Chopstick Etiquette

As one of our gift ideas, I wrote that our bowl sets with chopstick notches are great for those friends you may have who insist that you do not stick your chopsticks in your food when taking a break from eating.  You have a predetermined notch on which you can rest your chopsticks.  So I thought it would be a good idea to explain why sticking your chopsticks in your food is considered rude.

Bowl & Chopstick Set of 2 - complete with notches to hold your chopsticks! Fashion or Function? Why, YES!

Did you know there is an etiquette to using chopsticks?  And it’s different in each culture where one uses chopsticks so there’s a lot of thinking involved….  There are little ones I have heard of, such as not crossing the chopsticks, not sticking them in your food, not tapping them like drumsticks.  Please don’t tap them like drumsticks.  Unless you are Roger Taylor (I think I just gave away my age).

So I’ve researched a few and I have some links if you’d like to see some good ones but I’m going to copy the Wikipedia etiquette list since it is the most concise and I thought it would be interesting to throw in the Korean and Chinese etiquette when it comes to chopsticks too.  I’ve literally copied and pasted it so take it up with Wikipedia if you don’t agree with these!

Japanese etiquette

  • Food should not be transferred from one’s own chopsticks to someone else’s chopsticks. Japanese people will always offer their plate to transfer it directly, or pass a person’s plate along if the distance is great. Transferring directly with chopsticks is how bones are passed as part of Japanese funeral rites.
  • The pointed ends of the chopsticks should be placed on a chopstick rest when the chopsticks are not being used. However, when a chopstick rest is not available as it is often the case in restaurants using waribashi (disposable chopsticks), a person may make a chopstick rest by folding the paper case that contained the chopsticks.
  • Reversing chopsticks to use the opposite clean end is commonly used to move food from a communal plate, although it is not considered to be proper manners.Rather, the group should ask for extra chopsticks to transfer food from a communal plate.
  • Chopsticks should not be crossed on a table, as this symbolizes death, or vertically stuck in the rice, which is done during a funeral.
  • It is rude to rub wooden chopsticks together after breaking them apart, as this communicates to the host that the user thinks the chopsticks are cheap.
  • Chopsticks should be placed right-left direction; the tips should be on the left. Placing diagonal, vertical and crossing each stick are not acceptable both in home and restaurant manners.
  • In formal use, disposable chopsticks (waribashi) should be replaced into the wrapper at the end of a meal.

Chinese etiquette

  • In Chinese culture, it is normal to hold the rice bowl—rice in China is rarely served on a plate—up to one’s mouth and use chopsticks to push rice directly into the mouth.
  • It is acceptable to transfer food to closely related people (e.g. grandparents, parents, spouse, children, or significant others) if they are having difficulty picking up the food. Also it is a sign of respect to pass food to the elderly first before the dinner starts.
  • It is poor etiquette to tap chopsticks on the edge of one’s bowl, as beggars are believed to make this noise to attract attention.
  • It is impolite to spear food with a chopstick, unless the food is difficult to handle, such as fishballs.
  • It is considered poor etiquette to point rested chopsticks towards others seated at the table.
  • Chopsticks should not be left vertically stuck into a bowl of rice because it resembles the ritual of incense-burning that symbolizes “feeding” the dead and death in general.
  • Holding chopsticks incorrectly will reflect badly on a child’s parents, who have the responsibility of teaching their children.
  • Serving chopsticks (公筷, “community-use chopsticks”) are used to take food from serving dishes. These chopsticks are to be returned to the dishes after one has served oneself, and are often a different colour from individuals’ chopsticks.

Korean etiquette

In Korea, chopsticks are paired with a spoon, and there are conventions for how these are used together.

  • The elders pick up the utensils first, then the younger ones do.
  • It is considered uncultured and rude to pick up a dish or a bowl to bring it closer to one’s mouth, and eat its content with chopsticks (except certain noodle dishes like naengmyeon). Dishes are to be left on the table at all times, and a spoon is used alongside chopsticks, if the food lifted “drips”. This is in stark contrast to Chinese and Japanese convention, which lifts up the rice bowl, often to the mouth.
  • When laying chopsticks down on the table next to a spoon, one must never put the chopsticks to the left of the spoon. Chopsticks are only laid to the left during the food preparation for the funeral or the memorial service for the deceased family members, known as jesa.
  • It is rude to use the same hand to hold both chopsticks and a spoon at the same time and laying the spoon down on the table while one uses chopsticks.
  • Use a spoon to eat soup, stew and liquid side dishes, and chopsticks for solid side dishes. Either may be used for eating rice.

Here are some links to fun sites that elaborate on Chopstick Etiquette:

Just Hungry where it really needed to be said:  don’t stick your chopsticks up your nose.  very gauche.

All About Teaching English in Japan has a succinct list that includes a very important one – there is no 2 second rule when it comes to dropping your chopsticks on the floor.  Please, people, that’s gross.

What Japan Thinks – that features a fun poll about chopstick etiquette.

So, now you know.  And knowing is half the battle.

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