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ref:topbtw-1494.html/ 25 Dicembre 2018/A

L'educazione..a tavola..
Politeness at the Chinese table

Cina: da un posto qualsiasi..

Much like in Italy, China has a very strong culture when it comes to food, from unique recipes to family traditions to the routinely preparation of food.

As the Chinese New Year inches closer and closer on February 5th, I'll be doing a two-article series on the Chinese New Year.

This month, I'll be writing about politeness at a Chinese meal.

As you approach the meal table, especially if eating out, make sure to let the eldest sit first.

A long-lasting way in China, the eldest individual at the table is treated with greatest respect, usually facing the door.

The others all sit around them, and the person of less importance (no offense if it is you, of course) is seated back-to-the-door, for the simple reason that it is the worst seat as you cannot see what's coming.

If you are a guest they won't seat you there, but it is a possibility to keep in mind.

The best rule is to copy people of around your age.

When ordering at a restaurant or serving food at a home-made meal, it is likely there will be way more food than necessary.

The major difference from Italy is that in China, leaving food on your plate is actually a form of politeness.

When you don't finish eating it means that the host has treated you well and that you are very full.

The trick is to leave some extra food on your plate, either for the reason above (that you are genuinely full) or that you don't really like the food you're eating and would rather sit out until some better food comes.

When a new dish of food arrives, it is best not to be the first to eat it. Wait until the eldest (again) takes the first bite out of respect, and then you can start serving yourself.

As Chinese dinners are displayed in a buffet-form with individual bowls of soup or rice and the meats and vegetables placed at the center of the table, it is important you keep track of who ate what.

Not in an obsessive way of course, but just make sure you aren't the first or last eater unless someone invites you to do so.

When this happens, it is best to politely refuse and ask them to eat first.

If they insist, thank them and take a small bite, then compliment the food.
Another point when dealing with dishes is that if there's a plate with multiple foods on top of each other and what you want is underneath something you don't like, don't sift/dig through the food, as it is associated with digging a grave.
Just take some from the top and then the one you want.
You leave the part you don't like on the plate, which will support my first point about leaving food.

Superstitions : Link a

also play a part in meals with others.

When eating out in large groups of people, it is common that the table has a rotating glass circle at the center where the food is put, and it is called 'Lazy Susan' (I know: weird name).

Sometimes the rotation is automatic and to take something you may have to stop it with your hand, but sometimes it will be still and it's up to you to move it.

When rotating it, always turn it clockwise.

Also, when you eat rice never put the chopsticks straight-up into the bowl as if 'stabbing' it, because it's a simple of rudeness and bad luck:
lay them next to the plate instead.

Additionally, make sure not to lay your non chopstick-using hand on your lap, but simply lay it on the table.

Speaking of chopsticks:
yes, even if it is your first time at a Chinese meal, try your best to use them.

If you have no idea how to use them, then practice beforehand with two pencils or ask someone you know at the table.

Be sure to know the right way:
my grip for example is unusual and wrong, but because it becomes muscle memory, make sure to learn the right way
is a good video to practice with.

Of course, don't bang the chopsticks on the table as if drumming because it is viewed as childish or beggar-like.

Don't wave them around as you'd do with other utensils, don't use them as toothpicks or anything of the sort as you'd do with forks.

Going back to the central glass circle:
often there will be toasts in dinners when it is a special occasion.

But when people are too far to click cups, they will gently touch the Lazy Susan so it is as if they are touching glass.

Then there are toasts to events, where everyone touches the glass circle, or to a couple for example.

When this happens, it isn't necessary for the couple to touch the circle because the toast is for them. When someone toasts with alcohol and shout the phrase 'gan bei', it means 'dry cup', meaning you have to gulp it all down in one go.

When this happens, it is best to just say 'gan bei' in chorus with the others, drink the drink and relax.

People may re-fill your glass immediately, but there is no pressure to drink.

And finally, at the end of a restaurant dinner, if you are with people you don't know the bill will be split, but usually it is paid by the hosts, and tips are usually not included.

Now, I know all these rules must seem overwhelming, but remember that most of these are common sense, and are simply worth mentioning so you can pay attention to what is happening around you.

Don't let these notes and suggestions keep you from enjoying a Chinese dinner with other people, otherwise it won't be worth it.

Most of the time, things just work out on their own and you can relax, trust me.

Chinese are not offended by small things and they are a very helping and welcoming people:
asking or even just imitating someone beside you will ensure no large problems will arise.

Enjoy your meal, and make sure to check out my article next month, also on the Chinese New Year!

Cortesia di L.B.

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