Table Manners: a Cultural Difference
For many Westerners, the Chinese dinner table is terra incognita([拉]未发现的地域). There are no forks or knives for the Westerners to use. The Chinese host makes great, sweeping（大范围的）arm movements that go over large sections of the table passing over both food and friends alike. The scene is fantastic（非常好的）, but it leaves many foreigners at a loss（让……迷惑）for what to do. In most Western restaurants and homes there are rules about how to talk, eat and sit that are highly restrictive（受限制的）, and they create an atmosphere（气氛）that is completely different from what we find here in China. In my childhood home, dinner was enjoyed with hushed(压低声音的) voices, and the topics open for discussion were very much restricted. We were not allowed to bring up anything that was potentially unappetizing（倒胃口的）; body functions（上洗手间）, bugs, murder and mayhem（使人肢体伤残的行为）in general were all strictly forbidden topics. If I had to leave the table to use the toilet, I had to verbally excuse myself without mentioning what it was that I was going to do. "May I be excused, please? I need to wash my hands." I would say.
My mother would say, "Sure." My father would often play a joke on us by saying, "Your hands don't look dirty to me!"
As for eating, we did it quietly. No eating noises were allowed.
Everything must be done as quietly as possible. Therefore, we had to eat with our mouths closed. To make a "smacking" noise was, perhaps, the worst offence possible. While drinking soup or coffee or wine "slurping"（咕嘟咕嘟地喝）was also forbidden. If any sound whatever was created by our intake of food or beverage（饮料）, it constituted（构成）bad manners! With that in mind, it was, of course, unthinkable to speak with one's mouth full of food, so speaking only occurred（发生）before or after one had taken in food and swallowed（吞咽）it.
How one sits at the table is also prescribed（被规定的）. One is to sit up straight with the recessive（非主导的，隐性的）hand (usually the left) in one's lap holding a napkin（餐巾）while the dominant hand (usually the right) holds the fork or spoon. The only time one is allowed to have both hands on the table is when one is using a knife to cut something, but as soon as the cutting is done, the recessive hand goes back to the lap. Also, elbows（肘）are not allowed on the table. Therefore, one props（撑着）the arm against the edge of the table just below the elbow. One should never reach for（伸手拿）any food on the table; one should ask someone sitting near it to give it to you. "Would you please pass the potatoes?" "May I trouble you for the salt?" These are phrases that you are likely to hear on any given night of the week at a family dinner.
When a guest comes from the West to enjoy a meal with you, it would be a good idea for you to explain to your guest what will happen at dinner and to find out if a fork would be easier to use than chopsticks（筷子）. In my time in China, I have come to enjoy Chinese table manners far more than those prescribed by my own culture, but for many it is impossible to adjust（适应）. The best policy is to ask your guest questions to find out what he or she is comfortable with.
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