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A Tale of Two Etiquettes

Submitted by on May 14, 2009 – 3:29 amNo Comment

To not look like a fool while dining in America and Europe you have to know your etiquette.  This includes knowing the array of tools that will be placed before you.  First is the linen napkin, then salad fork, dinner fork, butter knife, steak knife, and dessert spoon surrounding your porcelain plate.  Of course, you must use all the these utensils in the correct order (usually work outside in to be safe).

Before you even touch your food, a number of customs must be observed.  You will look like a greedy pig if you scoop food into your mouth while others have to wait.  So, even if that food is right under your nose, wait for 1/2 to 2/3 of your table to be served before you dig in.  And, don’t forget to consult with your etiquette expert on how to hold and use your utensils. You don’t want to look like a crazy lumber jack with that steak knife now, do you?
So, when it comes to eating right at many Western dinner tables, it is important for you to prove your not an uneducated glutton by adhering to these rules. But what are the rules in Hong Kong or even in Chinese American households?  Let my mistakes in Chinese – Cantonese etiquette be a guide to you!
First, it’s all about the chopsticks.  You may be an expert with the little wooden sticks at Panda Express, but the longer, thicker plastic sticks are a different beast all together.  One important tip, is NOT to hold the sticks close to the food-grabbing end, hold them at the far end.  The distance gives you more leverage, but position is not all, yes, you must practice with slippery tofu and tinny peanuts.  It will take a number of dumpling crashes into the pool of soy sauce on your plate before you really get the hang of it! If you are really uncoordinated, you may want to invest in some training chopsticks.
Also, dont’ be surprised when you get a little rice bowl along with your plate. You might not get a plate at all at some places–only your personal bowl.  I made the Western mistake of keeping my bowl on the table while clumsily trying to get rice all the way up to my mouth.  After observing me my novice way of eating, future mother-in-law declared, “Ayy Ya! You do not go to your food, you bring the food to you.”  She picked up the little rice bowl for me and held it to my face.  Yes, that’s the right way, stick that bowl in your face and shovel that rice in.
So the next time you visit Mrs. Chan’s home or stroll down to your local Chinatown, you’ll look like a true chopstick savant!

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