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Table Manners Cultural Differences

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 3625 words Published: 11th Jul 2018

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Thesis statement: All of us know that diet is very important in our daily life. It can can reflect a nations tradition and culture. However, each country in which geographical, environmental, and cultural and ethnic customs, which has a different concept of diet and dietary practices, and ultimately the formation of the differences in diet culture. Of cause, the table manners appear in our life everyday. They are witness of the history of dietary cultures for thousands of years, are the sign that a country or nation from ignorance and backward towards civilization and progress. Research achievement has a lot on the table manners, and in this passage, the author will stress on the analysis of their differences and the formation cause of the differences.

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Abstract: The different of the philosophical thoughts and the various kinds of social factors make some differences in Chinese and Western table manners. In China, a banquet, whatever the purpose, there will be a kind of form. Everyone sitting around the table and the delicacy is put in the center of the table. Not only it is a good taste, but also it is a communication medium for people. People toast each other and let food each other. It embodies the mutual respect and the virtue of humility. This way is easy to communicate with others. However, the western table manners are more cumbersome and canonical. Every people has his own service plate, no matter what dish has, they eat by themselves. Westerners drink also depend on their own thoughts, such as Whisky, Cocktails, Brandy, they can drink what they like. It embodies the respect of personal willingness. In this paper, we will talk about Chinese and western table manners and finding out the reasons. The purpose is to improve our intercultural communication ability by means of doing the research on the differences dietary culture between China and west in table manners.

1. Introduction

In the 21st century, intercultural communication has become an indispensable content in people’s life. Cooking culture and table manners play a significant role of nonverbal culture in cross-cultural communication. Because of the Chinese people and Westerners have different life styles, the way of thinking, culture, so the table manners between china and western also show a big difference. Chinese table manners have a long history, At the time of the ancient times, table manners had a quite complete system. They took an important part in the past and still have a deep influence in the modern society.

Western table manners originated in the 20 century. Italian culture came to France, table manners and menu turned to be more elegant and delicate, from that time, books of etiquette are published gradually. Today, table etiquette is still spreading in Western countries. The table manners in Western countries have influence on Chinese table manners because of the communication. In order to protect our table culture, we can make the two table manners get together, which is good for us to communicate with foreigners. So, it is necessary for us to know the differences of the two table manners and analyze the causes of the different the two table manners between Chinese and Western.

2. The importance of table manners in international cultural communication

As Chinese reform and opening quicken markedly, international cultural communication also increases quickly. We must be willing to communicate and be tolerant of views that differ from our own. Our abilities are improved according to international communication. In the society, we do many things successfully on table. For example, when we meet important person, or we have important thing, we could ask the relevant people to have dinner, and discuss on the table. So we must know the table manners. Moreover, if we have a dinner with the Westerners, we should understand the Western table manners well. Because the Western table manners is different from Chinese. On the table, no matter what country the people come from, they could feel the respect from the table manners. Today, transnational cultural communication is so frequent that table manners become more and more important. Not only the whole dining process more harmonious but also status of customers more obvious and their communication more convenient by the table manners. For foreign language learners, it is quite useful to know the differences of Chinese and western dietary culture. We can not only increase the understanding of the table manners’ culture, but also improve the success of intercultural communication, which can help to avoid misunderstandings and communication disorder because of inappropriate behavior.

3. The differences table manners between China and Western countries

3.1 The differences in arrival of time

When talking about the time, the Chinese and Westerners have different views. In China, we don’t pay much attention on the time. We don’t have specific demands about arrival time. To arrive earlier, on time or a little late are all allowed. In fact, we often get to the place where we have a dinner at a litter late time. Because most of us think the host should wait for guest and it is a way to respect for others.

The Westerners think both of the time and money are very important, so they always make time and money bonded together. There is a saying goes said that “Time is money” , and the saying goes has become deeply in the Westerners’ mind. Therefore, they cherish as far as possible, they plan and manage their time carefully. The Westerners are often filled with a sense of urgency of time. All of them have a interest that they go to some parties in free time. If the westerners have to go to somewhere to have a dinner with others, they must arrive there on time. Frequently, when they want to have a dinner at one’s home, they usually get earlier for five minutes. In their opinion, it is not very polite for you to get much earlier, maybe the hostess is so busy doing preparation for the dinner that is not suitable for you to reach at that time.

3.2 The differences in seating arrangement

Both in China and in the west, people are particular in seating arrangement of formal banquette. In the Chinese banquets, we prefer to the round table . If there is just a round table in the family dinner, it has no table order. If we join a formal dinner, our seating should comply with the rule. Traditionally, Chinese use square table and the seats, which is look towards to the door is the most important, while seats on both sides are partial seats. So, the elderly and the guests of honor or high status should sit at the seat facing the main door. Then guest of honor sit on the right of the host and deputy chief gust on the left. While, as for the dinning of less than five people, its table setting can follow those four rules: right is honor and the left is low; the middle seat is senior; the seat of facing the door is the top; flexibility arrangement.

