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Are Chinese Restaurants the most intimidating ethnic establishments?

Had a (non-Chinese) friend comment to me the other day that she found Chinese restaurants to be the most intimidating of all the ethnic restaurants she's been to.


She says it's because of the language barrier (both written and oral) -- the waiters either don't speak English, refuse to speak English, or have very poor, limited English skills. And the menus have awkward, sometimes downright funny, English translations.

She also says that she gets a sense that most Chinese restaurants could care less about catering to other people (read: non-Chinese) because they figure they can make it well enough just by serving Chinese folks.

Then, of course there is the food, which can oftentimes be exotic (pig's blood, fish stomach, etc.) and very, very foreign. Compound that with the fact that most people are eating these foods with chopsticks -- not the most intuitive utensil for non-Asians.

Do folks think this is true? Obviously, this is a pretty gross generalization, but I think there are parts that definitely ring true for many, but not all, Chinese restaurants.

And, if it isn't Chinese, then what do folks think is the MOST intimidating ethnic restaurant/cuisine?

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  1. I won't say "intimidating" but eating at any truly authentic ethnic restaurant I find challenging if there is a language barrier.

    I think if you go to any ethnic place, assume there have been numerous jackasses there before you wanting ranch dressing and forks, and you're going to have to show them that you're not like that, that you have an adventurous palate and you'll find soon enough that you'll be treated accordingly

    These folks have been asked to assimilate in other parts of their life, but in their restaurant, they can do their own thing, so treat it as you're visiting their homeland & don't be the "ugly american"

    Chopsticks are honestly not that hard to master & you'll find that once you get going, you'll wonder why we DON't use them. Grab an extra pair next time you get take-out and practice, and use them for food at home.

    29 Replies
    1. re: RaleighRocker

      I've been trying to use chopsticks ever since college (over 15 years), and still am not very good. I'm the one who drops the sushi into the soy sauce and splashes her shirt. I'm the one who starts a meal with chopsticks and ends up with so little in my stomach that I gobble the leftovers with my hands or a fork when I get home. I've had numerous friends and even employees at Chinese restaurants show me the proper way to hold and use chopsticks, and my hands just don't work. Maybe it's the arthritis I've had all my life. Maybe I'm just not that dexterous (I also cannot manage to twirl pasta onto a fork properly). But just because it's easy for you doesn't mean it's easy across the board.

      1. re: mojoeater

        Practice with popcorn...or nuts...whatever small snack you eat in front of the TV.

        1. re: mojoeater

          try the rubber band trick.

          roll up a piece of paper towel and place about 1/2 inch from the top of the chopsticks and wrap a rubber band around the top end creating a "see-saw". the you only need to worry about "closing" them and they take car of "opening".

          1. re: jfood

            I've actually tried the ones where they are attached at the top and they do the opening thing. No better for me.

          2. re: mojoeater

            Don't feel so bad - speaking as a Chinese person with a few relatives and quite a few Asian friends, a lot of them still struggle to use it properly.

            Their mistakes often are like:

            -holding it properly, but their hands are turned over in a way that it seems rather useless.
            -crossing them, so that the bottom parts of them literally crossover each other and makes it impossible to pick up anything that way - I used to do that!
            - Standing chopsticks up in a rice bowl - only a little, little sister of my friend did that, but it's extremely disrespectful since you only do that at death rituals.
            - Stabbing at things with chopsticks. I've heard of frustrated Japanese people doing that, considering that their chopsticks are pointier and more suited for that and maybe only as an off-color joke, but a Chinese person would never do that. The chopsticks aren't suited for it anyway, since they're blunt. I got reprimanded for doing that when I couldn't handle chopsticks well and stabbed my dumplings.

            The only real way for me to learn was to go "Use your chopsticks correctly or STARVE!" when I was 10, but reading from your struggles, I don't think that would work as well for you. It's respectful to at least try in restaurants, so don't worry too much.

            1. re: cerealpancakes

              I don't know anyone of us (Japaese) who stab at stuff with chopsticks.

              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                Like I said, must've been an off-color stereotype or a joke. I have several Japanese friends and I've never seen them stab at anything with chopsticks. My apologies.

                1. re: cerealpancakes

                  No apologies needed and absolutely no offense taken.

                  This thread is so interesting in the sense that I never before thought of restaurants being intimidating in any way. Then my reflections brought out my NYC deli-phobia.

                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                    You'd probably be dismayed to learn that stabbing isn't so unusual among some generations in Japan, depending on the type of item.

            2. re: mojoeater

              Not that it helps with your chopsticks skills, but just realize that it's OK to eat sushi with your hands. As a japanese friend of mine explained, "He makes it with his hands, you eat it with your hands - you lose the connection with the wood". A qoute that has guided me through many life situations, not all related to food.

              1. re: mojoeater

                Problems like arthritis in the hands, tendinitis, carpal tunnel, and the like can indeed make eating with chopsticks difficult.

                1. re: bachslunch

                  I recall reading that chopstick users had a higher chance of developing arthritis in old age compared to chopstick non-users.

                  1. re: bachslunch

                    My dad died at 93 and never seemed to use chopsticks properly. He never starved. My DH doesn't seem to hold chopsticks correctly either! Yes, I have tendonitis in my hands, wrists, arms and shoulders, and they all get tired pretty quickly.

