World of the Chopstick

Picture the scene. You walk into a Chinese restaurant with your new Chinese friends, your head full of the clever phrases you’re going to say in Mandarin to delight the waiter. Maybe it’s not the most… foreigner-friendly restaurant, and so you sit down to eat and you realise there is no knife, no fork, no spoon – just chopsticks.

As you desperately try to work out how to make it look like you’re at least slightly competent with chopsticks, you put them down towards your one of your friends, who suddenly looks mortified. You begin to search through your food for something you might be able to pick up, and you decide to go on for the brute force spear it and shove it in technique. There’s another bowl in the middle which seems to have more chopstick-friendly food in it, so you make a dash for that and grab it. In a slightly less subtle attempt to notify the waiter that you are totally inept, you gently tap the side of your bowl with your chopsticks. Finally, giving up, you stick your chopsticks straight up in the air in your rice.

How many chopsticks faux pas can you count?


A grand total of six chopstick crimes will probably have left your friends feeling appalled, or they may possibly all be sitting with a grandeur like you might feel when a foreigner comes to England without a rain coat. You’ve just indicated that you are a rude beggar digging your grave, burning incense for your ancestors. Sound good?

Let’s start at the top. Pointing chopsticks at someone else is just bad etiquette, while digging through your food is known as ‘digging your grave’ (which sounds a bit, you know, ominous for a poor bit of lamb that got stuck at the bottom). Spearing something on the end of a chopstick and grabbing food with knuckles are both just plain rude (are knuckle jokes the thing of Chinese secondary schools?) but tapping the side of your plate indicates that you’re a beggar – the tapping noise resembles the sound beggars make when trying to attract attention. But last of all the chopsticks in the air (the worst of the lot?) looks like the ritual for burning incense for the dead, and just death in general.

So maybe today you’ll hang your head and ask for a fork, and eat your dinner in peace whilst the dead are enjoying the remainders of your rice you’ve offered up.

用筷子太困难 – 外国人不会用筷子!

Things I learned this week

  • Lots of stuff seems to be to do with death here. Is this a bad sign? Can you die by chopstick?
  • Chinese beggars may not have enough food, but it’s basic human rights to have chopsticks and a bowl.
  • The Internet informs me that a Japanese man did stab his father (unintentionally) with a chopstick. My advice? Stick to spoons. No hard edges. No one gets hurt. Easy.

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