Eating in Restaurants
A few rules of mealtime conduct in China
Table manners are relatively rare in rural China. Eating is an entertainment in itself – one can laugh loudly and speak with a full mouth. Mild regurgitation or picking food scraps from the teeth is not rude. There is a single taboo to keep in mind: one should always go to the restroom to blow one’s nose.
The people in urban China today have adopted Western table manners, and eating in restaurants in Shanghai can be done in a cultivated and relaxed atmosphere. One holdout is that soup is still slurped, and incidentally this is promoted by the shape of the Chinese spoon, since enjoyment of the flavors is optimized in this way.
Western-style silverware is seldom encountered, and might not even be available upon request. However, the use of chopsticks is not a big problem, since this technique can be practiced for a few days at home. The Chinese servers will often watch with keen interest and amusement, but this laughter by the Chinese is "with you" and not "at you”, so you should not be insulted. Being somewhat inartful with chopsticks, by dropping food, for example, is not considered a problem. However, there are a few rules of behavior to be kept in mind so as not to be rude, or insult other people with the chopsticks (see "Eating with chopsticks").
When eating with company, the host will sit between the most important or elderly guests with the intention of replenishing their drinks, or serving them the choicest pieces of meat. At a banquet, 4-6 dishes will usually be presented on a turntable in the middle of the table, so that each of the guests can serve themselves in turn. It is expected that one will taste all of the dishes, and it is frowned upon to poke about in the food or to select the best portion for oneself. Normally, more food will be brought out than can be eaten by the diners. To serve too little food would mean that the host is neglectful. So that the host does not lose face, one should not eat up everything presented. Alcoholic drinks, drinking games, toasting and chug-a-lug drinking are in fact always part of a social evening. Not to join in would be rude.