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Dining Out: Tricky Situations

Two common and tricky situations that you might encounter when dining out are handling chopsticks and dealing with vegetarianism.

Chop Chop

In our shrinking world, you may find yourself in a situation in which politeness requires you to use chopsticks. Here is a step-by-step guide to eating with them.

  1. Put the bottom chopstick in the web of your right hand between the thumb and index finger.
  2. Use your two middle fingers to keep the chopstick steady. Hold it firmly but not too rigidly. This bottom chopstick will remain fairly stationary while you are eating.
  3. Hold the top chopstick like a pencil between your thumb and index finger. This one does most of the moving.

You can hold the bowl or plate of food under your chin while you're eating until you feel really confident. In fact, you can continue to do so even after you have become an expert; it's proper etiquette in Asian cultures.

A good way to learn is to practice picking up popcorn with chopsticks at home.

Although it's good to know how to use chopsticks, you shouldn't hesitate to ask for a fork in most situations. In fact, the Chinese are the ones who invented the fork. (And now you know why.)


If you are a vegetarian, you have a responsibility to let your host know in advance. If one of your guests is a vegetarian, you need to ask for a little more information. Some vegetarians don't eat eggs or dairy products, for instance, whereas others do.

If you're hosting a restaurant meal, tell the maître d' that you or a guest is a vegetarian. Find out whether the restaurant offers a vegetarian menu. Ask for suggestions.

It's a good idea to ask guests whom you don't know well whether they have any special dietary considerations. If you can't accommodate them, you can say something like this: “I've planned this party around my grandmother's meat lasagna recipe, but plenty of salads and snacks will be available, or you can stop by later for dessert.”

The key point is to not make a big deal out of it. A vegetarian can skip certain dishes and, if there is a question, simply say: “Everything is fine. I just don't eat meat.” Comments like “I don't eat dead animals” are unnecessary, rude, and offensive.

In addition to knowing how a restaurant works, you should get to know a couple of good restaurants really well. Become a regular. Learn the names of the key staff people and engage them in conversation when convenient. After a while, you will be greeted more warmly and given special attention in these places. Also, you will feel more comfortable dining there and bringing guests.

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Etiquette © 2004 by Mary Mitchell. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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