A Grave of Rice

It’s bad luck to stick chopsticks into a bowl of rice, burying the tip. Supposedly this is because the chopsticks resemble the headstone placed on a grave, and reminders death are extremely inauspicious in Chinese society.

The correct way to set a table, and to place chopsticks on a bowl of rice, is to lay them across the rim of the bowl with the tip pointing toward the center of the table. This is because it is also rude to point the tip at anyone sitting at the table, but usually the people across the table are too far away for the sign to take effect.

I was made aware of this taboo when I stuck a pair of chopsticks into a bowl of rice when I was young, and JL, my mother, caught me in the act. I was setting the table for my family at the age of 8, and was allowed to begin eating first. I stuck the chopsticks in the rice to see if it would stay secure, and my mother caught me before anyone else could see, and she said it would have been very rude for my grandparents to see, and that they would have been a lot harder on me than she was.

She had actually found out about the taboo the same way when she was a child. This is a fairly obscure taboo in Chinese dining etiquette, so most people don’t find out about it until they’ve broken it once. When etiquette is broken in a public setting, it is also rude to mention the offense except in private, between two parties who trust each other, usually parents to children.