                  2. re: mojoeater

                    mojoeater, I know what your dealing with. I was diagnosed with RA at 16, and had a very very hard time accepting it. I fought it tooth and nail, my youthful stubborness actually serving a purpose. When I was 18 and had a car, I began exploring on my own the world I was in (LA back then) and started eating lots of Japanese food. My arthritis was bad then, I wasen't on any pain therapy yet. I taught myself how to properly use chopsticks (after being show the right way from a good friend) and used them to eat EVERYTHING! I drove my family batty. Not to toot my own horn (toot-toot*lol*) but i'm really glad I learned how to use them. Mind over matter. Hey, I'll admit it wasen't easy at first, but now I can use them quite well. When I was in Japan, I was complimented on my skills with them. I really coulden't tell the story to them, so i'm pleased I can now. (even tho i'm sure only 1% of readers give a hoot)

                    Practice, practice, practice. It will come, I promise! Good luck, you can do it!

                    1. re: mojoeater

                      Easiest way to handle chopsticks...pick up the first one as if you were going to write with it, then slip it down a notch and let finger 2 & 3 handle 'writing' with that one, then add #2 chopstick, in correct writing position. Bingo! You can pick up a single grain of rice very esily with that one. We keep several sets at home---we find that with many delicate Eastern dishes or anything involving rice, it just taste better without metal.

                      The time that really taught me to use them was when I was invited to a special Chinese banquet and faced with slippery noodles, a large baked fish, and *ivory* chopsticks. Keeping anything oily on an ivory chopstick is an artform.

                      1. re: mojoeater

                        It is perfectly acceptable, PERFECTLY, to eat sushi with your fingers. I've never gone back to chopsticks for sushi since a waiter extolled me as a :connoisseur" for eating with my fingers. And if you are going to use chopsticks, only the fish, and not the rice (for nigiri) touches the soy sauce.

                        1. re: John Manzo

                          Agreed. I used to find sushi shops waaay more intimidating than Chinese restaurants. Now, I think I've got my chopstick kung fu good enough where I can pick up nigiri, turn it upside down, and have only the fish touch soy sauce.

                          Incidentally, when I was a rookie sushi newb ordering cut rolls and what not, I would make a practice of use the slices of ginger to "paint" soy sauce onto the fish. This, too, I've found to be perfectly acceptable, though I usually skip the ginger and just use the tip of the chopstick to do the painting.

                          1. re: SauceSupreme

                            I've used the technique of dipping the chopsticks in the soy sauce then using it as a "brush" to brush it on the fish... it's a little esoteric, but it works and gets just enough on.

                            1. re: Blueicus

                              I actually learned that from a show I saw on TV Japan (shot and aired in Japan for Japanese audience) that had a huge roundtable showcasing all kinds of specialty sushi around Japan, and they were not only saying eating with fingers was acceptable, but this painting technique was reccomended. It's a great technique, and very proper.

                              1. re: Ozumo

                                I have this thing about not getting my fingers vinegary/sticky/dirty through the handling of foods (that is, while I'm eating it), so I do eat sushi with chopsticks :). If I could I'd eat Ethiopian food with a knife and fork... :|, but I am getting better with it these days (Although I still prefer to use chopsticks to pick up sushi).

                        2. re: mojoeater

                          Oh for goodness sake... just politely ask for a fork. (or with sushi, use your hands, most Japanese do). It's not being an ugly American if you're polite... which I'm sure you are. If you get "attitude" for asking... ignore it. Now they're being the ugly ones.

                        3. re: RaleighRocker

                          The funny thing about chopsticks is that many Americans think that ALL Asians use them and that's just not the case; I found out that when I use chopsticks in a Thai restaurant that I'm not being authentic- most Thais (in restaurants at least) use forks to my knowledge. Personally it doesn't bother me- I like using chopsticks and I could care less if I'm being "authentic" because it's fun! :}
                          What I do worry about though is sneezing from spicy food- either in a Thai or Korean place. I read that it is poor ettiquette to wipe your nose at the table but when you're constantly sneezing throughout a meal, what can you do? Sometimes I think I'm getting dirty stares but at this point in my life I just shrug it off.

                          1. re: NicoleFriedman

                            Eating is actually done with a tablespoon. The fork is the "helper". Many Asian eat with their hands as well.

                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                              And noodles are traditionally eaten with chopsticks, the only exception -- most Thais would no sooner put a fork full of Thai food in their mouth than an American would put a knife full of mashed potatoes in his mouth.

                              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                Oh, that's why I always have to ask for the knife. I like to use the knife as the helper and the fork to eat off of. I hate eating off of tablespoons for some reason, at home I use teaspoons even for soup. Guess I'll have to stick with being unauthentic with this one. I do eat with chopsticks where appropriate at least.

                                1. re: Ozumo

                                  If you don't use a tablespoon you're leaving the best part of the meal on your plate.

                                  1. re: John Manzo

                                    Curry sauce? I'm pretty good at getting it all up with my fork. I let the rice soak up excess.

                          2. re: RaleighRocker

                            The points made by RaleighRocker ring true for me. I love going to a restaurant that caters mainly to one ethnic group. Usually a good sign of authenticity.

                            I have been to all manner of ethnic restaurants and find, like Raleigh, that a gesture of good will like closing your eyes, pointing to the middle of the menu, and ordering "that" works well. They get a kick out of it and without understanding a single word of your language get that you are there to try new stuff.

                            The most intimidating restaurants for me are the Soul Food restaurants down here. I'm usually the only white guy in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood OR I am the other white guy in a fish shack at 3AM with the first white guy being a drunk college student trying his best to assimilate to his new environs by talking jive... poorly.

