You’re a laowai working at a Chinese company. One day your boss takes you and a bunch of other fellow coworkers out for a company dinner. You’re the only foreigner there, it’s a formal dinner, and you are determined to make a good impression.
Now, Chinese people don’t expect foreigners to know everything about Chinese dining etiquette. In fact, many of your coworkers will probably be impressed if you can pick up that slice of kaoya and carry it all the way to your plate without dropping it. But you aren’t just any foreigner, and you want to prove you have mastered Chinese table manners like that guy from Avatar who mastered the Na’vi lifestyle.
So how can you avoid embarrassing yourself at the company dinner? Here are some basic ground rules to go by.
1) Do not sit in your boss’s seat
Everyone knows not to sit in their boss’s seat. The problem is…which seat is his? When dining in a private room, the seat that is furthest from the door is considered the seat of honor. When dining with the people you know from work, this seat is reserved for your boss, obviously. If you accidentally sit in this seat, things might get very awkward, very fast.
2) Sit according to your position
Another somewhat obvious point: the people who sit closer to your boss hold higher positions, while the people who sit further away hold lower positions. Those who sit to your boss’s left hold the 2nd, 4th, and 6th most important seats while those who sit to his right hold the 3rd, 5th, and 7th most important seats. With this in mind, if you still don’t know where to sit, just remain standing until someone else tells you where to go.
3) Do not place your napkin on your lap
You may be tempted to lay your entire napkin onto your lap. While this isn’t incorrect per se, you will be the only one at the table who does this. Chinese diners prefer to slip an edge of their napkin under their plate—or better yet, have a waitress do it for them—while letting the other three corners spill over the edge and onto their lap. When in Rome…
4) Do not “dongkuaizi”
Unless you are leading the banquet, you should not touch your chopsticks until everyone else has. Touching your food before everyone else is ready to eat is considered to be very inconsiderate behavior, and will likely be noted on your next performance evaluation (just kidding, hopefully).
5) Don’t play with your chopsticks
This should also go without saying, but never fiddle with your chopsticks at a formal dinner, no matter how bored you are. Do not drum them on your bowl. Do not chew on them. Do not use them as a pointer. Do not stab your food with them. Do not poke at your food to dig for something underneath. Do not stick them vertically into your rice bowl like it is a religious offering. When you aren’t eating, keep your chopsticks propped neatly on the chopstick rest.
6) Don’t get up unless it is absolutely necessary
Once everyone has arrived and is seated, it is incredibly disrupting to stand up or walk around. At formal dinners, the waiter will likely cover everything you need, including getting rid of empty plates and refilling glasses. Unless you are toasting or absolutely must use the restroom, you should remain seated.
7) When dining with coworkers, pretend you are drunker than you really are
It’s almost a crime for a man to stay sober at a Chinese company banquet. While the women sip on their glasses of orange juice, the men down three, four, five glasses of beer over the course of the night and accept as many toasts of baijiu as they can handle. By the end of the dinner, their faces are redder than a Chinese wedding and they are shouting loud enough to start earthquakes in small countries. But before you think of partying like it’s the last day on earth, consider what you might say when you are drunk. To your boss. Or to that attractive coworker who is getting hotter and hotter with each baijiu toast. Getting wasted in front of coworkers is very risky business.
So why drink so much? Is it simply to avoid looking like a wuss in front of other men? It may seem like so, but a Chinese professor once told me otherwise: “When you are drunk, you say what you are really thinking,” he told me one day. “So when you pretend you are drunk but your thoughts are clear, you can tell your coworkers how much you respect them and their work. You can say ‘Oh, Mr. Liu, I have always admired your work’ and Mr. Liu will be pleased. He will think you are telling him what you have always thought of him and that it slipped out accidentally, when in reality you aren’t drunk at all.”
