table manners asia

Table manners in Northeast Asia

Elbows off the table, no talking with your mouth full, don’t double-dip… We have plenty of social rules in the West to make sure we don’t get on the wrong side of someone at dinner and most of us have got it sussed. But head to Northeast Asia and table manners can be a whole other kettle of fish…


table manners asia

The host

  • Bring the host a gift, but not flowers as these are associated with funerals. Also, don’t use blue, white or black gift wrap: these colours colours have negative connotations in Chinese culture.
  • Follow the host and don’t start eating until they do.
  • The host always starts a toast.


  • Don’t wave your chopsticks around while you are not using them. Put them on the rest while you speak or drink.
  • Never stand your chopstick vertically in your rice. It looks like the incense burnt at funerals and it thus a sign of death.

Noisy eaters

  • Slurping and belching shows you are really enjoying your food.
  • Tapping the table after your tea is topped up is a sign of thanks.

Give it a try

  • Try everything that is offered to you. If you can’t eat something for health or belief reasons, an explanation should let you off the hook.
  • But never take the last of something from the serving dish…


table manners asia

Dip, don’t pour

  • Much as soy sauce is loved in Japan, it is not normal to pour it all over your rice. Soy is put into a small dish and food is dipped into it instead.
  • Don’t put too much soy in the dish—waste is frowned upon. And dip you’re nigiri sushi (the type with fish on a block of rice) fish side down so as not to get rice in the dipping bowl.


  • Don’t pass food from chopsticks to chopsticks. If you want to serve someone, reverse your chopsticks to pick the food up, and put it on a small plate to pass to them.

Silent suppers

  • The Japanese really enjoy their food and not talking is a sign that they are engrossed in their meal. Don’t be surprised if dinner times are subdued and quiet.
  • Slurping is a sign of enjoyment, but burping is not accepted in the way it is in other Asian countries.

South Korea

Look, no hands!

  • Never use your hands to eat. If you are trying to pick up something tricky with your chopsticks, like fruit, use a toothpick instead.

Just say no

  • It is considered polite to refuse the first offer of a second helping.

Wait to be seated

  • The host will seat guests. Don’t rush to grab a seat; wait to be directed on where to sit.


  • Women pour drinks for men but not other women.
  • People generally serve one another and it is not custom to fill your own glass. If you are a woman it is acceptable though.
  • Refusing a drink can be taken as an insult. If you have had enough, don’t drain your glass as this means you want more.

For more advice on table manners being polite to your Northeast Asia hosts visit Kwintessential and check out their handy culture guides.

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