Chinese dining dos and don’ts for students

Published: January 31st 2014

Chinese Dragon

The physical distance between the UK and China is approximately 8150 km (or 5062 miles for us Metric users). With the fast pace of technology and more accessible transport links, you could assume that cultural differences no longer play such an obstacle for student travellers going from the West to the East. However, there are still quite a few dining customs that students should take head of when traveling to China.


Playing with Chopsticks


For a child or a westerner not accustomed to using Chopsticks on a daily basis, Chopsticks almost seem like a toy. I certainly got a stern telling off from my parents if I ever picked up my chopsticks and pretended to play the drums to a song on the radio. Weird as it may sound – chopsticks are to be treated very delicately and with a certain amount of respect. A big no-no is sticking chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice. This is a symbol of death and linked to Buddhist funeral rituals, so definitely a topic to avoid at the dinner table. 
When taking a rest from dinner or leaving the table for a toilet break, make sure to leave your chopsticks on the side of your plate or on the chopstick rests if the restaurant is particularly fancy. Once you are full up on local Chinese cuisine – lay your chopsticks across your bowl and it will be soon removed by your server. 
Chinese Tea

Putting others before yourself

Often a moral emphasised in children’s stories and at school assemblies – who knew that such a thing could be reflected and encouraged at the dinner table? Where there is a communal pot of Chinese tea or water on the table, make sure to top up the drinks of those around you first before seeing to yourself. If you do run out of tea in the meantime, just pop open the tea pot lid which is a sign for the server to that they need to refill. For those being served, make sure you tap the table as you are being served as this is a sign of gratitude. Lessons like these certainly go beyond the norm of most educational school trips.

Eye-Eye Captain

A common sight in China is a freshly steamed, whole fish slap bang in the middle of the dinner table. For many Westerners and students on school trips to China are no exception tend to squirm at the thought let alone the sight of the fish complete with head, tail and bones. 
In Chinese culture, eating the fish eye is actually considered a treat offered from the host to the guest and full of healthy goodness. However don’t fret - you won’t be frowned upon or turned away from the restaurant if you don’t take up this offer. But try if you dare - it’s not every day that you can say you ate a fish eye on a school trip. 
Even as a child growing up in a Chinese family in the UK – the endless number of Chinese customs and superstitions still astound me. I admire school groups that get to pick all these subtle elements of Chinese etiquette up their school trips to China. With China becoming one of – if not the leading economy – surely this gives students a head start for those business meetings with Chinese work colleagues in their future careers?
If you're considering a student tour to China or would like to find out more about how Travelbound can help you organise your next educational trip, contact the team on 01273 265265 or request a quote here.