Of course, the main difference on the Chinese dinner table is chopsticks instead of knife and fork, but that's only superficial. Besides, in decent restaurants, you can always ask for a pair of knife and fork, if you find the chopsticks not helpful enough.
The real difference is that in the West, you have your own plate of food, while in China the dishes are placed on the table and everyone shares. If you are being treated to a formal dinner and particularly if the host thinks you're in the country for the first time, he will do the best to give you a taste of many different types of dishes.
Perhaps one of the things that surprise a Western visitor most is that some of the Chinese hosts like to put food into the plates of their guests. In formal dinners, there are always "public" chopsticks and spoons for this purpose, but some hosts may use their own chopsticks. This is a sign of genuine friendship and politeness. It is always polite to eat the food. If you do not eat it, just leave the food in the plate.
People in China tend to over-order food, for they will find it embarrassing if all the food is consumed. When you have had enough, just say so. Or you will always overeat!
Traditionally speaking, there are many taboos at Chinese tables, but these days not many people pay attention to them. However, there are a few things to keep in mind, especially if you are a guest at a private home.
1. Don't stick your chopsticks upright in the rice bowl. Instead, lay them on your dish. The reason for this is that when somebody dies, the shrine to them contains a bowl of sand or rice with two sticks of incense stuck upright in it. So if you stick your chopsticks in the rice bowl, it looks like this shrine and is equivalent to wishing death upon person at the table!
2. Make sure the spout of the teapot is not facing anyone. It is impolite to set the teapot down where the spout is facing towards somebody. The spout should always be directed to where nobody is sitting, usually just outward from the table.
3. Don't tap on your bowl with your chopsticks. Beggars tap on their bowls, so this is not polite. Also, in a restaurant, if the food is coming too slow people will tap their bowls. If you are in someone's home, it is like insulting the cook.
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