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Eating Etiquette Dilemma

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I am Chinese but grew up in the USA. I learned the western food etiquettes as a kid from being around Americans most of my life. There is a new Chinese guy at work. Really great kid, straight out of school and having never been around Americans much, he tended to congregate around other Chinese grad students while in school.

The problem is this: his eating habits are perfectly normal for China but it is really offensive for the USA. He chews with his mouth open, he slurps all of his foods loudly, not just the soups, he chews energetically and quite loudly, and he holds conversations while chewing and spitting his food all around, he has a hard time eating messy foods from a plate, he will slink down on his seat and shovel food into his mouth with the fork from the edge of the plate. I am used to it from having spent some time in China, but I think this is really going to hurt him in the corporate world here. I don't want to hurt his feelings, but I also don't want him to hinder his future because others find his eating etiquette lacking. I have spoken to some of his co-workers about it, they pretty much have a hard time going out to eat with him because it is so distracting.

What can I do?

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  1. From the concern and tone of your post, I know you have good intentions and don't want to humiliate him. But as a good friend or colleague, you need to bite the bullet and tell him. Obviously it needs to be done privately, and with sensitivity. Treat it as nonchalantly as if he had inadvertantly left his zipper down... If you aren't up for it, perhaps you can have a chat with someone from recruiting or human resources.

    1. instead of speaking to his coworkers you ought to speak to him instead

      1. Just tell him straight out that dining etiquette in the US is a bit different than in China.

        If the situation were reversed (me visiting a foreign land), I would definitely appreciate the advice of a native on all things etiquette related.

        1. I would say to him more or less exactly what you just wrote here. What your observations are, how you learned what you know, why you think it might be an issue for him in the corporate world. Especially as this is a co-worker you can really focus on the business related aspects of how table etiquette plays out.

          Without knowing the individual, it's hard to say with any certainty obviously, but I don't think there's any way you can approach this or talk about it that isn't going to create some level of discomfort for both of you. Your attitude, though, sounds like exactly the right one and your concerns are not to selfishly make your own eating experiences more comfortable but to help him in his career and current work place. Those motivations will come through if your writing here is any indication.

          Damned decent of you to think about it, too, by the way.

          1. I also think you're the perfect person to bring this up with him. This kind of "advice" from a non-Chinese person might feel really insulting, if not unverifiable. I would have a conversation with him by himself, not over lunch (maybe at coffee?) and tell him hey, from one Chinese person to another, I don't know if you've noticed that there are certain cultural differences here that I used to find difficult to tackle when I was younger. Then go on to say, for example, dining etiquette here is much different and more formal (if that's the right word) than in "our" traditional culture. I would then just say that you know Americans pay a lot of attention to people "fitting in" and having their similar table manners is but one way this is considered important, culturally, and ask if he wanted some time, you could point out some of the differences in how Americans eat vs. Chinese. Then maybe you two could go out for lunch and you could "show" him how Americans eat, or you could just suggest he watch you at lunches you are both at for tips on what to do and not do?

            1. Believe it or not, everyone wants to be part of something and wants to fit in......the problem is, in this case, the young individual may or may not realize his eating habits and lack of etiquette have been taken notice by others and deemed appropriate by Western Standards. Personally, I do not think he will be offended if you mention this situation to him. While I was a manager in a Country Club, we had a very diverse ethnic work force both young and old. Whenever it was noticed that they could have acted or behaved in a better manner, it was immediately brought to their attention. e.g., :

              grooming and personal hygiene
              talking too loudly
              dress...uniforms provided, but wrinkled or dirty
              any other conduct....including eating at staff meals with their mouths open.

              Throughout the course of a day's work, be it before, during, in between or after their shifts....conversations regarding life were always discussed. Like all country clubs, many of the workers were seasonal help and during the summer months, the workers were primarily students......these young individuals always liked to learn and hear about stories and advice of what is to be expected of them to become successful....whether it be a high school student curious about college life...or a graduating college student curious about his/her future job interviews and/or business career.

              If you bring it to his attention, he will be thankful because it will improve his personal development and his reputation among his peers.

              Just tell him....If you want to be part of this group, I have a suggestion for you....and point out any deficiencies......all of them.

              1 Reply
              1. re: fourunder

                fourunder: " While I was a manager in a Country Club, we had a very diverse ethnic work force both young and old. Whenever it was noticed that they could have acted or behaved in a better manner, it was immediately brought to their attention. e.g., :

                grooming and personal hygiene
                talking too loudly

                Oh, lord. I was a MEMBER at a golf course in my early twenties, and after a series of excruciatingly bad shots, I vented diverse profanities at the top of my lungs. Finished the round, came back the next day, and the wife of the owner asked if I would talk to her teenage son (who was about 16). I said "sure", wondering what he wanted (he was a way better golfer than me, I thought it might be for advice about university). He was very apologetic, and almost had to croak the words out, but he let me know some older ladies had been very upset by my display.

                This put the shoe completely on the other foot. I apologized to him for even having to bring it up to me, promised it wouldn't happen again, and made sure it didn't. (After relating the story to some older golfers, they told me to say "Scheisse", which is German for sh*t; no one objects to that!). Point is, yes, you can be completely unaware of how much you are offending people, you should pay attention when you are told so, and if you really are a friend to someone who's doing this, you should tell shim.

              2. When faced with these seemingly lose-lose situations, I simply try to visualize how I would want to be approached, and whether I would want that kind of help in the first place. I think you will do fine and pick the best way to handle this, because you cared about this young man in the first place.

                1. Are there any Chinese websites that offer tips on Western etiquette and general? I know there was a lot of work done to explain about Western manners to Chinese citizens for the Beijing Olympics, so maybe you could find something related online.

                  One important thing is to make sure your friend does not feel like he is losing face when you explain this.