                            One night I was shoulder to shoulder in Dave's Seafood Supreme which is roughly the size of a phone booth. I was standing right next to (o.k. ... we were basically spooning) a massive man who was looking at me like he just needed an excuse to be angry. He asked in a loud voice "So, you like black people food?" I said just as loudly "No!" No needle scratching across the record but dead silence none the less. This man looked at me like I had lost my flippin' mind. "I like good food. Mr. Dave makes pork chops just like my Mom." He gave me a big smile and expressed loudly how true that was. Everyone had a good laugh and continued to wait patiently for their respective fried morsel to exit the roiling grease.

                            For me good food can bridge some pretty big social gaps. Hungry is hungry regardless of where you are or where you are from.

                            1. re: RaleighRocker

                              Love your post RR.

                              Intimidated not a word I would use. First times I went I didn't know what things were by name of dish - e.g. General Tso's chicken, Kung pao chicken, ant climb Hill, etc. but I asked and tried and enjoyed. Also loved going with Chinese friends and trying everything they ordered. Did not always like everything but enjoyed trying new dishes.

                              Sad that many people only want the familiar and that they freak out if they aren't being catered to with translations, etc. some of my best food adventures have been in places where communication left a bit to be desired.

                            2. Intimidating is kind of an extreme word, and she should aviod places if she feels intimidated.
                              When you say most Chinese restaurants could care less, do she mean the ones in her town, or all over the world? I've never felt that way.
                              Pigs blood and fish stomach are not that normal in most American Chinese places. I wonder where this friend is going where she's noticing this.
                              I don't find any ethnic food or restaurant to be intimidating. It can be frustrating when there is a language barrier, but never intimidating.

                              1. Ethnic restaurants are not intimidating at all. I like "exotic" food, other languages, and funny translations.

                                What IS intimidating: NYC delis with soup-Nazi like customs and where you can't ask any questions without being barked at and without other patrons in line getting hostile.

                                12 Replies
                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                  jfood knew sammy would steal the thunder. while reading the OP the thought of Carnegie Deli and Katz came into his head. That's intimdating but in the deli if you can schmooze, you can break the barrier. In a chinese resto there is no humor.

                                  1. re: jfood

                                    jfood, even worse when I see the old counter guy's look of disgust and thought bubble saying, "gudimit, justmluck, nutherfriggnturst". Hard for me to schmooze. But I know what you mean and agree.

                                    In restaurants in places where I don't speak the language, I find that being able to make quick sketches of animals, parts oif animals, vegetables, and cooking methods breaks barriers and is a way to schmooze. Restaurant staff around the globe appear to like Pictionary--except in places where drawings don't make any sense culturally.

                                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                      jfood's brother used to research his chinese cookbooks and write down what he wanted in chinese. then he would bring his "order" with him. The chef liked the challenge soooooo much he used to get the best meals in Chinatown.

                                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                        Ah, see, having grown up in that environment, when confronted with that sort of attitude, my conversations tend to go like this:

                                        "Whaddayawant, hurry up already!"

                                        "Bacon egg and cheese on a hard roll. And don't burn the bacon."

                                        "EY! I been here 42 years, now yer gonna come in here and tell me how to make a piece of @$#%in' bacon? I oughta shove this @$#%in' spatula up your @$#%in' &%@!!!"

                                        "Whyncha take that @$#%in' spatula and make me a @$#%in' bacon egg and cheese like I ast ya!"

                                        Anyplace else but New York (and concomitant parts of LI, CT and NJ) that would ensure you got the Loogie Special... but in New York, usually, it works.

                                        1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                          No doubt the NY'er in your face "hurry up and order" thing is real...but I've always noticed it's usually between other NY'ers. I remember going to NYC in my 20s thinking, okay these people are hardass yellers, etc., so I need to be on my toes.

                                          So I'm in NYC and walk into a pizza joint. The counter person asks, "What'll you have?" I say, "Pepperoni slice". He gets me the slice and I say, "Thanks." The guy says, "You're welcome have a good one." Normal, pleasant exchange just like anywhere else.

                                          So I'm thinking what's with the NY'er rude yeller thing...then another guy comes in. The counter guy asks "what'll you have?" The buyer yells back and a NYC yelling thing happens...basically barking at each other. Then I realized a lot of it's between other NY'ers.

                                          Other things in NY to reinforced this. I noticed people with thick accents from Brooklyn or Queens tended to get really, really rude service in Manhattan which shocked me a bit. Also my then NY girlfriend, a normally low-key and sweet person would get into the NY thing too, like getting into a car service off the street and asking how much and the harshness came out like, "No that's too much!" "Then get the F&*k out of here!" I had to ask her about it and she said something like "they're animals you have to talk to them that way!"

                                          Never thought anyone in NYC was intimidating...in fact the overwhelming feeling I got was they were mostly a bit paranoid and weary and that's why they yell.

                                          1. re: ML8000

                                            Good to know. I'm much better at dealing with that attitude than DH, so he's never wanted to go to NY because of the perception of the rude exchanges. He's very soft spoken, nice, and kind, and expect that of others, so he's always surprised when people aren't like that, especially unexpectedly. So we CAN visit NY someday. :-)

                                    2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                      Sam, your post made me laugh. I have never, ever been intimidated in ANY Asian restaurant, and have often found that my dumb American questions and curiosities were warmly greeted with a patient response, no matter what country I was visiting. I've even had the owners give the name of their special dish written in Cantonese so that I could simply pull it out of my wallet when at another restaurant back home.

