My wife Chunhui was born and raised in Jinan, China.  One of the fun challenges of an American-Chinese marriage is to recognize the subtle cultural differences so that you don’t unintentionally violate the other person’s cultural assumptions and mores.  Recently we had an interesting discussion with another American-Chinese couple on the different customs with regards to finishing ones meal.

We observed that in American culture, you’re expected to take what food you want from the center of the table, and finish what you take.  In Chinese culture, you can take food from the table, but other people at the table are just as likely to eagerly give you food in a spirit of generosity, especially if they think you like something.  What makes your Chinese friends and family think that you like something?  If you finish it!

This can easily lead to some crossed cultural wires.  Americans feel culturally-obligated to finish what they take, and Chinese people feel culturally-obligated to give more food to someone who seems to enjoy it.  The trick is that when you want to be done with a particular dish, you simply leave a small but visible portion of the food on your plate, so none of your Chinese friends and family assume that you want more.  This way you don’t overeat, and you don’t get into an awkward “No, I really am full!” conversation with your Chinese friends and family as they try to put more food on your plate.