When my brother returned from China, he gave me some very nice chopsticks as a gift. Makes sense, right? But then a waiter at a favorite sushi restaurant gave me chopsticks as a gift (we dine there frequently).
So, I’m curious. Does gifting chopsticks have any cultural meaning/significance?
When given to newlyweds, there is a symbolic intent to wish the couple fertility. In Chinese, the word for chopsticks is basically a homophone for a term meaning, “to come quickly,” or something in that neighborhood. (Translations are my strong suit.)
In your case, however, I think the symbolic intent is, “Hey, chopsticks are pretty cheap gifts.”
Hey, don’t be certain that low cost was the driving force. They’re also light and small. When I was travelling back from China that was the determining factor. Silk scarves were awesome. You could fit a dozen of them in a teacup.
We received two matching sets of chopsticks from a friend as a wedding gift, as well as matched wine glasses, coffee and tea cups, etc. from others. Probably fits in the catagory of setting up a house or, as I have been known to do, picking up a cheap souvenir. Chinese are known for their gold chains, but it doesn’t look like the brother brought back any of those.
Other chopstick notes. In Japanese households, each person has their own set of chopsticks.
Many Taiwanese will carry chopsticks around and will use them at lunch, rather than with those provided at the restaurant.
Taiwanese have soup quite often, and many people will drink directly from the bowl, using chopsticks to eat the solid food.
as a nitpick, slurping the noodles are OK in most cultures, but only some cultures let you slurp the broth. In Japanese culture you occasionally see people drinking the broth, but you ALWAYS see them slurp the noodles. This is done for several reasons (or at least, as it’s been explained to me). First and foremost, the noodles are hot, and the intake of air with the “slurp” helps cool them down. Second off, noodles are meant to be enjoyed by all your senses (particularly Soba. At my last Enkai we had 3 kinds of Soba and 4 different ways of eating them, followed by tea made from the water the soba was cooked in), so slurping takes care of your sense of hearing.
Chopsticks in Japanese have no such pun as the chinese (In japanese they’re “hashi” or 橋) and I assume your sushi restaurant friend was Japanese (or possibly Korean if you’re in teh Bay Area). They’re often given to us gaijin (foreigners) as a gift cause they’re pretty, they’re usually reasonably inexpensive, and they’re representative of their culture (Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans all use slightly different types of chopsticks)
When my brother came back from a tourist trip to China, he brought back chopsticks (he also has a set from Zurich and one from NYC restaurants, both of these being the kind where you get a twin set that you break apart, so you know it won’t be reused) and a revelation: Chinese bring the bowl up almost to their mouth! Using chopsticks with the bowl one or two inches from your mouth is a lot easier than doing so with the bowl on the table, d’oh.
Nitpick: you just wrote “bridge”, which is also hashi (though it’s pronounced slightly differently from the chopsticks.) The Japanese character for chopstick is 箸, and that was the character originally used in China. However, the reading, zhù was eventually considered unlucky because it is homophonous with the word for “stop.” Hence, as a pun, Chinese started calling chopsticks “fast”, or kuai.
My only contribution is never buy anything white or clocks if getting a Chinese person a present as they are both associated with death.
(No doubt this is where this Englishman gets mobbed by people telling me how wrong I am)
A mate of mine married a Taiwanese lady and flew to Taiwan before the wedding to meet her family.
We convinced him that it was a very old and sacred custom for the fiancee to fight all of the womans brothers before he’d be allowed to marry her.