I’ve never been to China, so why do I use chopsticks?

In my previous post You Are What You Eat I suggested the following reasons why British people use chopsticks in place of a knife and fork:

  • Oriental meal – etiquette, the proper way.
  • Authentic – despite the challenge.
  • Demonstrates cultural awareness.
  • Social pressures- being seen to be doing the right thing.

I have spoken to a lot of people about this act recently; I wanted to get a grasp on what using chopsticks meant to a breadth of people. I asked a diverse bunch, some cosmopolitain city dwellers and some traditional types. It is no surprise that the traditional types rationalised the use of chopsticks as simply showing off,  pretentious even; however, interestingly so did a few of my more cosmopolitan chums – people who I’ve seen use chopsticks. Theirs wasn’t such a blunt offering of pretentiousness, but more discreetly suggested as showing that you know about other cultures, or demonstrating more cultural awareness than one actually possesses.

So for some the simple reasoning that as a non native culinary tool, chopsticks are rationalised as being more difficult to use and therefore the drive to use them is more than simply getting food from plate to mouth.

It seems that the drive to use chopsticks instead of a knife and fork is driven more by social standing than it is about getting food to your mouth. Therefore the chopstick is a tool loaded with potential cultural gold. Being able to use chopsticks says so much more than simply demonstrating your ability to transfer food.


From top to bottom: Taiwanese melamine chopsticks, Chinese porcelain chopsticks, Tibetan bamboo chopsticks, Vietnamese palmwood chopsticks, Korean stainless flat chopsticks with matching spoon, Japanese couple’s set (two pairs), Japanese child’s chopsticks, and disposable “waribashi” (in wrapper)

Interestingly, most of the people I asked have never visited China or any other Asian culture. Likewise, I have never been to Asia so there has been no real need to have ever learned how to use chopsticks; and yet I have.

Learning to operate a tool which is much more difficult than ones native culinary tools carries with it some kudos and if you’ve learnt how to use chopsticks then you must have had a lot of experience with oriental food. These are all the subliminal messages carried by ones proficiency when using chopsticks.

Artistically, I am interested by this notion of different lengths of chopstick. In Britain more kudos and value would be given to being able to master the bigger, longer tool. What if the length of the chopstick demonstrated ones cultural understanding? The bigger the better? 



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