8) Cover your mouth when using your toothpick
Assuming that you’ve come this far without making a fool of yourself yet, one of the last things you’ll do is use a toothpick. While using your toothpick after dinner is by no means a requirement, it’s still probably a good idea to try and get those remaining bits of chili flake out of your teeth before you say your goodbyes. However, you have to make sure you do not reveal your teeth while doing so, as once again it is considered very rude. Make sure you cover your entire mouth with one hand while you slip the toothpick in from underneath with the other hand.
Congratulations on making it through your Chinese company dinner! Now all that’s left to do is wait in awkward silence along with the rest of your colleagues until your boss declares the dinner to be over, then you’re home free!
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Keywords: Chinese table manners Chinese dining etiquette Chinese company banquet company dinner
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I would agree. I know many foreigners in China don't drink and HATE being pressured. It is bad manners at home put a guest under such pressure, especially when they have said particularly that they don't. Who is to know the reason why they don't AND it is not anyone's business.
Aug 17, 2014 22:47 Report Abuse
Just like not asking why someone is in China (through divorce, bereavement, break-up, adventure, work opportunity, business etc.), i would never ask someone why they don't drink (recovering alcoholic, medical reason, personal choice etc.). I would accept if they say "no thanks" to alcohol and move on. By not drinking someone is not saying that they don't enjoy the company of the people they are with. To interpret that way is laughable.
Aug 20, 2014 20:51 Report Abuse
I dread the dinner invitation. The main problem I have is the same as almost all the Western members here - I wouldn't want to eat most of the dishes offered and have to carefully choose the 'not bad' foods yet appear I'm really loving all this great food. What I've tried to do is eat something beforehand so I don't have to suffer for the often long long duration with hunger. Then get skilled at distraction, appearing to be busy reaching or if offered something disgusting (or plain unlikable) I seem like I can't because I'm trying to get another thing that's 'so good'. After the long 3 hour endurance event is over I try and have/arrange some good food to eat at home as soon as I get back. *To be honest I have never pulled this off successfully although citing an 'uneasy stomach problem' has let them save face a little...but ya the basic technique most of us use - fill a bowl with rice and keep loading the wet lettuces, animals parts and whatnot 'on top' (so you seem to be loading up) push the inedible down the bowl (keep eating little bits of rice so you look busy) and at the end they don't notice what's leftover. You get the idea. I can't think of anything more boring, time-draggingly torturous than dinner invitations in China :(
Aug 17, 2014 01:53 Report Abuse
What Not to Do at an Echinacities Article: 1). Don't refer to racial group by ethnic slurs in the opening sentence. 2). Don't insult readers by telling them that Westerners can't be expected to understand Chinese table manners, like the concept is far above their ability to grasp.
Aug 16, 2014 14:23 Report Abuse
Smoking at the table, then discarding their cigarette butts anywhere they like, spitting on the floor, shouting, talking with a mouth full of food, picking their noses, eating with their shirts off, clicking their fingers for the waiter to come....Sorry mate, but that isn't the definition of what most people call table manners.
Aug 16, 2014 17:10 Report Abuse
Why do mainly Chinese people assume families outside of China don't eat together? Any family at home i know all dine together at least once a day as they are important times for the family. No business meeting i have attended has ever taken place in a bar or restaurant as it is unprofessional to mix business with alcohol. Your assumptions seem to be based on non-Chinese TV and not reality. LOL
Aug 17, 2014 21:21 Report Abuse
ask for an imported beer! or failing that, accept it with gratitude, out it to your lips but dont drink it. eventually you can accidentally knock it onto the floor, spilling a bit on you and then you can mumble something about needing the toilet, and on route to the toilet ask the waiter for another Harbin beer or what ever takes your fancy.
Apr 25, 2013 13:44 Report Abuse
What is the etiquette for drinking wine. I have been to a wedding and dinner recently with some very expensive Australian red wine supplied. It was variously mixed with sweet drinks, had sugar (yes 2 people pulled out small packets of sugar cubes and dumped it in their wine glass)and then just drunk as if it was baijiu a full glass at a time on each toast. At over $300 a bottle it may as well have been $5 cask wine.
Apr 25, 2013 09:55 Report Abuse