Mike Cairnduff from Hello Teacher!

Updated November 16, 2018
By Mike Cairnduff

How to use chopsticks

Although Chinese people tend to be forgiving if you’re unfamiliar with their customs, they will appreciate you trying to follow some basic table manners and food etiquette.

When you’re invited to someone’s home for a meal, knowing how to use chopsticks at the dinner table is particularly important. Proper use of chopsticks is regarded as a sign of respect to the host and will make a favorable impression.

Not sure if you’re using chopsticks the ‘right’ way? Read the following 11 tips and you’ll be eating Chinese food like a pro in no time!

1. Hold your rice bowl up to your lips and use your chopsticks to push rice directly into your mouth. Put your left hand under the base of the bowl.

2. Never point your chopsticks at another person. This is considered an insult and a major breach of etiquette.

3. You should pass food from the main dishes to any elderly people first; this gesture shows respect for them. You may also see Chinese people transferring food from the main dishes to their close relatives, including children who are having difficulty reaching their food.

4. Chopsticks should not be used to draw attention or to gesticulate. Never wave your chopsticks at other diners or use them to make a point. It’s regarded as bad manners.

5. Don’t use your chopsticks to move bowls or plates, and never tap them on the edge of your bowl either (beggars do this to attract attention!).

6. Never use your chopsticks to dig for food in the common dish. Instead, use the communal chopsticks or spoons provided for this purpose and always help yourself to the food nearest to you. Never eat with the communal chopsticks or utensils.

7. Stabbing food with your chopsticks is considered ill-mannered and should be avoided.

8. Sucking your chopsticks is another no-no.

9. For food containing bones, such as chicken, hold the food with your chopsticks and eat around the bone. Other portions that are too big to eat can also be eaten in bites this way. Fortunately, most Chinese food is cut into small pieces.

10. If you need to rest your chopsticks, leave them on the chopstick rest or by the side of your bowl or plate. When you have finished eating, place your chopsticks on the chopstick rest or on the table. Don’t place your chopsticks across the top of your bowl. It’s considered poor etiquette to point rested chopsticks towards others seated at the table.

11. Chopsticks should never be left vertically stuck into a bowl of rice because they resemble incense sticks used in remembrance of people who have died.

If you realize you’ve made a mistake, quickly apologize and move on. Acknowledging the difference between Chinese and Western food etiquette may even provide an interesting talking point!

Do you have any of your own advice regarding how to use chopsticks? We'd love to know! Please comment below.

This list is an excerpt from ‘Eating Asian and Middle Eastern Food’ in A Guide to Australian Etiquette (2011) by Ita Buttrose.

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