Chinese table "manners"...

OK, this is going to be a rather weak rant…

I am the only born-and-bred American in my group at work. Everyone else was born and raised in China, and emmigrated to the US no more than 15 years ago. There are loads of other folks from China in other groups, such that I think at least 40% of the people in my department are Mainland Chinese or Taiwanese.

The only difficulty I ever have in my group professionally is the language barrier. Only about half of my group are what I would call “fluent” in English, so sometimes group meetings and lab discussions can be pretty inefficient. If I could speak Mandarin, we’d be in great shape. Communication difficulties can be frustrating at times, but overall, I don’t really feel bothered.

Not many of my Chinese coworkers (some naturalized, some still on green cards) have much to do socially with people raised in the states, be they ABCs or whiteys like myself. There’s such an enormous Chinese community around here, it doesn’t seem there’s a whole lot of pressure to branch out. Plus, I can easily understand how being able to relax with friends who can speak your native language would be highly desireable, having spent time in countries where English speakers could be hard to find. A day of trying to communicate in a language you’re not fluent in can be exhausting. I personally think they’d do better to improve their English fluency, given how marketable that skill is, and how lack of fluency can impact upward mobility. But again, when your boss and half your coworkers speak fluent Mandarin, where’s the pressure?

I think this relative social isolation has helped the preservatio and perpetuation of some unique Chinese habits and mores long into their sojourn here. None of this bothers me in the slightest, except one thing: Table manners.

Or should I say, the complete lack thereof. I eat out in Chinatown fairly often, frequently as the only non-Chinese in the group. I have no problem with the “real” menu we get at these places, and I’ve gotten quite used to eating tendons and knuckles and other things the average European throws out in disgust.

But, man, a real Chinese sit-down dinner is a snuffling, snarfing, drooling, belching, picking, sucking, slurping, spitting free for all. The objective seems to be to shovel as much food into your mouth as possible, in the shortest amount of time (its quite a sight, the way some can make a bowl of rice vanich with just a pair of chopsticks and bursts of deep inhalation). There’s a lot of talking and laughing too. While eating, with mouths wide open, of course. A good guffaw can send half-chewed bits of rice and meat flying. I remember once talking to a guy who had stuffed an entire jumbo shrimp, shell and all, into his mouth, and was happily munching it while speaking to me. The head of the shrimp still stuck out of his mouth, and all those feelers and antennae were wiggling at me as he chewed and spoke; I swear I almost lost it. Perhaps my reaction threatened to turn into full-blown reverse peristalsis because my senses were also being overloaded by the guy next to me, who was making a noise with his soup roughly akin to the sound one could possibly make by rapidly drawing beef stew up their nose. Through a straw.

I guess I should feel flattered that I’m in on the true eating scene, but I guess the compliment is somewhat lost on me. Of course I appreciate getting exposed to foods I’d likely never see in my life without them, and I’m always happy to get invited out to eat by a friendly coworker. But then mealtime mosh-pit thing begins, and despite repeated exposure, I’m not getting any more used to it than before. In fact, I think I’m developing an increasingly intense feeling of uncontrollable revulsion. I look forward to eating by myself, or with friends who don’t make me so very privvy to the intimate details of what’s going on their faces when they consume their lunch. Am I turning into a culinary xeonphobe? I hope not. But I can’t deny it: I’ve developed what is at least considerable abivalence towards the experience of what appears to be customary Chinese table manners. It’s not exactly something I’d seek out anymore. Oh, hell, all right, it makes me wanna hurl! There, I said it. Bleech! Gack! I can’t take it anymore!

Well, if it makes you feel any better, I’m sure your Chinese co-workers cringe when they watch you eating with chop-sticks and Chinese style bowls and whatnot. North Americans are notoriously ham-fisted with such things.

No, no it doesn’t.

Man-o-man, do I feel your pain. My girlfriend is Chinese, though she’s effectively white-washed and speaks better English than Cantonese. Her table manners are pretty much what mine are, which is normal North American (or whatever you want to term it). Now, don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love her family, and they are truly wonderful to me despite the language barrier (I’m trying), but I can totally understand where you are coming from. We go to her parents’ place once a week, usually, and while the food is great, I don’t ever need to see another whole shrimp de-shelled in someone’s mouth ever again. And the talking with the mouth full of food is not too pleasant either.

My advice, if you aren’t married yet, is be careful about getting and Asian spouse, because if you have a hard time with this now, just wait until you have to go over to her parents’ place every week and interact over dinner. Either that or find something on the wall to stare at. Otherwise, you’ll probably start having to excuse yourself to go puke.

Try visiting China for a bit. The constant spitting – on sidewalks, buses, taxis, floors, walls, ceilings, and newborn babies – will distract you from the eating with the mouth open thing. It’ll be like shock therapy.

