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Why Do People Rub Their Chopsticks Together Before Using Them?

Lately, I have been encountering more and more restaurant goers who vigorously rub their wooden chopsticks together before using them. Some people rub so vigorously, they seem like they are trying to start a fire. I find it a bit disconcerting when the person next to me at a sushi bar or yakitori bar is doing this.

So why do people rub their chopsticks together? When I first went to Japan, I was taught this was grossly rude, very uncouth. Was I given wrong information? Is it considered perfectly polite to rub your chopsticks? And does it serve some purpose? (I've never personally encountered a splinter on my chopsticks that required me to rub them together to remove the splinter).

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  1. I rub my cheapie wooden chop sticks together to get the splinters out. It may be uncouth in Japan, but I know I would find it uncouth to find a tiny sliver of wood nicking me.

    Plastic or porcelain chop sticks I don't bother.

    6 Replies
    1. re: SauceSupreme

      Bingo. I've encountered splinters from cheapie chopsticks before, and it is not pleasant at all. To rub one's chopsticks together at a place that uses decent chopsticks would be quite rude indeed, as it implies that the chopsticks provided are the cheap ones.

      1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

        The cheap ones are usually part stuck together and wrapped in a paper sheath, don't they?

      2. re: SauceSupreme

        Ditto. I really hate those cheap wooden chopsticks. I always have a hard time breaking them apart and when I do, they're inevitably covered in teeny tiny little splinters. I feel weird rubbing them together, but I'd rather do that then end up with pieces of wood mixed with my food.

        1. re: SarahEats

          I prefer the cheap wooden chopsticks (O-hashi) because the rough texture makes it much easier to pick up kernels of rice, etc. I lived in Japan for ten years and pretty darn proficient with O-hashi. I have big ones I use for cooking and fancy-schmancy ones for company however, I don't really care for the slick lacquered ones.

          1. re: bkhuna

            Hashi is the Japanese word for all chopsticks - not for the cheap ones. The O- is added to nouns in front as an honorific or similar designator (could be size, for example), depending on usage. Hashi can also mean bridge - you have to know the context or see the kanji.

            The Japanese word for the cheap wooden chopsticks is waribashi. Wari (cheap) and the b replaces the h in combinational form.

            1. re: applehome

              Did you know that "hashi" can also mean "end-corner area", something totally unrelated to the other meanings of "chopsticks" and "bridge"?

      3. I see vigorously rubbing the sticks together as being akin to holding up a spoon for inspection and rubbing it down with a napkin. The message you are sending is that the utensils are subpar, unacceptable and perhaps unhygenic, and you are doing so in a tremendously obvious manner (it really does look like they are trying to build a fire!). I personally don't believe that kind of thing belongs anywhere except in one's home or perhaps Denny's.

        I think for many people it is a habit. I've personally never encountered chopsticks that were splintered to the point of causing me dining difficulty, and when I have had to deal with problematic splinters I try to do so in the most tactful manner possible (usually smoothing the offending piece of wood down with a finger works).

        3 Replies
        1. re: Bad Sneakers

          I agree with everything you wrote, Bad Sneakers. I think it's insulting to rub chopsticks or wipe silverware in restaurants -- If you really think the place is that subpar/dirty, why are you eating there in the first place?

          1. re: squeaks

            Wooden Chop sticks presented in a sealed paper wrapper can be assummed CLEAN. So if someone is rubbing them together, it can not be concluded, that they think they are diry! There is no need for anyone else to say so. Nor to create an insult in their minds, only.

            If I rub two wooden or even plastic chopsticks together, I am making a wish and giving Thanks!

          2. re: Bad Sneakers

            So what do you do when you discover a dirty utensil? Or are you claiming this never occurs at restaurants of a level above Denny's?

            I do not clean dirty utensils with a napkin, I ask for a replacement and yes indeed the message I am intentionally and forcefully sending is that "the utensils are subpar, unacceptable and perhaps unhygenic" and that is why I will not eat with it.

            You try to deal with splinters in a "tactful" manner? Who's watching you?

          3. In particular, the chopsticks that I rub together, when I do so (which is NOT always), are the cheap kind that come in a little paper packet, that you have to split apart into two separate sticks. I don't think they're unhygeinic, but I am being required to finish the manufacturing process already, and I choose to finish to my own specs.

            That end bit that you have to break apart (a) rarely splits evenly, which is annoying, and (b) usually leaves at least one rough edge with splinters. As others have said above, one rubs the rough ends together to smooth the edges. I would NOT try to do that by smoothing down with my finger.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Allstonian

              Hear hear. And to those who say that rubbing the chopsticks is rude because it implies the restaurant has provided subpar utensils: well, they are subpar. I hate splitting those damned things. Give me the plastic ones any day. Or even the wooden oval ones. But I hate those ones that are connected all the way to the bottom. So poke-y.

              1. re: litchick

                Since I'm the one who said it... I said at a place that uses *decent* chopsticks. Rubbing plastic or lacquered ones together is positively ridiculous.

            2. Place another vote for rubbing the stix is better than splinter in the lips.

              After the latter occured to me many moons ago, if the resto gives me the break apart kind, you gotta protect those lips and rubbing is the only this that works.

              If not wood, then I smile, and enjoy the food sans rubbing.

              1. Chopstick rubbing creates more splinters, just smaller ones. The way I sometimes see people doing it, it appears that they're under the illusion that this is a requisite ritual for beginning a Japanese meal.

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