In Western countries, people usually use long table. Host and hostess sit at both ends, and the guests of honor sit besides them. Then ordinary guests sit along with them. That is to say, the one who is more nearer to the host, the more important he is. In the informal party, it follows that women is first. Seat arrangement should treat the hostess as benchmark, and the most important guests should sit at the upper right of the hostess and the wife of him sitting at the upper right of the host. If a man and a woman have a diner, the man should let the woman sit on his right and don’t let she sit near to the passageway; anyway the man need to let the woman sit inside. When two people have a dinner, the senior sit inside.When two men with a woman, men should let woman sit in the middle place. Besides, men should remove the chairs and let women sit first. In a word, women are very important in the seating arrangement.

3.3 The differences in tableware

As everyone know people use chopsticks in China, and chopsticks are the most significant tableware for Chinese. Usually, they are traditionally held in the right hand, even by left-handed people. Although chopsticks may now be deployed by either hand, left-handed chopstick use is considered improper. Besides, there are also some rules to abide by when using it. For example, before dinner, chopsticks must be put on the right of rice bowl tidily. While after the meal, it should be placed in the middle of rice bowl, and when talking with other people, we should put down our chopsticks. It is a polite action to others. When take food for others, we ought to use the public chopsticks.

In Western countries, people use knives and forks. When eating western-style food, a knife should be held in the right hand and a fork should be held in left hand. What’s more, the different ways knives and forks place have different meanings. For example, you have to leave for a while when you have a meal, you can put the knife and fork separately as a triangle. The service person will not receive your plate. If you have already finished the meal, you should make the knife and fork parallelled. Bread is taken in the fingers and laid on the side of plate or the edge of the large plate. It is never taken with a fork. Butter is taken from the butter dish with the butter knife and placed on the side of plate, not on one’s bread. Well, Chinese use chopsticks and westerners use knives and forks. However, they also represent the difference between both collectivism and individualism. Westerners use knives and forks to cut food and separate it to represent individualism. The Chinese use chopsticks to grasp the entire food to mean unity and collectivism.

3.4 The differences in order of serving

Chinese order of serving: the first are cold dishes, beverage and wine; then the hot dishes; next staple food; at last the sweets and fruit. Sometimes, there are many tables, each table should be on every dish at the same time. The order of serving still keep the traditional, first hot and later cold. Besides, hot dishes should be served from the left side opposite the seat of the guest of honot. The dishes like whole chicken, whole duck, and whole fish can’t put their heads and tails toward the host seat. In the banquet, each dish like slide show, each time a dish is served. Nevertheless, there are some tips: in the wedding banquet or other red banquet, the plates on the table can be overlapped, and meaning that a good thing comes again and again. While, in the White Banquet like funeral, the plates cannot be overlapped, I think you can guess the reason.

Western serving steps are usually like that: bread and butter, cold dishes, soup, seafood, main course, dessert, coffee and fruit. When you eating the cold dishes, the soup and bread should be eaten at the same time. In Western, the cold dishes are known as appetizer dish, served as the first course to eat with an aperitif. And soup includes stains soup and cream soup. The main course has chicken, beef, fish and pork and so on. The dissert always has ice-cream, pudding etc.

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3.5 The differences in having dinner on table

In China, food should be taken by the guest firstly. If you want to eat some food, you could not take too much. The men could give service to women. When you take food, you could not glance left and right and you could not choose one by one in the public dishes. If you eat with many people, you could have comity with everyone. The food which you want to eat and you can’t take, you should ask other people to help you to take. Please avoid leaving seat to take by yourself. Chinese table manners’ atmosphere is lively, people like chatting over eating. Your utterance should be elegant, scholarly and euphemistic. But talking and laughing loudly is not polite. While eating, the older is first, when a dish served, the young can’ t eat until the elder eat. Chinese table’ s atmosphere is lively, people like chatting over eating. But talking and laughing loudly is not polite. hen a person has a cough, he or she should turn his or her back. Before you have a drink, you should drink a toast to the elder and the guest.

In West, men should move the seat for women. People always talk with their neighbors when eating, they don’t talk loudly. Usually, people have a talk after the main food that the time of they eat dessert. Using the knife and folk can’t make a sound. They do not use their own utensils for others to take their food; do not cut food on a plate after a good use of all right hand fork to eat; do not put the bones and food that don’t eat on the floor or on the tablecloth, while put them on the on the plate of iceberg. Besides, the polite way is eating out the food on your plate.

3.6 The differences in leaving the table

In China, only can the master sign the end of banquet. After the master and guest leave seat, the other guests can leave. Then, the master should be to see guests off at the gate, and the guests should express their thanks to the master. If the guests want to goodbye to host in the midway of the banquet, they just say good-bye to the master or give a nod as a signal to others.

At the end of the banquet in Western countries, people should pick up the napkin from the leg, fold optionally, put the napkin on left of the table, and then get up for leaving. After having a meal, the host and hostess should leave before the other guests leave. When leaving, people should help elders or ladies to move the seats, and thank to the master when they say goodbye. If you want to be more cautious, you can thank by phone or card again.

