Having heard that slurping and burping are permitted, getting into other people's food is expected, and tooth-picking encouraged - or why would the picks come with the chopsticks? - many Americans have gotten the idea that eating in a Chinese or Japanese restaurant is an etiquette holiday.
Miss Manners invites such people to visit the homelands of these fine cuisines. They will come crawling back to her, full of appreciation for her permissiveness in manners. The East is Etiquette Central, compared with which America's behavioral demands are child's play.Neither Miss Manners nor American-based restaurateurs expect Americans in their own homeland to have mastered the manners of all foreign-cuisine establishments they patronize. Even when traveling abroad, one is given leeway in retaining American habits in non-crucial matters. Indeed, it is sometimes more polite to appear as a bewildered American than to risk botching courtesies because one doesn't understand important nuances.
While using a visit to a restaurant to practice foreign customs can be instructive and entertaining, patrons are expected to go along with the adaptations that have been made in the service to meet American sensibilities. But the spectacles that the staffs and other diners are often forced to watch are the worst of both sides of the world. Abandoning one's native manners without acquiring those of another culture does not count as one-worldism.
What Miss Manners is suggesting, as a minimal standard of etiquette for Chinese and Japanese restaurants in America, is a compromise. She encourages practicing foreign customs as long as they are properly performed and are of a nature that does not affront Americans.
As a motto, she proposes Slurping But Not Burping, meaning that yes, you can help shovel noodles into the mouth at close range by means of mild intakes of air, but the pleasurable expelling of air, no matter how culturally documented, is not accepted in America.
Although using chopsticks has become an expected American social skill for people who partake of dishes designed to be eaten with them, it is not shameful for an American to call for a fork. (Knives are not necessary; they have been amply applied to the food in the kitchen.) Those who do use chopsticks should handle them correctly.
Miss Manners is not going to give a lesson here in how to hold chopsticks in order to pin one's dinner morsels in them. She has noticed that such explanations always turn out to be unintelligible, if not nonsensical, even - or especially - when accompanied by drawings with arrow-driven half-circles all over them.
But just as an incorrect grip on a fork is not as noticeable as an offensively parked fork (grabbing it in the fist would not be as conspicuous as sticking it in the water glass), the question of where the chopsticks should be placed when not in use is important.
Chopsticks should never be left in a bowl, in a crossed position, pointing across the table, or splat on the table with nothing underneath. They go horizontally across the top of a bowl, on a chopstick rest, if one is provided, or, in Japanese restaurants where they appear in a paper holder, parallel to the edge of the table just in front of the diner, on top of the paper.
Chinese manners permit using one's chopsticks in a communal dish (the modern health prejudice against this has resulted in the appearance of serving-spoons), but Japanese manners require reversing one's chopsticks to use the clean end for serving if other serving utensils are not provided.
Lids on bowls should be carefully removed (the really careful technique on a lacquer bowl of hot soup being to squeeze the bottom), the one on the left by the left hand, that on the right by the right hand, and they should be replaced at the end of the meal.
A Japanese meal is properly eaten by alternating foods (except the dessert pickles, but including the soup), with rice first and then between bites from other dishes. Chinese meals are properly eaten course by course.
While the rice bowl is lifted to the mouth, it is not supposed to have other parts of the meal in it, but rice only. The bowl is placed on the table after being filled, before a bite is taken, and eating the last kernel signifies that one has had enough.
Bones that must be removed from the mouth go via the chopsticks, and fish bones left on the plate must end up in the same order they were when served. Japanese soup is sipped from the hand-held cup, with any solid food in it eaten with chopsticks; Chinese soup is taken from a porcelain spoon.