The Definitive Guide to Chopsticks Etiquette Around the World

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Worldwide Chopsticks Etiquette

Chopsticks are used in many parts of the world. While principles of etiquette are similar, finer points can differ from region to region. Very generally, chopsticks etiquette is reminiscent of Western etiquette regarding eating utensils. A few guidelines stand out as advice for good manners everywhere:

Chopsticks are not used to make noise, to draw attention, or to gesticulate. Playing with chopsticks is considered bad mannered and vulgar (just as playing with cutlery in a Western environment would be deemed rude).

Chopsticks should not be used to dig round the food looking for a particular morsel, which is known as "digging your grave."

Chopsticks are not used to move bowls or plates.

Chopsticks are not used to toy with one's food or with dishes in common.

Chopsticks are not used to impale food, save in rare instances. Exceptions include tearing large food items asunder, such as vegetables and kimchi. In informal use, small, difficult-to-pick-up items such as cherry tomatoes or fish-balls may be lanced, but this use is frowned upon by traditionalists.

Chopsticks should not be left standing vertically in a bowl of rice or other food. Any pair of stick-like objects pointed upward resembles the incense sticks that some Asians use as offerings to deceased family members; certain funerary rites designate offerings of food to the dead using standing chopsticks.

Cultures have their own unique chopstick etiquette, superstitions and taboos. Following are some highlights.

Chinese Chopsticks Etiquette

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 or shovel the 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. Often, family members will transfer a choice piece of food from their plate to a relative's plate as a sign of caring.

It is poor etiquette to tap chopsticks on the edge of one's bowl; at one time, beggars made this sort of noise to attract attention.

It is impolite to spear food with a chopstick. Anything too difficult to be handled with chopsticks is traditionally eaten with a spoon.
It is unacceptable 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.

Traditionally, everyone use his own chopsticks to take food from the dishes to his own bowl, or to pass food from the dishes to the elders' or guests' bowls. Today, serving chopsticks (??, "community-use chopsticks") are used. These are used to take food directly from serving dishes; they are returned to the dishes after one has served oneself.

When seated for a meal, it is common custom to allow elders to take up their chopsticks before anyone else.

Chopsticks should not be used upside-down; it is "acceptable" to use them 'backwards' to stir or transfer the dish to another plate (if the person does not intend to eat it). This method is used only if there are no serving chopsticks.

One should not 'dig' or 'search' through one's food for something in particular. This is sometimes known as "digging one's grave" or "grave-digging" and is extremely poor form.
Resting chopsticks at the top of the bowl means "I've finished".

Resting chopsticks on the side of one's bowl or on a chopstick stand signifies one is merely taking a break from eating.

Japanese Chop Stick 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.[citation needed] 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 (wari-bashi) should be replaced into the wrapper at the end of a meal.

Korean Chopstick 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). A spoon is used with chopsticks, if the food lifted "drips". This is in stark contrast to Chinese and Japanese convention.

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.

Use a spoon to eat soup, stew and liquid side dishes, and chopsticks for solid side dishes. Either may be used for eating rice.

Vietnamese Chop Sticks Etiquette

As with Chinese etiquette, the rice bowl is raised to the mouth and the rice is pushed into the mouth using the chopsticks.

Unlike with Chinese dishes, it is also practical to use chopsticks to pick up rice in plates, such as fried rice.

One should not pick up food from the table and place it directly in the mouth. Food must be placed in your own bowl first.

Chopsticks should not be placed in the mouth while choosing food.

Chopsticks should never be placed in a "V" shape when done eating; it is interpreted as a bad omen.

Taiwanese Chopsticks Etiquette

Food should not be transferred between chopsticks. Food in need of transportation should be placed onto the recipient's plate or on a new plate for collection.

Using chopsticks like a knife and fork to cut soft foods into smaller portions for children is widely accepted.

Chopsticks should not be planted on the rice such that they stand up, as this resembles incense stuck in the ash of a censer and is thus connected with death.

Chopsticks should not be rested on the table but rather on a provided chopstick rest or lying across the rice bowl in a sideways fashion. Alternatively, they can be placed flat on the bowl when finished.

Chopsticks should not be bitten on, or linger in one's mouth for too long.

Chopsticks Etiquette Cup

We have a cute Japanese Etiquette Tea Cup with artwork showing the 10 chopstick etiquette taboos. It's a fun way to show your guests about Japanese chopstick etiquette. See it on EverythingChopsticks.com.

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