                                      However, the level of rush and impatience at a Manhattan deli is something unique. There is no room for hesitation with your order, and if you can't understand the bark of the order taker or preparer (who usually has some kind of accent these days), you get a really annoyed response. Now that I live in Dallas, I find it amusing to see how slowly deli servers, when you can find a deli, work, versus those high-speed, NY deli men. Must be Texan charm or something. But as far as the atmosphere -- you are right. It is kind of like the Soup Nazi episode on Seinfeld.

                                      1. re: RGC1982

                                        It drives me CRAZY, ordering breakfast in my local place, because I'm used to this as an order: "Bacon burrito wit hot sauce." "Three eighty."

                                        Instead it's "Uhmmmmmmm... I'd like, uhm.... a bacon... ... ... burrito ... no, sausage ... no, um, bacon... um, what does it come with?"

                                        It makes me LONG for New York. Honestly. The lines are long enough, READ THE DAMN MENU ARGH. Pat's King of Steaks in Philly has the right idea.

                                        1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                          If you plan on living away from New York, you do need to slow down. You'll stand a better chance of "blending in" :)

                                          1. re: RGC1982

                                            Hah! I was distracted by the phrase 'bacon burrito' but now it's time to share the lament. I've moved from NYC to a small town in Britain. Oh, they are so slow here. I long for the efficiency of NY. (And the food. If I were in London I might feel differently, but the diversity of choice is so limited-- and everyone thinks mayo goes on everything here.)

                                            I think NYC efficency comes from something quite basic: there are millions of us living on top of each other seeking the same services. Time and space are valuable and valued resources in this economy. Squandering it, or taking more than your due (kind of like the tourists who create standing hoards in the middle of the pavement), comes off as churlish. I spend much of my time in my new home, a quaint seaside village, trying to remind myself that no one means it that way here. In NYC, waddling slowly across the pavement and making it difficult to let others pass, or taking one's sweet time to order-- these are aggressive acts (or perceived as such). Here it's just a way of life. EuRGh.
                                            Sorry for the rant. My quaint seaside town is even worse this summer thanks to the tourists.

                                            1. re: Lizard

                                              I think you've hit on something, and it's endemic to all quick-service New York restaurants. There are, on any given workday, 15 million people in the city of New York. All 15 million of them will need SOMETHING that day -- anything from coffee, to lunch, to a re-fill on their Metrocards, and they will be out with many, many others.

                                              So, out of consideration to the people behind you, you talk fast, and you order quickly, and you get out of the way once you've paid.

                                              I wouldn't have thought of this, but looking back, I definitely was less likely to be abrupt if there were no people on line behind me.

                                              1. re: Lizard

                                                I'm not sure "efficient" is the applicable word here if you are talking about service in NYC. I live in the city and I don't find service particularly efficient for the sake of efficiency. Half the time, lines form or things move slowly because people working are putzing around rather than working or paying attention. You're usually not speaking some clipped patron's ordering lingo because someone is in line behind you. You do it because you have to resort to dumbing down orders to the lowest common denominator so they don't screw it up. When you get the combination of this inefficiency behind the counter and huckleberries from parts unknown placing an order, it's a recipe for deli hell.

                                      2. I am *never* intimidated in *any* 'ethnic' restaurants, I'm the one excitedly grabbing my companion's arm to drag them into one. Of course, some of these 'exotic' eateries then become my regular places where they ask me if it'll be #17 with wontons that night and I feel like combination pork instead.

                                        1. What I find intimidating are formal restaurants, no matter which cuisine, although French comes most readily to mind. I'm intimidated because I don't feel sure of all the manners required and while I appreciate everyone looking nice, it is not relaxing, to me, to dress up for a meal.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: dzoey

                                            Agree. And while I have no problem in most ethnic eateries (if they don't have reasonably simple explanations on their menu, they're almost always happy to explain), French and Italian restaurant obviously feel that their menus are so awesome and universal that they require no translation, so I end up trying to figure out what the hell "suprême de poulet à la bigarade" is, or "bifteck à l'africaine" is. I speak French fluently, but I don't often eat French food, so I don't speak French food. Italian is less of a problem, but still often a problem.

                                            And then there was Barcelona... where the menus must be in Catalan or the restaurants face fines from the Generalitat... until I found a menu translation document (put out by the Catalonian government), I was lost, because I haven't got the least clue what a lot of unfamiliar fish are called in an unfamiliar language. I just picked what looked interesting and won 95% of the time.

                                            1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                              Picking what looks interesting is always a good strategy. And if the communications barrier is so intense that you just can't make head or tail of the menu, just see what the other patrons are eating and ask for that. This only fails if you have allergies and really HAVE to know exactly what you're eating.

                                          2. I don't know that I have ever felt intimidated in a Chinese restaurant before... but with that said... there is a certain deer in the headlights look I've had... when I've wandered into to places in Chinese neighborhoods like Monterrey Park or Rowland Heights where the menu was completely in Mandarin (and there were no pictures of the food), and the only other patrons are 70 year old Chinese ladies out for a meal & some gossip - none of it in English. In the end I have pointed to something on somebody else's plate and eaten very well... however leaving without knowing the names of what I ate.

