Chopstick Cultures

These observations here come from my experience in dining in Shanghai which I’m not sure how representative they are of “proper”/”good” Chinese manners, so take it with a grain of salt as an Indian American in China. My internalized rules for how to use chopsticks and the etiquette come primarily from Japanese culture, due to Ami. I didn’t really realize it until I came here that every Asian country has a slightly different set of chopsticks (e.g. in styling) and ‘rules’ (e.g. in etiquette).

Chinese chopsticks are more tubular versus Japanese ones that come to a point. In Korea, they’re made of metal but I’m not sure how they taper. The Chinese ones make it a bit difficult to pick up rice, which seems to explain the that in Chinese eating, the rice bowl can be brought up to your mouth and the rice can effectively shoveled in to your mouth. I hear in Korea the bowls are made of metal normally which then forces you to use your chopsticks to pick up rice and bring it to your mouth. It’s considered rude to bring the bowl to your face.

The placement of chopsticks when you’re done eating is also interesting. It’s very horribly bad to poke your chopsticks in to rice with the pointed end down. It’s supposedly part of funeral ceremonies, so making the symbol at lunch or dinner is a Bad Thing. In Japanese eating, most of the time people place their hashi (chopsticks) parallel to each other on top of a bowl or a plate. In Chinese eating, it seems appropriate to place your chopsticks anywhere (like in an empty bowl), modulo the rice rule.

I’m certain there’s much more that I don’t know or can’t recall, but it’s pretty fascinating all the same. All these cultures a few thousand years ago came from the same seed and now are quite so different yet so much the same.

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