Five Big Faux Pas To Avoid While Dining in Asia

March 27, 2017 5:00 am
Five Asian Eating Customs for Business Travelers to Remember
President Nixon holds his chopsticks in the ready position as Premier Chou En-lai (left) and Shanghai Communist Party leader Chang Chun-chiao reach in front of him for some tidbits at the beginning of the farewell banquet here. (Bettmann/Contributor)
Five Asian Eating Customs for Business Travelers to Remember
During his landmark visit to China in 1972, President Richard Nixon holds chopsticks next to Premier Chou En-lai (left) and Shanghai Communist Party leader Chang Chun-chiao. (Bettmann/Contributor)


If you’re heading to Asia on business, knowing what to do—and not to—while dining out could avoid insulting your hosts and potentially protect that big deal. Many nations in Asia consider food “a symbol of prosperity, honor, longevity, and togetherness.” Per Thrillist, understanding proper protocol at the dinner table can make the average American that much more respectful to those in attendance.

Here are some of the best dining-in-Asia tips:

1. Don’t Use Chopsticks Like Wooden Spears (China, Korea, Japan) – Mastering the use of chopsticks doesn’t come ease for everyone, so it’s understandable if Americans are tempted to take shortcuts while eating with them. But if you, say, spear a dumpling with one in order to shovel it into your mouth, you could be trampling on an Asian funerary superstition.

2. Know Your Tea (China) – If you’re on business in England, “tea” could mean dinner. It could also mean the hot drink British people can’t live without. But who does the pouring doesn’t matter as much as long as it’s done. But if you’re in China, tea-pouring is bound up with showing  respect, and if you’re doing it at a table, you should always start by serving the oldest person and go from there in descending order by age.

3. Eat, Drink, or Be Sorry (China, Korea) – In these countries, being served food by someone else is a sign of great respect or endearment. So be prepared to eat what’s been served. Refusing it might greatly offend the server. The same goes for tea or alcohol.

4. Exercise Plate-Level Patience (China, Korea) – You should wait until everyone is sitting at the table—and for the oldest people in your group to start eating—before you lift up your chopsticks and begin. (This might be more difficult on a business trip, though, notes Thrillist; hosts will likely insist that you start eating first.)

5. Be Prepared to Fight Over the Bill (China, Hong Kong, Malaysia) – If you find yourself reaching for your Venmo app at the end of a business meal, know that it’s not customary to split bills in China (or countries that have adopted Chinese values). Offering to pay the bill shows that you are generous and powerful.



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