                                            What I do think is that Chinese cuisine... even to a Mexican who is used to eating things many Americans wouldn't.... some of the more exotic items in Chinese cuisine can be challenging..... maybe I am less adventurous than other people posting on this thread.... but I don't know what I would do... if I had inaverdently ordered the monkey brains... and I was sitting at the table... staring at a primate who is about to get his skull smashed in.

                                            1. Most of my non-Chinese friends would probably agree primarily because of the language barrier. IMHO, non-Chinese patrons are often uneasy because don't know what to order or expect when they go. They see neighboring tables with dishes that look absolutely delicious, but they don't know how to order it. If they order a dish, will it be something completely strange (e.g. sea cucumber)? This fear of the unknown makes one feel intimidated.

                                              Most Chinese restaurant staff I know like having non-Chinese patrons, because the stereotype is that they offer a lot more in tips. If they could speak better English, they would, because they'd probably get larger tips. What most non-Chinese patrons don't realize is that the Chinese-speaking staff is usually quite intimidated by them. They ask the waiters for recommendations, but the waiters don't know if they'll like "real" Chinese food, so they'll recommend the most bland and inoffensive dishes. Intimidation works both ways.

                                              I guarantee that any Chinese restaurant would like to have its customer base expand, because it means more money. In areas saturated with Chinese restaurants, such as the San Gabriel Valley, the key to success requires expanding to include more non-Chinese clientele.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: raytamsgv

                                                Great insights! I have heard the tipping stereotype as well. I could be wrong but the U.S. might be the only place where a 15% Tip has historically been considered average.

                                                (In Mexico away from the Touristy areas its a "few coins" for average... 10% for very good).

                                                You just reminded me of my favorite little Chinese spot growing up. The specialty were the "hanging" ducks... with a smattering of Americanized cuisine... and the some dishes not translated to English. After becoming a regular... the owner would bring me a few bits of the non-translated specials... and then remember if I really liked something... and offer next time it was available. Very nice people.

                                              2. Maybe the most prevalent, but hardly the most intimidating... and I don't know of any that would spring pigs blood and fish entrails on someone without warning (besides that sounds more like Filipino food to me). Any new type of ethnic food is likely to be challenging, and to some intimidating. Just imagine being from someplace in China and suddenly finding yourself at a Cheesecake Factory for lunch, or even worse, a high end restaurant.... heck, a lot of the natives don't know what to do with two forks and 3 spoons. How about going to a morroccan restaurant and being expected to know the proper edicit for eating with your hands? Looking around it would be obvious that you don't just grab.... but what is OK?

                                                1. That explains why the pf changs of the world do a thriving business. It's Chinese food for people who are intimidated by Chinese restaurants.

                                                  1. I think it depends on what you're used to. I don't find Chinese restaurants intimidating because I was introduced to Chinese food at an early age. However, I just ate at a Vietnamese restaurant for the first time, and I did find that a little intimidating. I knew the food was similar to Chinese and Japanese, but different (and very different names/pronunciations for things).
                                                    I enjoy trying new things, but I don't enjoy not knowing what the hell I'm ordering, or how to eat it.

                                                    1. I think jfood nailed it. Chinese service is respectful and consequently devoid of humor. Humor or just smiles can help bridge a lot of cultural chasms.

                                                      7 Replies
                                                      1. re: Veggo

                                                        Except when you dine with your alcoholic EX FIL, who gets stonkered and pinches the non-English-speaking waitresses on the butt.

                                                        I have never been so humiliated.

                                                        No amount of smiling or humour was going to rectify THAT social gaffe.

                                                        And I agree with others who say part of the dining experience is NOT knowing what things are.

                                                        I was once served sea slug and hair vegetable stew with bone marrow and whole arrowroot, because I didn't understand the menu and just asked for whatever the waitress would order.

                                                        It was fabulous, but I'm not sure that I would have ordered it if it appeared like that on a western scripted menu.

                                                        1. re: purple goddess

                                                          PG, not trying to play can you top this but jfood can definitely feel your pain. Jfood's ex-step dad took the whole family Plus (10 of us) to a chinese resto. As the check is being presented he whispers something in the server's ear. The server asks him if he could bringover all theother servers and ex-step dad can ask them all at the same time. He agrees. So all the servers, must be 6-7 come to the table and jfood's ex-step dad ask, "are you all brothers because you all look alike." major rush by nine of us under the table.

                                                          Needless to say no dessert was ordered or else there would be another post in the "Is it Safe to send back Food" thread.

                                                          1. re: jfood

                                                            And that's exactly why Chinese restaurants are sometimes rude and give non-Chinese the stink eye. Humorless? Yeah, just like the old south. They know what's being said and if it didn't mean losing their livelihood, they'd just as well flip you off or spit in your food.

                                                            And it's not just in the past. I was in SF Chinatown about a year ago and this tourist family rubbernecked at some dishes that went by and said plain and clear, "look at that fish they ordered and look at them go at it." I was sort of peeved when another patron, some smart ass college kid yelled, "F*&King tourist....YEAH YOU!". I was shocked he said it and it was tense for a few moments but it wasn't like half the place wasn't thinking the same thing.

                                                            As for ordering in "exotic" places, delis or rough 'hoods...it's like going to a government office (get a sense of THEIR pacing) and talking to church ladies (lots of respect)...make positive eye contact, be polite, smile, know your limits and don't back down (don't take any abuse). Works 98% of the time for me.

                                                            1. re: ML8000

                                                              They give everyone the stink eye, not just non chinese. You just don't take it personally. I would be slightly wary if I went to a chinese restaurant and they weren't rude.

