Dining plays the central role in Chinese culture, from a simple street-side breakfast jian bing to loaded lazy Susan’s once evening comes around. Because to be social in China is to eat – no wonder then, that a traditional way to say hello takes the form of asking “have you eaten yet?”
As an expat – ganbei-ing aside – having insider knowledge of what to do and what not to do around the table will go a long way to raising your guanxi stock fast and generally help you feel at home.
As the old saying goes, when in Shanghai, do as the, erm, Romans do. Or something like that.
The way of tea
While brewing and serving tea is wrapped in complexity, with a meal, tea etiquette is a basic starting point to become oriented with traditions on this side of the world.
Basically, make sure cups stay full and always pour for others first, even if you’re the guest. And it’s the elder members of the table who are always – always – the most important.
As a rule of thumb, once you can pick up a peanut with chopsticks, you’re there. But practiced or not, don’t treat them as a toy, pointing at this or that, waving them in the air. Like you just don’t care. Don’t go rummaging through a dish with them either, trying to hog the best bit for yourself. You’ll be seen as the treasure hoarder that you are. Shame on you.
And never, ever, ever stab your ‘sticks into your rice, leaving them standing up on their own. You’ll be reminding everyone of the incense sticks burnt during funeral ceremonies. And that can be a bit of a conversation killer.
Leave whatever you thought about pasta at the door. Symbolizing the longevity of life, long soupy noodles are a mainstay of birthday meals, enjoyed yearly to bring good fortune. And slurping, instead of biting, is most definitely the order of the day. In fact, making as much noise as possible is no bad thing at all.
A delicacy of coastal regions and the Pearl River Delta, a word of warning – fish are most often served whole, bones, head and more included. Don’t let that put you off though – the bones lend a much richer, meatier flavor. Just be sure not to choke.
At a Chinese banquet, getting tipsy means everyone’s having a good time. But be careful: if you’re the curiosity, you’ll find literally everyone wanting to fill your glass and drink with you. With weak Chinese beer you might just be OK. If it’s baijiu that’s being forced upon you – that powerful Chinese spirit – you might want to make sure you have someone to help you get home… The word to look out for? Ganbei – literally, ‘dry glass’!
The first time you witness a ferocious shouting match in a Chinese restaurant, it can come as quite a shock. But fear not, fisticuffs are unlikely to ensue. It’s more likely that this is a playful game, arguing over who’s going to pick up the tab. It’s an honor, you see, to shell out the dough. By all means get involved, but keep in mind that anyone asking you to dinner probably also intends to pay. And you surely don’t want to offend them?
Contributed by FIELDS (www.fieldschina.com), a popular online grocery store for safe, quality food in China. FIELDS stocks fresh and organic fruit and veg, imported and domestic meat and seafood, plus essential pantry items from home. Order before 5 pm in Shanghai and benefit from same day delivery with delivery free for orders over RMB 200. A new customer? Great – you’ll receive a free gift with your first order!
Plus up until 14 September enjoy big savings in their Buy 1 Get Another 1 For RMB1 Promotion, with new products on offer each week.
And if you’re free on Saturday 3 September from 10:00-19:00, come meet, mingle and eat with people just like you! Find out more…