The causes of different table manners between the West and China

4.1 The different cultural connotations

Culture will affect people’s view on things. Different country has its different culture, so it is obviously that the thinking model between China and western are different. The Chinese culture pays more attention on one’s intuition, and the Western culture leans to logic and analyze. As to the traditional of the culture, Chinese people especially believe their own intuition. They insist the experience and feeling during the thing, this phenomenon also happens in the communication between west and east. In China, thousands of cultural tradition is reflected in Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. The Confucian thought mainly emphasized “benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom, faith”; Taoists advocated “natural” and “clean”; Buddhist is advocated “merciful”, “purdue beings”, “harmony without”. From this we see that what is tasty to a host may not necessarily be tasty to his guest. Because people have different opinions about various ingredients and cooking methods. It is rather easy to misjudge what someone considers to be the best dish. Forcing a guest to eat food he doesn’t like is quite awkward. However, Western countries assert democracy, freedom, equality, and advocated personal power, put emphasis up on personal value, paysattention to individualism. We have to learn from the American literature that the theme of “American Dream” is an important indication in the American literature history. It means that Americans wish to succeed through their self-dependence and self-reliance. They believe that they are created by God and that they are endowed with special traits which will help them to become the kind of people they wish to be. So this culture connotation can also be reflected in the table cultures. They respect freedom. So there are not so many rules as in Chinese table setting. They behave freely.

4.2 The different way of thinking

Compared with western thinking model, the eastern idea is blanket and unclearly. The Chinese thought is more comprehensive and integrated. Traditional perceptual intuition thinking including the doctrine of the thought in Chinese style. The essence of the idea emphasize harmonization or even cancel with extreme solution to the problem. The Chinese psychological bias for comprehensive, logical analysis. The simple integral concept and unified way of thinking reflects our national macro understanding and the ability to transform the world. The west emphasizes analysis and partial logic thinking, and emphasizes its own characteristics. For scientific thinking of the standard, this kind of thinking mode in the real world in present multidimensional nature. At the same time, in western countries, and always put the value of the individual in important position, the principle of the supremacy of outstanding individualism.

4.3 The different behaviors regulation

Behaviors regulation means the single standard, which the society can accept. That means that something can tell people what is the right way to solve this matter and what is unsuitable to do. When different background culture people do communication with each other, they usually judge the rationality by own code of conduct. So it is inevitable for them to misunderstand others. And what’s more, it will destroy the friendship between people. For example: In China, it is kind to pat children’s head, but it is a very terrible thing in the western country. They think it is unexpected thing to a child. If you do like this, his parents will get very angry for it. And the other different thing: In China, men always smoke after they finish the meals, they think it is a kind of enjoyment. Nevertheless, in western countries, they consider this behavior is not polite to women and children and it is also a rude thing to smoke on a table. So, it is very important for us to recognize and use the different regulation behavior when we do business or have communication between foreign countries. In order to ensure the communication will be smoothly, you should understand each other’s conduct. Especially remember the forbidden things and impolite things. The best way is when in Rome, do as the Romans.

4.4 The different values

Value is the core of culture and the most appropriate criteria what is used to evaluate the behaviors, things and make choices from all possible targets by social members. Values are the reflection of people’s social existence, people in the same natural environment and social environment will have the same values. Therefore, every society and country is using their own recognized values. In the dinner table etiquette, people’s behavior is a microcosm of the national values and the corresponding behavior under the guidance of different values. In a state of ceremonies like China, emphasizes loyalty and filial piety, reflects the values of collectivism. Chinese people respect the aged and take good care of children, therefore, seating arrangements are very regular, seats not only have upper and lower grades, but also the specific seat sorting. For western countries, the individualism values occupy the dominant position and individual power of each person is reflected. This is because in the philosophy of Westerners, it tends to focus on individualism, personality development and self-expression. They think that if a person is not up to his purpose, which is not because of the destiny but their own laziness and their lack of fighting spirit. Western people put into practice individual dining system, each of them eat their own tableware and choose their own favorite food. So, in western, there will not appear the situation like eating the food reluctantly served by the hosts in China.


Different countries and different people have different manners. We should have a good knowledge about other customs so that they will not think us are ill-mannered. When exploring the differences in communication manners and customs, we set them mainly into three parts: manner and culture, communication manner and table manner. Considering the roots of these differences, Historical and regional causes might took the significant places. Therefore, a cross culture environment and a cross culture mind do lead to the better understanding in today’s communication. In modern society, along with the development of the open policy, it seems that the world is getting smaller and smaller so that people are very active with frequent exchanges. With the constant deepening of integration of the world, we should pay more attention to etiquette among people. In particular, the importance of the table manners is more prominent. Consequently, we should admit these differences in cross-cultural communication, and understand and respect it as well. The key of successful intercultural communication is to have a correct attitude to deal with cultural differences. It is to understand and respect other countries’ culture that is the necessary condition to avoid cultural conflict, realize equal association and cooperate successfully. So as the graduate students, we must based on the requirement of the labor market. We will enter the society later, and before this we must get the full preparation of being a good worker. Only do we learn the different culture and practice it, we could find a good job quickly and do right things during the communication. By doing this can we make our work easier to be handled. If we can understand the manners better, we can know others better.


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