                                                              1. re: septocaine_queen

                                                                Agreed... the best food is got when you behave like the Chinese people in the Chinese restaurant. Which may make you uncomfortable. It took me a long time to accept the idea that in China, the restaurant staff are there to serve you, and therefore their status is underneath yours, even if it's an old woman serving food to a teenager. Conflicts grossly with the American ideal of all people being equal in status.

                                                              2. re: ML8000

                                                                looking someone in the eye is VERY rude in a lot of asian cultures. not recommended.

                                                                1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                                  In public or on the street and you don't know them - sure. In a restaurant or similar environment where there's a transaction - no.

                                                        2. For sure the intimidation factor stems from an unfamiliarity of customs, traditions, etc., but I would argue that it is less about racial differences (i.e., Asians/Chinese vs. whites) than cultural (here, immigrant Asian vs. American) and institutional-cultural differences. I would argue that there is an institutional/restaurant culture that might not be fully understood by the customers. The "rudeness" or intimidation level that some patrons of Chinese restaurants perceive may not be rudeness/attempts to intimidate. After all, one will note that the service at Chinese restaurants tend to be brisk. The movements are brisk and the service is brisk. The owners of the restaurants want to move customers in and out of the establishment quickly, and they train their servers to provide the most expeditious service possible. Unfortunately, American patrons (and we could argue white American patrons here, since they may be particularly unfamiliar and overwhelmed with what they see is the "exoticness" of Chinese food) may dilly dally, taking an inordinate amount of time (in the eyes of the servers) in deciding what to order. They may require extensive explanations of particular dishes, and they may linger longer than restaurant managers and owners would like. Well, all of these activities necessarily slow down the entire process and obstruct the rapidity of customer turnovers.

                                                          Some restaurant patrons (and here I would argue American patrons) feel they are ENTITLED to lengthy explanations and such, not realizing that the restaurant culture disallows this and that most of the servers and workers of Chinese restaurants are working under serious pressure and time constraints. (Trust me: I can bet you that many of the servers/workers in Chinese restaurants--particularly if they are recent immigrants--are abused, constantly threatened by their manager, and underpaid.)

                                                          The intimidation perception by non-Asian patrons of Chinese restaurants may also have to do with the noise level in certain Chinese restaurants. Chinese restaurants tend to be family-oriented; as a result, there tends to be large parties and, hence, lots of "noise." The larger the parties, the more boisterous the dinners, and the noisier the environment, making it necessary for some servers and even customers to "shout" at each other.

                                                          I think, though, that many of the perceptions of intimidation stem from assumptions by both parties, and that those assumptions are mismatched.

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: Pamela

                                                            I think you've hit it all on the nail. Being Chinese, I'm not intimidated but that's because I go in with low expectations. If you want the nice "normal" experience, then you go to the more expensive Chinese restaurants (that I won't go to), and those are generally the ones that prefer non-Chinese going to their restaurant. I want quick and cheap, so I generally go to where they throw the plates on the table, give you the bill before you're done, take forever to get you water, etc.

                                                            The language can come across as yelling. My daughter doesn't understand the language, so I've had to explain every so often that "those people" aren't mad at each other, just very excited and animated.

                                                            I have to say that in a Chinese restaurant, I'm not sure if being especially polite or well-mannered or taking an interest in the food will generate a better response. Almost all the servers are recent immigrants and are not exposed to non-Chinese culture, so it's difficult for them to know that asking questions, saying please and thank you are meant for their benefit - I don't think I'm explaining this correctly, but I guess I'm trying to say that they don't necessarily interpret it the way you intended it to.

                                                            Back to the OP's friend, she may want to go to a Chinese restaurant with some Chinese people with the purpose of asking questions, like "how come it takes so long to get a fork? Why do they want to take my order when I just sat down?" How come all the dishes come at the same time? Why did she give me a dirty look when I asked for another napkin? Why doesn't this restaurant have brown rice?"

                                                            I'm more intimidated by those snotty restaurants where they think I should be grateful they have a table for me.

                                                            1. re: Pamela

                                                              I totally agree with Pamela. And while many others feel intimidated by Chinese or other ethnic restaurants, my Chinese grandma in MPK is intimidated by any restaurant that ISN'T Chinese. The server could be the most patient, accomodating, lax person, and she will still freeze up when it comes to ordering. I know she speaks English, but that all goes out the window when it comes to eating out at an American restaurant.

                                                            2. I think a lot of the intimidation factor is the way the Chinese language is spoken--to a non-speaker, the tone comes across as very quick, abrupt and impatient. And when someone whose primary language is Chinese learns English, a lot of that inflection carries over.

                                                              But that's all part of the experience. Just imagine what it would be like if the Jade Palace started poaching white-bread servers from the nearby Ruby Tuesday's. "Hi, guys, my name's Amberr--with two r's--I'll be your server. Can I start you off with a Tsingtao? Let me tell you about our dim sum."

                                                              1. Not for me, I have never been intimidated at a Chinese restaurant, or any other. But then again, I smile alot, I am friendly, & polite, and take the dishes as they were meant to be served. I dont ask for items to be left out, or for this or that on the side. The only thig I ask for is items to be made extra spicy.

                                                                2 Replies
                                                                1. re: swsidejim

                                                                  thanks for the smile on this hot morning. Always love reading your posts.

                                                                  You "take the dishes as they were meant to be served. I dont ask for items to be left out, or for this or that on the side."

