A brief introduction to chopstick etiquette

The beauty of a simple tool like the chopstick is that the rules of proper usage also tend to be fairly simple.  And, as you might imagine, simple is the rule of the game here at Zen Simple.

These guidelines will vary a bit depending on your locale and how formal the setting is.  A good tip is to observe how others are behaving and emulate your host's etiquette.  

Here we go.

  1. Only set your chopsticks on the edge of your bowl when you're done with your meal (and, even then, it can be considered rude).  Instead, use the chopstick-rest alongside your place setting.  The rest is designed to suspend the tips of the chopsticks off the table.  If your chopsticks are disposable and came with a paper sleeve, you may use that as a rest, and return the chopsticks to the sleeve when you are done eating.  Try to avoid placing them in a position where they are pointing directly at someone.  Some recommend placing the chopsticks as close to you as possible on the table between you and your dish, with the chopsticks pointing to the left, if you are right handed.
  2. Each "family style" serving dish *may* have its own set of communal chopsticks.  Use those rather than serving yourself with your own chopsticks.  If you do use your personal set to retrieve something from a common dish, be precise and never return a portion once you have picked it up or touched it.  Even hovering over the food and being indecisive can cost you etiquette points!  Using your personal chopsticks in reverse for this task isn't recommended, although it may be a practice allowed at your table.
  3. Avoid leaving chopsticks stuck in a bowl of rice.  It's too much like a funeral.
  4. Don't cross the chopsticks.  Again - funeral.
  5. Never spear food with your chopsticks.  You savage.  Unless they're fishballs, and then go for it.  Those suckers are slippery.
  6. Chopsticks are always used together, never apart.  You'll win points if you can cut tofu or tender meat apart with the tips of the chopsticks gently moving away from one other.
  7. Never rub disposable chopsticks together.  It implies to your host that you think they are cheap.  Unless they are actually cheap and you are risking splinters to your lip.  Rub away.
  8. Never gesture at someone with your chopsticks.  Or, even at a dish of food.  Unless you're making a point and/or talking politics.
  9. Avoid moving plates around with your chopsticks, unless you're attempting to demonstrate abilities you learned in the circus. 
  10. Lighten up and enjoy your meal.

I will also add that using chopsticks simply allows you to slow down and appreciate your food.  Kimiko Barber's book "The Chopsticks Diet" is a brilliant look at how the use of chopsticks alone can help you lead a healthier life.  Plus, if you can figure out how to eat asparagus spears with chopsticks, you've entered elite status and should be proud.  Seriously.