Chinese Business Etiquette – The Seven Rules of Chopsticks

With more and more businesses and investors flocking to China to try and boost falling revenues back home, there is likely to be a huge increase in business lunches. While these are generally informal affairs, business discussion is considered to be off the menu (as it were) during social occasions, it’s important to understand how to use your chopsticks so you don’t offend your Chinese partners. Here are seven simple rules to keep you on track.

Keep Your Chopsticks Even

When you place your sticks down by the side of your plate or bowl there is a little holder designed to keep them from rolling around on the table. You should ensure that you lay them down evenly with no overlap on either end on this holder. Why? Apparently because this reminds the Chinese of the shape of a coffin and nobody wants death at the dinner table outside of an Agatha Christie novel.

Don’t Stick Your Forefinger Out

The correct way to hold your chopsticks is to use your thumb and forefinger to secure them and then three fingers placed down the side to control them. If your forefinger ends up sticking out it reminds the locals of being scolded and it’s considered very rude. As an additional point here it’s also rude to point at someone with your chopsticks too.

Don’t Knock Them Against the Bowl

This is really rude; when beggars approach people on the street in China they knock their fingers against the begging bowl to attract attention. The gesture is deeply offensive and a great way to ruin a budding relationship with your Chinese partners.

Don’t Leave Chopsticks Stuck in Dishes

Perhaps the most unforgivable moment of rudeness is to insert your sticks into the dish and leave them standing up, it’s the equivalent of showing some the middle finger back home. Always place them by the side of the dish when you’re not using them to eat with.

Don’t Pass the Rice with Serving Chopsticks Stuck in It

Again take the sticks out and pass them separately from the plate, it might seem like a great time saver but it reminds the Chinese of incense being burned at funerals and the whole death taboo comes back into play.

Don’t Cross the Streams

Side-by-side evenly is how you put down your sticks, that’s what the little holder is for. If you cross them over you are essentially asserting that you think your dinner companion is wrong (about whatever they are currently talking about). It’s similar to the little red cross left in school books and a bit of a sore subject for locals.

Don’t Drop Them on the Floor

This one is shrouded in the historical belief that Chinese ancestors live beneath us and by dropping your utensils on the floor you will upset their spirits. If you do drop them by accident, apologise immediately. Never do it on purpose.

While these are the general rules of conduct when dining in China, it’s worth noting that some areas or families may have other important customs. It’s best to pay attention to your host and follow their lead to avoid offense.