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Dec 28, 2008 06:56 PM

Eating Etiquette Dilemma

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?