Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Food etiquette

An evening at the restaurant with Chinese hosts... Food is coming, several dishes at once. We are taking nice portions of food: fish, meat, vegetables, soup… Such a nice assortment. But generous helpings may after all be a mistake! Because more food is coming… and more. After a while, we start asking ourselves: how many more dishes have been ordered? How much more will be coming?
Have to try everything though, to thank your guests for their hospitality!
Some things we love (as per our Westerner taste) some others… oh well… well, we have tried them… “no thanks, I am OK, no more”… what was it anyway? Chicken feet… sea cucumbers… brain or other delicatessen…
We are so full now!
We promise ourselves that next time we will just take a few bites of everything!
In the meantime, I am finishing the bowl of soup I was served. My guest serves me more – despite my resistance. OK, got to eat it. Good, my bowl is empty again! Oh, no, he is serving me more! Why?... I am so, so full… I really won’t be able to finish this one!
It is only a few weeks after that feast that I discover what happened there. My mother had taught me to always finish my plate of food, because leaving something was not polite. Hummm, it is quite different here in China, quite the opposite actually. if you empty your plate, your Chinese hosts will feel that they have not been good hosts and have not offered you enough food,and they will feel bad about it. And will serve you more (ah, ah, I understand now!). In China, leaving food in your plate is the right thing to do for respect to your hosts!
Oh, one more thing: slurping when you eat your soup is a sign of appreciation here, quite OK, nothing rude about it.
There is a lesson there: next time I think that someone just did something “universally” impolite, I will think again. What is politeness to me might very well be very rude to my neighbor and the opposite could be true as well!

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