                                                                  Then the smile-gram, "The only thing I ask for is items to be made extra spicy."

                                                                  Like Rosanne Rosanadandra said, "If it's not one thing it's another."

                                                                  Thanks Jim

                                                                  1. re: jfood

                                                                    I always order the spicy items on the menu, and typically Chinese restaurants tone down the heat on these dishes for gringos. So I just ask that they make it as if they were making it for a family member who likes spicy food, or to the heat level they would make it for a fellow countryman.

                                                                    Its not like Im asking for the sauce on the side, or for them to leave anything out.. just to kick up the heat on an already hot dish.

                                                                2. No less intimidating than a Continental restaurant with snotty French waiters.

                                                                  Thank you for the opportunity to overgeneralize again.

                                                                  1. I have never been intimidated at a Chinese restaurant because New York City has so many different kinds and I've been eating Chinese food since I was a small boy. Granted, this was Cantonese and the new influx of chefs from China offer newer, more exotic dishes.

                                                                    I've learned a few words in Chinese like Please and Thank you and it goes a long way to softening the waiter/ess. Also, if I see dishes that look good at other tables, I'll ask the server what they are and I'll usually order them.

                                                                    Come to think of it, there's not much that intimidates me if I'm paying my hard-earned money for a service.

                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                    1. re: Beau711

                                                                      Good point Beau, about hard-earned money and not being intimidated.

                                                                      Also a good point about showing genuine interest and being willing to try stuff.

                                                                      Of course you can wind up being suprised--like my Dad, the only white guy at a Viet place, using the point at someone else's dish technique. Because of course, you don't always know that a dish is napalm spicy just by looking. He ate it though.

                                                                    2. I grew up in Monterey Park, so Asian restaurants were pretty much the norm. If they're not crowded, noisy and hectic, something is wrong with them.

                                                                      The place where I was the most intimidated was in a small town in Utah, at an American place. It was a buffet (the only place open at that time of night), and every time we'd go back for the next course, they would clear our table. Everyone spoke English, but I had the feeling that the meanings of the words weren't the same. We were drinking soft drinks, no alcohol, so that couldn't have been the problem.

                                                                      Real French restaurants, in France, generally have fun, professional waiters. If they see that you're willing to eat as the French do, they are generally proud of their cuisine and want to help you try things. If you go for a low calorie salad, ask "strange" questions about the amount of cholesterol in the stuffing or generally seem not to be a bon vivant, things will probably not be as fun - although the waiter will probably still be quite professional and do his best to serve you even if he feels you should not have been let out of your country with an attitude like that.

                                                                      3 Replies
                                                                      1. re: salutlemonde

                                                                        Actually, if they were caffinated they soda could have been a problem. Utah has heavily Mormon areas and Caffeine is on their list of don'ts.

                                                                        1. re: doogette

                                                                          Yeah, they were Cokes. I didn't know about the caffeine thing. Yipes! Just when I thought it was safe to have a soda.

                                                                          1. re: salutlemonde

                                                                            Mountain Dew (used to?) has the highest caffiene content by far.

                                                                      2. Not Chinese restaurants, Chinese bakeries where the majority of clientele are Chinese, all yelling out their orders, while I try to get the clerk's (anyone's) attention to timidly ask (in English), "can you tell me about these . . . or these . . . or those?"

                                                                        1. I've found that smiling, a genuine interest in the food THEY are serving, and an appetite have served me well. (pun intended) Southern California asian restaurants (SGV and elsewhere) are an inexpensive adventure. Some places have asked in broken english "how did you find us? Why did you (non-asian) come HERE? I travel with a list of restaurants culled from the CH posts, and like to show the folks what is said about their establishment.(Where are you Rabo Encendido?) The most common response I get from the wait help is "too much food!" when I want to try everything on the menu. That and the occasional warning about the excessive spicyness.

                                                                          Internationally the response has been the same. Viet Nam, China, Hong Kong, rural Mexico (&Texas, New Orleans...) a smile, an eager look, and a genuine interest will break down language and cultural barriers

                                                                          9 Replies
                                                                          1. re: Phood

                                                                            i think its all how you look at things. i agree that yes many times chinese restaurants dont cater to non chinese that well but at least they usually have forks or at least english menus. I've been to restaurants such as many vietnamese pho restaurants where they dont have forks at all since pho is basically noodles in soup. There is one thing to always remember about restaurants though, they want you to eat there so they can make money. Their customs or level of service or lack of service most of the times is based on how it is in the native country, not that you are not of the race of the food being served. AS for chopsticks there really isnt a right or wrong way to use them as long as they work for you. Nothing wrong with needing a fork every now and then, i still use a fork to eat rice sometimes.

                                                                            1. re: AGENT FOODIE

                                                                              It irks me when they do bring us forks BECAUSE we are White. We don't want or need them.

                                                                              That being said, just yesterday we went to a Chinese place for lunch, were the only White people there and the requsite forks were brought out. I put them aside. FIVE tables around us all asked for forks. It was amusing.

                                                                              1. re: Cathy

                                                                                Regarding forks, when we go for lunch and order non-rice dishes and not dim sum, such as noodles and bowls are not needed, I do ask for forks (we're Chinese). I don't eat w/chopsticks if I'm eating off a plate. I have to say that I don't really look around to see what the other Chinese people do (the ones on my table would use a fork too), but I have noticed that the non-Chinese who know how to use chopsticks would struggle with them while using a plate, and I so want to say, it's okay use a fork!

