Let me tell you a story of how I completely insulted my host mother’s cuisine solely by eating a noodle soup the wrong way. Unintentionally of course. Please learn from my mistakes and enjoy reading about my faux-pas eating noodle soup in China.
So to start I have to tell you that I was born and raised in Germany, which means I sit up straight at the table, elbows to my side, I eat with a fork, a spoon and a knife. I was taught to always get the food to my mouth and not go to meet my food halfway, god forbid bending over to shovel our german thick potato soups in my mouth. Something like that would always result in scolding to say the least. That being said, I arrived in China und using chopsticks and only one hand to eat was one big challenge, but I never expected my table manners to be rude in any kind of way.
That one morning in China, I was informed that the whole family was coming over to celebrate my friend getting into the best University in China. Shoutout at this point for her brilliant mind!
I was told some family members would be staying with us the afternoon and we’d go out and eat in the evening.
At midday people started flooding into the appartment eyeing me, saying nihao and obviously talking about me. My friend would sometimes translate what was talked about, but other than a discussion about politics, stuff about Angela Merkel they had seen on TV and a few remarks about my beautiful white skin, I understood close to nothing. I just smiled and nodded.
Lunch was served by my host mother, who usually doesn’t cook, because she’s a lady of business and has no time for cooking. But for this special occasion she did cook and everyone gathered at the table and to my surprise I was seated right at the head. The noodle soup was served and we started eating. Well, I started struggeling. Imagine having to sit at the head of the table, two chopsticks in your hand, a big bowl of noodle soup in front of you and your mother’s voice in your head: “Sit up straight. Don’t meet the food halfway. Don’t slurp. Don’t talk with your mouth full of food. Don’t….”
The last part was no problem, as no one was talking at the moment, but the rest was a challenge. So at first, I decided it would be good to first get rid of the toppings , then the noodles, so I could then go about eating the soup with my tiny spoon. So, I started to go fishing for those noodles with my chopsticks, eat them in a silent kind of way, like I was taught to eat spagetti back at home. Then trying my best to eat the rest of the soup by using the tiny spoon. I tried to get as much of the soup water on that tiny spoon and struggled not to spill anything on the way to my mouth, as I was sitting up straight, of course. Also the ‘don’t slurp’ part was extremely difficult, because that tiny spoon was shaped in such a weird way.
As you can imagine, I was completely immersed in trying my best to eat that soup, which was delicious by the way, that I did not realize the noises that had broken out after the order to start eating was given. Only when the noises suddenly stopped and I felt ten pairs of eyes on me, did I feel the need to look up.
My host mother was looking at me, rather disappointed and sad, everyone else keen and curious as if to hear an explanantion to a crime I just committed. I sat there, puzzled, not having the slightest idea on what I had just done without knowing. Why was everyone looking at me?
In my head at lightning speed all the scenarios passed by.
Did I chew with my mouth open? No.
Was I slouching? Definitely not.
Had someone asked me something and I was so immersed in eating I hadn’t heard? Possible.
Lucky for me and my inner demons of thoughts, my friend broke the silence and asked if I didn’t like the soup. Now I was confused.
What? Of course I did. Well, she said, then why are you eating it that way?
– What way? I asked, my inner thoughts chiming in again.
– Not making any sounds. Sitting up straight.
– If you’re not slurping and bent over your soup it signifies that you do not like it in China and that you are rude. She explained.
Imagine that. Doing my utmost best to eat the soup appropriately and doing the complete opposite.
I explained that I loved the soup and that at home I was taught that it is rude to bend over your food and slurp.
She translated all that into chinese and all around the table looks of disbelief, surprise and wonder started to stare back at me. Some family members even started mumbling.
My host mother broke the murmor and loudly said something to me in Chinese from across the table. It was silent again. Eager curiosity now spread amongst the group.
My friend translated.
My host mother was relieved that I liked the soup, but it is custom to make noises while eating, otherwise you’re saying you really don’t like it. Also I am more than allowed to just drink the soup water like a cup of tea. And if maybe I could tell them how I manage to eat so quietly, they are all wondering how that is possible.
I laughed, relieved. Everyone joined my lightened but still tense chuckle. I proceeded to show them how I ate the soup before this little incident and a murmor of wonder greeted me as everyone tried to do the same. It really was a sight I will never forget. Grandparents and uncles alike, all eyeing my, trying to sit up straight, not spill anything on the way to the mouth… you get the idea.
After a few spilled drops of soup arount the table, I tried to resist the voice of my mother in my ear and I bent over my soup and started slurping. Everyone grinned at me. The room relaxed, everyone was laughing and grinning at me. Then the room was once again filled with noises of slurping, chomping, munching and chewing food with an open mouth, all whilst talking.
Hope you enjoyed my faux-pas. Have you ever been to China? Comment down below and until next time.