Why You Should Avoid Sticking Chopsticks In Rice At Restaurants

As there are different standards of table etiquette across the globe, there are a few things that you shouldn't do at most restaurants that serve rice. Other cultures in Asia, including but not limited to Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese, share standard rules of table manners across the board. While chewing with your mouth open is generally frowned upon in Western culture, it is a less offensive habit in Asia. At times, loud slurping sounds are encouraged to show the cook your appreciation of the food.

When it comes to the obvious differences between Asian dining and Western dining, one will point to the use of chopsticks. Many unfamiliar with Asian dining will awkwardly try to figure out how to use chopsticks for fried rice, stabbing pieces of meat with the sticks like makeshift forks. As much as it shows respect to using chopsticks over forks, this method can prove to be more of an offense. Of course, there's room for practice when using chopsticks, but there are also things you should avoid that can come off as major faux pas. One of the greatest mistakes you can make is sticking your chopsticks vertically in a bowl of rice or any bowl of food, for that matter.

Sticking chopsticks in rice is a funerary rite

For those who are unfamiliar, stabbing a bowl of rice might not seem like a big deal, but it is actually a symbol of death and funerals. In many Asian countries that have Shinto and Buddhist practices, including China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, mourners prepare food and incense for those who have passed. Although the funeral rituals vary by culture, the altars are usually adorned with flowers and filled with food offerings for the deceased. More often than not, there will be a bowl of rice stabbed with chopsticks, which indicates that the food is being offered to those who have passed.

While this is appropriate and respectful at funerals, it definitely is frowned upon in a restaurant. Not only is it a sign of death, but the act of sticking your chopsticks upright can be seen as an invitation for spirits to come to dine with you. In Vietnamese culture, it can also resemble a funerary incense bowl, which is often associated with the commemoration of the dead. 

Even leaving the superstitions behind, it's seen as disrespectful to leave your chopsticks standing upright overall. While this rule holds true in many Asian cultures, there are certain things to avoid in Korean dining that are normalized in Japanese dining, so always do your research ahead of time.