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Feb 19, 2013 11:04 AM

Do Chinese people traditionally put the napkin on their lap when eating at a Chinese restaurant?

Do Chinese people do this? Or this more of a Western rule of etiquette?

I was watching a period piece the other night, and there was a scene of a large feast and for the life of me, no one put the napkins on their lap.

In fact, most of the scenes didn't even show napkins whatsoever.

Then I thought back to some of the soap operas that I used to watch with my grandmother (RIP), and I don't recall what the normal course of procedure was for the napkin at the table, or even if there was one.

And, honestly, growing up I don't know if I was taught anything about napkins, and how to place or not place them during dinner service. Alot was said about chopsticks, soup spoons, serving your elders, etc. But I don't know if anything in particular was said in an "Emily Post" fashion about napkins.

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  1. I doubt it. I don't think traditional style eating in Asia includes napkins. I know in Singapore and Malaysia, many dining areas have a small sink in the corner for the people to wash their hands and mouth before and after eating since you eat with your hands. Many "non-fancy" restaurants also have sinks to wash up at. In India too -- I haven't noticed sinks in the dining rooms, but people wash their hands and mouth after eating. On our last trip (last April), we went out to eat a couple times and most of the other patrons just left the napkins on the table instead of putting them on their laps.

    1. I do, but I was born and raised in the US. Engrish well speeching here.

      1. Depends. Also what part of the world are you asking about, and whether we are talking about Chinese Chinese or Chinese American 1st, 2nd and beyond generation?

        Higher possibilities if:

        - The Chinese people in question also put the napkin on their laps at fancy Western restaurants (part of this is exposure to other western food culture, influences, their upbringing)

        - The Chinese restaurant in question is serving banquet style food, and it is a special occasion (wedding or an elder's milestone birthday). If people have to dress up, the more the reason to protect one's lap...but the messy eaters will end up staining their shirts or blouses (and thus the napkin will not protect against sauces, only protect falling chunks of food). Again, not a hard and fast rule

        - and the obvious...the higher end Chinese restaurant in question also offers cloth napkins (and not the diposeable kind).

        1. Growing up in Singapore in the 1960s, all the main restaurants (Majestic, Capital, Lai Wah, etc) already provided napkins, either cloth-type or else paper tissue embossed with their restaurants' names/addresses.

          Not sure what the American-Chinese restaurants in those days were like - but the ones today are not up to par when compared to Chinese restaurants in HK or Singapore.

          1. I'm Australian-born Chinese, 3rd gen on my Mum's side and my Dad's Singaporean Chinese. We absolutely never put our napkins on our laps.

            I still have to remember to do this when I'm eating with the in-laws, and it's been 12 years. I'm sure my mother in law thinks I have terrible manners.