Last week twelve young Chinese students got on a plane to begin an adventure in the United States. Our team at Premier Education welcomed them with great expectation surrounding their time here. We thought it would be helpful to give a little food etiquette training to these kids as they enter into their host homes so they feel more comfortable.

“Just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s wrong.” –Rick Everswick

I taught the etiquette portion of their first day here, and had so much fun doing it. I witnessed twelve students who were jet-lagged, but anxious to learn about the new American culture they just landed in. I admire them a great deal!

The theme of our time was taken from a comment my husband made to me years ago when I was on an adventure in China. His words made me quickly realize that I had a slightly judgmental view of some of the ways they did things in China. My wise husband gently reminded me:

“Emily, just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s wrong.”

This gave me new glasses to view my cultural experience through. I asked the students to put those glasses on as they embarked on learning about different eating styles and customs in the United States.

Top 10 helpful tips we shared with our new Chinese friends

  1. View your new food and eating experiences as having an adventure in your mouth and at the dinner table. Enjoy the new flavors. Savor the new textures and smells and uncover the new spices and ingredients that make all your dining experiences a delicious adventure.
  2. Strap on a good sense of humor and enjoy a good laugh when you make a cultural mistake, and you will!
  3. Bring to the table a grateful heart to God (through prayer before eating), the cook, and the friends and family you are about to eat with. If you are eating at someone else’s home, offer to bring something.
  4. No cellphones at the table.
  5. Sit up to the table with an open mind of discovery and your feet on the floor, napkin on your lap and bottom on your chair.
  6. Unlike Chinese culture, it’s ok to say “yes” to something when it’s offered the first time.
  7. When setting the table a helpful tip for where to place the utensils is: Fork has four letters and so does the word, “left” so place the fork on the left of your plate. Spoon and knife have five letters and so does the word, “right” so place them on the right of your plate.
  8. Take your time while eating. Look up often and don’t bury your face in your bowl or plate. Get to know the people around your table.
  9. Play “high-low” at the dinner table. Every person around the table is asked and asks: “What was your ‘high’ for the day?” and “What was your ‘low’ for the day?” Sharing your best and worst (or most embarrassing) thing that happened that day.
  10. Be involved in the process of preparation, distribution and clean up before, during and after a meal. Ask your host, “What can I do to help?” and after you finish that task ask, “What else can I do to help?”

Jayson Li with his American family

The reassuring thing to remember with all of this is that nobody is perfect. We are all in the process of growing, learning and discovering new things. I hope that we, as Americans, are as open to learning about new cultures as our twelve students who came to visit us in Austin, Texas.

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