Back in 2011, we stayed overnight at a hotel following a widespread power outage brought about by a typhoon. During one of our meals, I ordered chow mein and it was served with the chopsticks sticking out from the bowl of noodles. I started taking photos.
My husband, Speedy, said I should reposition the chopsticks and not post photos in my blog of the chopsticks sticking out like that. I asked why and he said that it is considered impolite (he had a lot of Chinese clients). I did reposition the chopsticks but only after I had already taken half a dozen photos showing the objectionable position in which the chopsticks originally came when the noodles were served. I never thought I’d have any use for the photos until I started reading about dining etiquette relative to the use of chopsticks.
Dining etiquette is, of course, a cultural thing. What may be considered impolite in one culture may be totally common and normal in another. For instance, eating with the hands. That’s normal in the Philippines and Malaysia. Using the spoon to scoop food into the mouth, instead of piercing food pieces with a fork, is a common practice in the Philippines too.
Although they originated from China, chopsticks are used in many countries today — Japan, Vietnam, Korea… And they have found their way into Western countries with the spread and popularity of Asian cuisines. Types, lengths, tapering and even the materials used vary. Some are square in cross section where held by the fingers; others are not. Some are lacquered, some are made with plain bamboo and some are quite pointed. It all depends on the culture and cuisine.
There are “rules”, however, that seem to cross boundaries among chopsticks-using cultures.
1. Don’t insert the chopsticks into food and leave them there standing vertically as it simulates the practice of sticking and burning incense when someone died.
2. Don’t pass food from chopsticks to chopsticks.
As part of a Japanese funeral ritual, family members pass bones of the deceased to each other by chopsticks. Passing food from one set of chopsticks to another mimics this ritual, and is therefore considered extremely impolite and offensive. If you must pass something to another person, pick it up, and place it on their dish. They can then pick it up with their own chopsticks.Only between parents and children or lovers it is tolerated as a gesture of closeness. [Source]
3. Don’t use chopsticks to skewer or pierce food.
4. Don’t use chopsticks to tap the the side of the bowl as that is a gesture that beggars do.
5. Don’t use your chopsticks to pick food on a shared plates or bowls; instead, use the opposite end to take food from a shared plate.
There are a lot more that I read online. I’m not entirely sure if they are accurate or merely (mis)interpretations of the English-speaking world. If you’re traveling to a country where using chopsticks is the norm, or if you are attending a party hosted by an Asian, do brush up on chopsticks etiquette and taboos to avoid embarrassing yourself or, worse, offending your host or hostess.