Asian countries often have very different social norms and customs from the countries of the West, which is why it’s so important to learn a few cultural etiquette tips before traveling to Asia. When it comes to China, in particular, there are several etiquette tips to become familiar with, especially regarding the traditional Chinese banquet. Keep reading to find out what you need to know before attending a real Chinese banquet.

Make Sure You’re Not Late

Having a traditional Chinese banquet is one of the best things you can do during your visit to China. One of the most important etiquette tips to know is that this is one activity that you shouldn’t arrive late to. In fact, most people arrive around 15 minutes early.

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The majority of official Chinese banquets run from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., so it’s a good idea to get there before 6:00 p.m. to leave the best impression. While being early is actually considered rude in some cultures, it’s the opposite when it comes to Chinese banquets. Being late is thought of as the height of rudeness, whether you’re the host or a guest.

The Host Should Face The Door

There are a few rules to remember when it comes to seating arrangements at Chinese banquets. The host or the person who has invited the others to the banquet should take the seat that faces the door. The guest of honor traditionally sits to the right of the host.

Other guests are seated according to their seniority, with the most junior among them taking the seat with its back to the door. If not all the guests speak Chinese or English, then interpreters should be seated in between guests who can’t communicate to help the conversation run more smoothly.

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Master Chopstick Etiquette

One of the most important etiquette rules to master at a Chinese banquet is using chopsticks correctly. If there are no serving utensils, then it’s customary to serve food using the thick ends of the chopsticks that you do not put in your mouth.

At the end of the meal, it’s a huge faux pas to place the chopsticks alongside each other on your empty plate. Although this is commonly done in western countries, it is seen as a sign of bad luck in China. Similarly, it’s important to never stick your chopsticks upright in your rice. This resembles incense sticks in an incense pot, which is a death custom in China. Instead, place your chopsticks on the chopsticks rest when you’re not using them or on your plate besides your bowl.

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It’s Polite To Try Every Dish

It’s likely that you’ll be overwhelmed by the huge amount of food on offer during a Chinese banquet. It is considered good manners to try some of every dish. If there’s something that you really can’t fathom eating, it’s best to pretend that you’ve already tried it. Because you’re expected to try some of everything, you only need to take very small servings of everything.

It’s seen as greedy to take huge piles of food and leave them on your plate, so remember to take less than you need and then go back for more when you’re finished. It’s also not customary to pass dishes to each other. Instead, everyone serves themselves from the dishes in the center of the table.

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Toast Before Drinking

The guide to Chinese banquet etiquette on Good Food highlights the importance of drinking at a banquet. It is considered polite to toast before sipping any alcohol and also to pour drinks for those around you before filling your own glass.

Rather than saying “cheers”, it’s polite to say “gan bei” which translates to “dry cup” or “bottoms up!” When you clink your cup with someone else’s, try to aim the lower rim of your cup below the other cup as this will show that you are humble as opposed to arrogant. You’ll also drink tea at an official Chinese banquet. Remember to thank the person who fills your teacup by tapping your knuckles on the table.

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