                                                                                BTW, they also sometimes automatically bring out forks if there are Chinese children too!

                                                                                1. re: boltnut55

                                                                                  I have to admit that I find it amusing that there are circumstances where Chinese people would use a fork and spoon while other people would adamantly use a pair of chopsticks. If you order a plate of rice it would be silly to use chopsticks and try to pick it up one grain at a time when you can use a spoon (with a fork or a pair of chopsticks) and push the food onto the spoon.

                                                                                  1. re: Blueicus

                                                                                    Try Chinese food in China for intimidating! We still loved the experience but it was downright comical.... a bunch of Americans there to adopt little girls went to a restaurant where not a soul spoke English (except us), menu in Chinese (duh!) and only pictures to help us out. The best part was the kitchen staff who was watching us through a glass window that separated the kitchen from dining room. Apparently we ordered a breakfast item for the table and they all burst out laughing at us! Gotta love it.

                                                                                    1. re: Blueicus

                                                                                      Blueicus, we, along with most Asians, use a spoon and fork for Chinese food plated along with the rice. If rice is served in bowls, we use chopsticks.

                                                                                      Texchef, when I ate out alone in China I had a list of dishes that I had written phonetically with the help of friends. My comic attempts would usually increase people's willingness to be patient and help out. I also di quick sketches of dishes.

                                                                                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                        Okay, when I meant "others", I really meant if you weren't raised by east asians or lived in east asia. For example, a good number of my friends.

                                                                                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                          A caricature of General Tso, perhaps?....:)

                                                                                          1. re: Veggo

                                                                                            Funny you should mention the good General, Veggo. That's my husband's favorite dish. He prefers Sichuan dishes but absolutely loves Gen. Tso. The only trouble is his chopstick skills are non-such but that doesn't intimidate him. He just munches merrily away. At least people don't point and giggle.

                                                                              2. Prolly not if you're Chinese. And let's face it, one out of four humans on Planet Earth are.

                                                                                1. The only time I've ever suffered a panic attack was in line at a bahn mi shop in Little Saigon. I'm good with Chinese, Korean, Mexican, what have you, but for some reason, Vietnamese restaurants just slay me.

                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                  1. re: SauceSupreme

                                                                                    Not quite the same, but...I planned a vacation for a group of my friends (all girls), and one food thing was to go to this specific Vietnamese restaurant. We were going on a picnic at Red Rock Canyon (in LV), so my plan was that we would order sandwiches at the counter and QUICKLY get a move on it... 6 girls, sort of difficult, I guess. We're all Chinese and have all eaten in Vietnamese restaurants numerous times. When we got there, they went through the entire menu, asked loads of questions, ordered all sorts of stuff (egg rolls, noodle dishes, sandwiches, etc.) and took us at least 45 minutes to get out of there! So much for "easy in and out"!

                                                                                  2. And actually, the most excruciating experience is being in a formal Moroccan restaurant when you're the only customers. It's so dang quiet, everybody's so solemn, and it takes so long.

                                                                                    On the other hand, I've eaten in an Ethiopian restaurant under much the same conditions, and it was a riot: the waitperson was very bright and cheerful, asked if we understood this and that, was happy when we did, and they even brought us little extras.

                                                                                    I don't know if it was 'luck of the draw' with the Ethiopian; but I've been in more than one Moroccan one that was like a tomb, never mind the music was going. You hate even to converse, it's so grim.

                                                                                    1. Here in LA County I don't think as many folks would find Chinese or Mexican restaurants that intimidating, given their popularity as Americanized cuisines. However, I'm more than a little puzzled that, given their ethnic groups size and success, Korean restaurants don't cater more to English speakers. Out of the many in the South Bay, surprisingly few even have English signage. I've been to Korea twice but still have only a limited appreciation of the cuisine. Perhaps the immigrant's children stay out of the food biz?

                                                                                      1. I think that I might be intimidated in an authentic Chinese restaurant. There aren't any really authentic restaurants in my neighborhood. It's mostly just takeout places where General Tso's Chicken is the most exotic thing on the menu. Even the nicer sit-down restaurants tend to be this way. I so rarely ever eat in a restaurant that Chinese people would eat at. When I'm in such a restaurant (and it's been years), I worry that people will see me as a dumb American who wouldn't know Chinese food if it hit her in the face if I order the "wrong" thing. It doesn't help that I don't like seafood and that things like jellyfish and pig colon just aren't on my list of food adventures.

                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                        1. re: Avalondaughter

                                                                                          Yes, I find Korean places much more intimidating. They seem far more likely to have signs all in Korean and menus without translations than Chinese restaurants. I don't find Chinese restaurants intimidating, but it is frustrating to try to order the dishes that have been recommended to you and sometimes be met with complete incomprehension.

                                                                                        2. I do think the combination of unfamiliar ingredients and preparation, and an impenetrable written language, can make for an intimidating dining experience - you have no idea what you're ordering, when it shows up you're not sure what it is or how to eat it, and the staff can't help you through anything other than pantomime [and try pantomiming "chicken testicles" without freaking people out]

                                                                                          But I don't think that's any less intimidating in Chinese than it is in Thai, or Korean, or Japanese.

                                                                                          The main difference is that for North American eaters, the Chinese restaurant is the one they are most likely to have encountered, due to the large number of emigrant Chinese, and the commonness of good sized Chinese neighbourhoods in larger cities.