Table etiquette in China can get complicated, but doesn’t need to be overwhelming.
The first obstacle is to be able to actually pick up chopsticks.
The next obstacle is to be able to say the right things at the table, giving the right people face. We all know the simple 干杯 (gān bēi) and 买单 (mǎi dān). However, the next time you are out with Chinese friends, try one of these top 5 phrases that come in handy during eating. You will probably raise some eyebrows.
1. 敬你一杯 (jìng nǐ yī bēi): Cheers to you!
Used to show respect, 敬你一杯, is said to someone that you want to drink to. You’ll see Chinese people walking with their cups of wine and 白酒 to toast the boss or leaders. It’s all about respect and always used during formal occasions.
“lái, jìng nǐ yī bēi”
“Here, cheers to you”
2. 招牌菜 (zhāo pái cài): Signature dishes, house specials
While you’re ordering in any setting (formal or informal), ask the waiter about their 招牌菜. It’s stepping it up a notch from “什么好吃?” and better than just saying 这个，这个， 那个，这个 while pointing at the pictures.
“nǐ men zhè yǒu shé me zhāo pái cài?”
“What are your signature dishes?”
3. 口福 (kǒu fú): The luck to eat delicious food
It is obvious how important eating is in Chinese culture: one of the most common phrases when greeting people is asking, “吃了吗?” Compliment the person who ordered the food by saying it’s delicious with 口福. It’s a more sophisticated way of saying 好吃 so but no need to reserve this only for formal occasions, who doesn’t like compliments?!
“nǐ qiáo zán men de kǒu fú”
“Would you look at our luck to eat this delicious food”
4. 失陪 (shī péi): Excuse me (when leaving)
Leaving to take a call? Going to the “restroom”, but really sneaking off to pay the bill? Before leaving the table, politely say 失陪. This can be used anytime you’re leaving for a moment and will come back, or when leaving first from the event.
“bù hǎo yì si, wǒ yào jiē gè diàn huà shī péi yī xià”
“Sorry, please excuse me I need to take this call”
5. 杯中酒，盘中菜，感谢 ____ 的好招待 (bēi zhōng jiǔ, pán zhōng cài, gǎn xiè ____ de hǎo zhāo dài): There’s alcohol in the glasses, there’s food on the plates, thank you _____ for the entertainment
This little phrase I picked up from the hundreds of dinners my headmaster and deans invited me to, and is my personal favorite. It works in any situation where someone has invited you out. It’s a poetic, concise and humorous way to thank them. Substitute the person’s name in the blank and you’re good to go. If you’re not drinking alcohol, just substitute it with 杯中茶, etc.
Practice these phrases during your next couple of meals and impress those Chinese friends. It’s not just about the delicious food and amazing company, but appreciating it and showing others your appreciation. 干杯！
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