Chopsticks can be polarising beasts. Used by a sizable chunk of the world’s population, they are the natural partners to South East and East Asia’s cuisine, perfect for scooping up rice and twirling long noodles.
In the hands on the uninitiated however, the can turn a civilized dinner into an exercise in frustration and sloppy table manners. Even those used to chopsticks can flail when forced to use regional variants. Watch a table of Korean businessmen, used to short steel sticks, try to wield longer plastic styles in a Chinese banquet and you’ll see what we mean. And that’s not even taking into consideration the social minefield that comes attached to these deceptively rudimentary utensils. Luckily, AGI’s Asian etiquette experts have weeded out the worst faux pas to help steer you through the stickiest of dining situations.
Rule number one: Master your weapon.
Essentially, if you’ve figured out how to hold a pencil, this process will be very quick to pick up. If not, well, good luck. First, make sure the lower chopstick is stationary, and rests at the base of your thumb, and between the ring finger and middle finger. Hold the second chopstick like a pencil, using the tips of the thumb, index finger, and middle finger, and move up and down in a pincer like motion. Practice as much as possible when dining solo to ensure success at public events.
Rule number two: Avoid death imagery.
When in Japan or Taiwan, never upend your chopsticks into your rice. This is taboo as it resemble funerary rituals- a definite conversation stopper, unless you happen to be at a goth restaurant. For the same reason, never pass food directly to another person’s chopsticks in Japan.
Rule number three: Look around before you slurp.
When in doubt, copy your fellow diners. Unlike in China, Korean diners consider it very rude to bring a dish close to your mouth- except when eating noodles. Regional contradictions like this can throw off even the most seasoned traveller.
Rule number four: Avoid spreading your diseases.
In communal dining, if there are no serving chopsticks are provided, many regions consider it polite to reverse your eating utensils when helping yourself. And even if it isn’t the required form, it’s much more hygienic for your dining companions.
Rule number five: Manners first.
Avoid using one chopstick at a time. For one, you’ll most likely end up splashing everyone else around the table, and another, you’ll look like a bit of a caveman.
Rule number six:Public walrus imitations are never funny.
Don’t sit with your chopsticks dangling in your mouth whilst your hands are otherwise occupied. See above.
Rule number seven: Stop that racket.
Don’t drum bowls, cups or other implements with your chopsticks. It’s pretty annoying, and to Chinese diners, it’ll look like your imitating a beggar.
Rule number eight: Your rice is not a sandpit.
Rummaging around in your food like you’re digging for treasure is generally considered quite insulting to chefs. And if you really have to get that last prawn, at least try to be a bit discrete about it.