Survival Guide for Attending a Chinese Banquet


Never address people by their first names first

Unlike the name custom in the west, in China the last name always comes first. People say it’s because the family always takes precedence over the individual in China, and it shows Chinese people honor their ancestors very much. So if a man introduced to you as Yánɡ Hé, you should always keep in mind to refer to him as Mr. Yánɡ but not Mr. Hé(unless you are so lucky as to meet a person called Yánɡ Yánɡ).

Usually the Chinese don’t feel very comfortable calling each other only by their first names. For example, zhānɡ wěi will feel very weird if you call him wěi. However, calling close friends by their first name is ok if their first name is not just one syllable (e.g. It’s ok to call wēn jiā bǎo as jiā bǎo).

Get foods directly from communal dishes

Western people are used to transferring the food onto their own plate before starting to eat. In China, people usually take the food from communal dishes directly with chopsticks. On a Chinese dinner table, you do not have a big plate but only a bowl of rice and a very small plate. To some extent, gathering all the food in your own plate is kind of impossible — and it wouldn’t be considered good manners to try to make it possible.

For hygiene reasons, communal chopsticks are usually provided with the food; it’s especially useful for a host to serve food onto his guest’s plate in person —it is a way to show hospitality. If you did not get one, you can feel free to ask. Or, follow the trick: turning your chopsticks upside down to take food from the main dishes before putting the food on guest’s individual plates.

Be very careful when you are toasting

The drinking rule in China is very strict, even many Chinese people get confused sometimes. Basically, it is always safe to avoid just taking a sip yourself; you should keep toasting to others at the table every time you want to drink. And when you clink glass, be very careful, you should keep the rim of your glass under others to show humility. If you use the bottom of your glass to clink a senior’s glass’s rim, you will be treated as a very rude person.

And keep this in mind: for most foreigners, they actually have no chance to practice the drinking rule hereby to show off their understandings of Chinese culture — the most drank white spirit in a normal Chinese banquet, e.g. Máo Tái, wǔ liánɡ yè, lǎo bái ɡān are known to put foreigners under the table in one second.

Wait for the host to tell you where to sit

Although the rule of seating assignments is not as strict as Japan, China still keeps some rules regarding the seat according different status of people. Normally, the seat facing the door is the host’s position, and the seat right next to the host is for the most important guest. But it’s also variable depending on the environment, e.g. the seats next to the window, the seats with a good view of outside are also “honored seats”. So the safe way is always follow the host’s indication, and never put your ass on the chair first.

The last one: never need to feel embarrassment.

You may have found the above rules very hard to follow. Relax, if you are a foreigner, you actually can do whatever you want to do because Chinese people understand who you are. —Of course, being able to follow the above rules will for sure close the distance between you and the Chinese people.

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3 thoughts on “Survival Guide for Attending a Chinese Banquet”

  1. Very nice article!
    I somehow feel kinda scared to go to China and don´t know how to proceed with all those rules — but for sure just by looking at me people know I am a foreigner, so I guess it is ok to make some mistakes.

    And I loved the little note –> unless you are so lucky as to meet a person called Yánɡ Yánɡ. 🙂

  2. Hey, that’s a wonderful article!
    I’ve never been to China, but now I really want to go!!!
    So, what’s with women? When we sit around a table with men, do we have the same rights?
    Or even more? Like: who do I drink with first? Does gender or age count more?
    Thanks for the chopsticks-advice, but I am afraid I’ll never learn how to use them;)

  3. Pingback: 中国餐桌生存指南 - Lexiophiles

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