Have any of you guys been to the McDonalds or Burger King recently?
I went there recently and do not want to come back ever.

Well, I got that covered at least. I married the scion of Midwestern Lutheran Swedes, which has it’s own pitfalls, as I’m sure you can imagine; but at least the lutefisk only comes out once a year.

Oh, no, I just got a mental image of my coworkers eating a heaping plate of lutefisk…urgh…gotta…mrph…run

Man, can you paint with a wide enough brush??

Not all Chinese people are like what you see in your circle.

Just as not all of us Americans are crude, loudmouthed vulgar fatties.

In Hong Kong I worked for a company where I was the only westerner. One day I sat with my Chinese colleagues at lunch, and they were slurping and champing away with their mouths open - slightly offputting, but by this time I was used to it - when my boss kicked me under the table. “Your manners are so bad!” she admonished in a whisper. “You try to pick up rice with your chopsticks and it falls everywhere - you should bring the bowl to your mouth and scoop it in. And you are taking a spoonful from each dish and putting it all together in your bowl. This is disgusting! You should take food from one dish at a time and don’t take from another until you’ve finished it.”

So there you go - the slurping was perfectly polite, and I was offending people with my western ways. Different horses for different courses.

Did I not add enough qualifications??

“I’ve developed what is at least considerable abivalence towards the experience of what appears to be customary Chinese table manners.”

I never claimed any experience of all Chinese. But I know a good number. It’s not like they can’t eat with perfect European table manners if need be, but when they let it all hang out…hoo-boy, sometimes it literally is hanging out.


response was to elenia…

Well obviously. I mean, can’t it ever be assumed that a generalization is just that, and not intended as an absolute. Half of my friends are Chinese, and their table manners are fine. To be fair, they were raised here and are bananas more than anything, but still, I would never assume every Asian is poorly mannered at the board, just as I would never assume every American is a rude asshole (nor, in fact, are most).

Anyway, as jjimm notes, manners that seem bad to one side can be the height of refinement to another (though I will never get comfortable with the open-mouthed chewing and food bits spraying). So it’s not really an indictment of all Chinese people, but it is noteworthy.

Incidently, Loopydude, what exactly is Lutefisk? I had never heard of it before that episode of King of the Hill where Bobby eats it all and gets sick, but they never explained what it is.

Ok. You owe me my lunch back now. That’s just gross and disgusting. I mean, really a “heaping plate of lutefisk”? Guh!


Dried cod soaked in lye. It has the consistency of jello after it’s boiled or baked. And you eat it with butter, salt, and pepper.

God, it’s disgusting.


To be fair, there’s a grain of truth in the OP. Some Chinese eaters can be real pigs, and some can be as civil and sanitary and anyone in the west. I’ve seen enough Chinese meals of all kinds to admit that it’s not a case of the OP just happen to have disgusting co-workers.

My only issue with the OP might be in the use of the “Chinese” qualifier. I’ve eaten enough meals in western restaurants and seen the same kind of behavior that I’d say it transcends culture or nationality or location. Buffet restaurants are especially good at bringing out obnoxious eating habits.

Annoying Chinese diners? Check.
Annoying Western diners? Check.
Annoying diners in general, Check, check, and triple-check.

I am!! :smiley:

Hmmmm… now this is really strange. I can only think of one Chinese co-worker I’ve eaten lunch with but that was such an surreal experience that I started coming up with excuses why I couldn’t ever eat with him again. We’d gone to the company cafeteria, sat down and he then commenced to tearing his meal apart like a starved castaway. He freakin’ attacked his food, actually going down with his face to pick a piece of chicken off the plate like a pet from a foodbowl. I sat there stunned watching his display and looked around the room several times at others bearing like witness to the onslaught.

Still, I just figured it was him and not a cultural thing. Like others have said though I remember several of my culture (Western) to hedgehog a meal as well.

Sort of a Norwegian version of gefilte fish, if that helps.

Yes, we are! What? I mean, no, I’m not … I mean … Hey!!!

A while back I was in Beijing on a business trip and while the table manners of the people I was with was more casual than in the US, I certainly never saw bits of half-chewed food flying across the table … :dubious: Talking? Sure. Elbows on the table? You bet. Reaching across the table for things? Yep.

You’ve obviously just fallen in with a bunch of slobs. Not that I’m one to speak, mind you, but deal with it. :wally

“hedgehog a meal”? I really like this phrase, can you tell me what it means before I start using it will-nilly?
My noe second-favorite animal behavior comparison is “Mantling”, which is what birds of prey do when they are protecting their dinner. Humans will sometimes lean forward and sort-of cover their plates with their arms.