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7 Chinese eating habits Westerners don’t get

By MichaelM ( Updated: 2014-10-11 14:42

There are many customary differences between the West and the East, not the least of which are some of China’s eating habits, which many Westerners would doubtless find quite odd and certainly not understand. Here are seven.

1. Not eating food dropped on a table: I've seen the disgust in people’s faces here when I’ve dropped food on the table only to then pick it up and eat it. In the West, we clean our tabletops quite well. Often with disinfectant (especially in restaurants). Our thought is, "A tabletop has had nothing but food on it. No one walks on it, sits on it or throws garbage on it. Why is it considered so dirty?". We don't get it.

2. Eating out of a common dish: We use separate serving utensils when getting food from a common dish. We would find “germ sharing” much more prevalent with people using their eating utensils (chopsticks) and eating food directly from a common dish or plate. Think about it. The chopsticks go in your mouth and you use it again in the dish, potentially putting your germs into the dish. Then the dish is served to several other people at the table. Everyone is sharing everyone else's germs. Westerners would find this unhealthy.

3. Putting rice cookers on the floor: Westerners don't want their food near the floor. Dust, germs, etc, are far more likely to get in/on the rice. I've been in several restaurants and nearly everyone I've seen puts their rice cookers on the floor.

4. Not offering napkins: There is a big difference between what a Westerner considers a “napkin” and the “tissue” that you usually get in China to wipe your mouth. Paper seems to be a well-protected commodity in China. I know that the schools that I've worked in treat a page of paper (especially in photocopiers) like it costs 5 yuan a sheet. It doesn't. It costs about 2-3 mao. When needing to make copies to give exams to students, I've had to pay to get copies made to give exams to my students. The administrators acted as if they were doing you a favor in making copies of exams so you could test the students.

5. Eating dessert before a meal: Every Western child's dream would be to live in China for the sole purpose that he/she could eat their dessert before they eat their main meal. I’m not sure about this Western tradition of eating dessert last. In China, it doesn't matter. You can have ice cream before your meal. Westerners would find that very strange.

6. Drinking hot water with your meal: Often, it has been my experience that many Chinese will not have a drink (water, tea, etc.) with a meal. But, when they do, it is usually hot water. I've often heard that hot water is better for digestion than cold water. However, we (Westerners) like cold water or cold drinks.

7. Having noodles or rice every day: This is something I've easily come to accept and enjoy. However, in the West, people enjoy a variety of foods. I know that most people outside of the US think that all Americans eat hamburgers and french fries every day. That is far from accurate. Americans do eat a lot of hamburgers, but a large portion of the population don't. I rarely eat a hamburger. Perhaps less than five hamburgers a year. I enjoy them, but I don't eat them often. I think the reason that we enjoy such a large variety of different foods every day in the West is due to our multicultural society.

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