when there are better ways to eat rice like with a spoon.

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My paternal family is the same except they have a pesky set of weird rules all women and children have to follow at the table. I know, it feels so uncivilized! To this day, I can still remember those rules and I would like to share my top 5 with you.

  1. Only eat the dishes on your side in front of you. When I lived with my grandparents in China, we usually ate with my uncle, aunt, and cousin around a large round table. Usually we would have around 6 large dishes and usually, with my short arms, I can only reach 2 dishes max. This rule, I’ve always thought it stunk and was weird. What if you don’t like the dishes in front of you?

    What happens when you have this situation going on?

    What if you want to try the dishes on the other side? What do you do then? Fortunately, I never stayed with them long, just a few weeks at a time.

  2. Never pick anything off a dish. This rule is confusing, I know, I just don’t know how to sum it up. Basically, if say you spot a teeny slice of ginger on the fish and you don’t like ginger, you can’t just flick it from the fish before putting it on your plate. I know, that’s a snippy rule on my part but this rule actually goes with the next rule as well.
  3. Eat everything! You cannot be picky. This is the worst rule of all because it means if you hate a certain thing and you just so happens to have it on your plate, you’ll have to endure it and gulp it down. For me, it’s ginger, leeks and green onion.

    Eww…

    I guess I got that from mom’s side of the family because my mom hates green onion. On the other hand, dad’s side of the family love it. That’s a huge problem for me when I go to have dinner because green onions are everywhere. Ugh, it makes me sick just talking about it.

  4. Apparently, this rule does not apply to grandpa and uncle but no watching TV at the table. But the TV’s right there, you cannot not glance at the TV while eating. I remember when I did that, grandma gave me such a stern look, like I just committed a felony. But grandpa does it though because he is well, he’s grandpa. What I like about this rule though is that it actually makes us want to talk to each other, like a proper family meal.
  5. Which brings us to the final interesting rule, no getting up from the table until everyone finishes their meal. Yes, it’s ridiculous but I’m serious, no matter whether you’ve got a term paper due tomorrow and you need to go to finish it or how badly you need to go the bathroom, you can’t go! You can’t even say excuse me because it doesn’t exist in the Chinese language! (Excuse me = I’m sorry) Again, the only person allowed to walk back-and-forth between the TV and the table are grandpa and uncle because well they can, they’re male.

That’s why I like eating with mom’s family when I was living in China, they didn’t have all these weird rules and didn’t put green onion in any of the dishes!

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4 thoughts on “Weird Chinese Dinner Table Rules

  1. I never heard it’s a bad manner to shove the rice, it’s Korean who uses spoons. in our family and among all of our friends, their families etc. the leftover rice is pushed to the mouth with chopsticks. and believe me, my FIL is a Cantonese man so food is a serious deal in our house and I know even more crazy rules 🙂 if you’re curious you can read all those stuff in my older post: http://myhongkonghusband.com/2014/03/27/%E9%A4%90%E9%A3%B2%E7%A6%AE%E5%84%80-chinese-table-manners/ 🙂

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    • It’s not, it’s just in my opinion, that eating rice with spoon is a little more civilized than using chopsticks. Also I’ve seen some people that do not use chopsticks well and they end up making it look bad.

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