Stephanie Lee, based in Los Angeles, is a travel writer who blogs about her incredible adventures around the world. Health, food and culture are only a few of the topics she covers frequently.
A post shared by Stephanie Lee (@superlee7) on Sep 11, 2016 at 11:08am PDT
Lee considers herself Asian American and grew up in a traditional Chinese household. In a recent column for Thrillist, she detailed these experiences, relaying the difficulties of growing up in two vastly different cultures.
"I learned firsthand many of the little things that can be flubbed at the dinner table, which often led to a lightning-fast thwack on the wrist with chopsticks -- or worse, a stern stare-down," Lee wrote.
In the post, she offers valuable insight for Americans traveling in Asia, who may not be aware of these differences.
In Asia, food is more than just "food". "It's often a symbol of prosperity, honor, longevity, and togetherness. As such, you'll encounter dozens of rituals and cultural subtleties around eating and drinking that are rooted in superstition, upholding deep respect for your elders, and cultivating an honorable self-image." she explained.
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It makes sense, then, why a lot of these customs seem to be focused on politeness and respect. Many Americans, whether lazy or just uncoordinated, use chopsticks as "spears" -- attempting to pass dangling noodles or pieces of meats with their sticks -- but don't. Lee explains that learning how to use chopsticks takes practice, but that doesn't mean you should use it like you would a fork.
Additionally, "when you pierce food with chopsticks, you mean to offer this food for the dead," Lee wrote. Korea and Vietnam aren't strict with their chopsticks -- but other countries, like Japan, are.
If someone serves you food on your plate, you better eat it -- even if you're full.
"It's a sign of endearment to be given food, especially the "best" parts of something. If someone makes the effort to serve you, hold your plate or bowl with both hands to humbly receive the food and at least try it -- even if you secretly don't want it," she said.
Another aspect of Asian culture is respecting elders -- such values are reflected in these traditions. You should wait for everyone to arrive, especially the elders, to start eating. But there's a fine line. Some countries, like Vietnam, might find it offensive if you wait, because the food gets cold.
You can read Lee's full column here -- but we're sure to bring a printable version next time we go overseas.
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