My friends and I were out to dinner at a Korean Chinese-Style restaurant to get some noodles, and the waitress brought us a pot of tea. I started pouring into my friends’ cups, and I noticed that my Chinese friend was tapping her index finger and middle finger together on the table as I was pouring. So I asked her what she was doing, figuring that she was feeling restless or wanting to test the stickiness of the table. She surprisingly said, “You’ve never seen someone do this?” And when my other friend and I both shook our heads “no,” she told us why she did that. This is a practice that her uncle taught her to do when she was young.
Friend: “Today in Chinese restaurants, when anyone pours tea for you, you have to use your two fingers and like tap the table next to your cup.”
Me: “As you’re pouring?”
Friend: “As the person’s pouring for you. You have to say “Thank you” to them by tapping your fingers like this *right index and middle finger and held out and touching, as they lightly tap the area next to her cup.* You could also knock your two fingers on the table.
Me: “So you do this if an older person if pouring for you?”
Friend: “No, I think if anyone does it for you. It’s just a way of saying “Thank you,” cuz you say “Thank you” to everyone. So the reasoning behind that is that like way back, in one of the dynasties, I don’t remember which one, but the king would have to like go out of the palace to like do stuff right. He can’t just stay in his home forever. So whenever he goes out, and he doesn’t want to be recognized, but let’s say he has lunch at a restaurant outside. Um, when he doesn’t want to be recognized, and no one’s allowed to bow to him, cuz it would just give it away. So instead of bowing to him, if anyone sees him and recognizes him, they would just like do this *taps two fingers on the table.* Or like subtle. So like kneeling right? So instead of bowing you kneel to the emperor. So they do this instead, to make it subtler. So now it’s like if anyone, it’s just a sign of respect.”
I really enjoyed this piece of folklore that my friend shared, because I had no idea that this was a common practice. I have never seen any of my friends tap their fingers or knuckles on the table, probably because it’s more of a traditional Chinese thing to do, rather than just verbally stating “Thank you.” I interpret this act to reiterate Chinese culture of respect for elders.