And how we all behave at the table is very different too. In an English home dinner, a platter of food would be pass around and guests and family members would pick their own favourite pieces and portions. One would take a portion first and then perhaps get a second helping later.
Chinese dining manners are different from dialect to dialect and from province to province.
The Foochows too have their own specific etiquette which many may not understand. Some of these older etiquette has also been forgotten because of cultural assimilation and religious conversions.
In some families the father will be the first one to pick up his chopsticks or spoon to the start the meal. In many families, every one starts together upon the finishing of saying Grace in a Christian home, or in a home that does not bless the meal, the elder would say, "lai, lai, da chia chi..come, come, every body eat". But it is always good manners to wait until every one has gathered at the table and when every one has picked up their chopsticks.
In a typical family dinner, the Foochow father or mother would always pay attention to each other and their children's participation at the table. When father wants to reward a child, he will pick a choice piece of meat for the child using the serving spoon or his chopsticks. This is very treasured by the rewarded child and is a kind of positive reinforcement. A meal is always a good venue for positive reinforcement and sharing of joy. Conversation should always be pleasant and non verbal body language must be practised.
Sometimes a child feels sad , his mother may give him an extra portion to boost his morale.
|A drumstick was placed in my rice bowl for my birthday. I was very touched by this gesture because there were three of us celebrating our birthdays together. A chicken has two drumsticks only. mmmmmm.|
|Sii Ling our cell group leader places a piece of chicken in the bowl of our newest cell group member.|
|At the dinner, my cell group leader is picking a piece of chicken which I like for me. This gesture makes the whole table row with laughter.|
There can be a lot of interpretation or misinterpretation of this gesture. But the bottom line is, we trust the judgement of our elders.
I loved it when my paternal grandfather picked a piece of meat for me when I was very shy to eat any thing that was far away from my rice bowl. As a child one had to be careful and had to eat as little as possible to be polite and mind our table manners.
But the most precious pieces of "festival time" chicken must be the two that my mother "earned" as a good sister-in-law and she sacrificed them for her two younger brothers aged below 10. She passed the chicken pieces to them under the table. She had chicken to eat because she worked very hard and her brothers did not have any because they were too young to work.
(My article today may not reflect the general behaviour of all Foochows at meal times in the olden days. It is based on my own family upbringing and what I experienced when visiting my grandparents both in Nang Chong and in Sunger Merah. My mother still practises reserving the choicest pieces for her visitors, grand children, and children..Her judgement is always received with a sense of humour, like a judge passing a good sentence in court!!)