Etiquette Hell

General Etiquette => Life...in general => Topic started by: Shabooty on July 22, 2013, 08:08:24 AM

Title: Is It Rude Not To Clean Your Plate?
Post by: Shabooty on July 22, 2013, 08:08:24 AM
A colleague is hosting two students from China for the next two weeks.  (We are in the US.)  She has noticed that at mealtime, both boys eat every morsel of food on their plates.  She is concerned that maybe culturally they consider it rude to leave anything uneaten.  She is more than happy for them to eat anything and everything placed before them, but didn't want them to eat to the point of discomfort.

She first noticed this when she took the boys to a restaurant where portions are notoriously huge.  The boys are only 8 and 9 years old, so I don't think it's a case of having "hollow legs" that so many teens develop.   :)  So, for those of you familiar with Chinese customs.....is it rude not to clean your plate?
Title: Re: Is It Rude Not To Clean Your Plate?
Post by: Cherry91 on July 22, 2013, 08:20:15 AM
I think it's just a case of two growing boys with healthy appetites.

When I was 8, I could put away more food than you'd think. My mother once got told off by another guest at a wedding for letting me load up a plate from the buffet (there was plenty left, I promise!) and that I was going to waste all the food. She invited the woman to sit down and watch me eat. Said woman watched in a combination of horror and fascination as my tiny girl self finished every scrap of food on the plate, after which my mother informed her that as her parent, she knew EXACTLY how much her child could eat.

Perhaps a good way to check is to serve a meal where the food is all placed on the table and everyone takes their own portions (ala a buffet). That way your colleague can compare the size of what the boys choose to eat when given control of their portion size to her own servings.
Title: Re: Is It Rude Not To Clean Your Plate?
Post by: Thipu1 on July 22, 2013, 08:34:15 AM
MIL's family is Chinese.  She was born and raised in Beijing.  Before going out for a meal at the home of friends, the children were always fed because it was considered somewhat shameful to eat too much at the house of another.  If a kid did, it might be thought that the child didn't get enough to eat at home.  With seven children in MIL's family, this could be a valid concern for the hosts. 

This might have been a quirk of MIL's family because she still does it.  When we visit her, she always serves appetizers before we go to the dining room for dinner. 

Since traditional Chinese meals are served family-style, cleaning the plate wouldn't be much of an issue. You just take what you want on your bowl of rice. It certainly wouldn't be like being served a burger with a pound of fries on the plate.       
Title: Re: Is It Rude Not To Clean Your Plate?
Post by: RebeccainGA on July 22, 2013, 08:37:28 AM
When DD was 10 (so not much older than these boys) I was horrified to watch her scarf down three chicken breasts at a go - and this is a child that was thin and in good shape, not someone with pounds to lose - but she did it daily. breakfast, three eggs, toast, as much bacon as she could finagle me out of, a pastry, and then by lunch she was ready to go at it again. Kids can, and do, need a TON of fuel when they are getting ready for growth spurts.

I'd agree with Cherry to try and either do smaller portions with extras on the table or serve it 'family style' and let the kids get their own servings. If they are eating everything, even when they fill up their own heaping plates, then I'd say they likely are getting ready to shoot up a few inches.
Title: Re: Is It Rude Not To Clean Your Plate?
Post by: JenJay on July 22, 2013, 08:38:55 AM
I'd probably be concerned they weren't getting enough (maybe not off the giant restaurant portions, but at home). I would explain that they are welcome to stop eating when get full or (at home) get more if they finish their food and still feel hungry, neither will be rude.
Title: Re: Is It Rude Not To Clean Your Plate?
Post by: Pen^2 on July 22, 2013, 08:43:09 AM
MIL's family is Chinese.  She was born and raised in Beijing.  Before going out for a meal at the home of friends, the children were always fed because it was considered somewhat shameful to eat too much at the house of another.  If a kid did, it might be thought that the child didn't get enough to eat at home.  With seven children in MIL's family, this could be a valid concern for the hosts. 

This might have been a quirk of MIL's family because she still does it.  When we visit her, she always serves appetizers before we go to the dining room for dinner. 

Since traditional Chinese meals are served family-style, cleaning the plate wouldn't be much of an issue. You just take what you want on your bowl of rice. It certainly wouldn't be like being served a burger with a pound of fries on the plate.       

This.

The notion of eating all the food served to you on your plate doesn't apply because people traditionally choose what to put on their own plates--ensuring that they'll always get the right amount. And it's considered rude for the guests to finish all the food from all the various dishes for everyone to choose from, but it's not a huge deal.

I think either MIL has just raised her children to eat everything (my own parents were raised this way--it's not cultural per se, just some parents are like this all over the world, I guess), or the kids were actually just that hungry.
Title: Re: Is It Rude Not To Clean Your Plate?
Post by: TootsNYC on July 22, 2013, 08:47:07 AM
I know the "hollow leg" thing is more than mere myth, but sometimes I wonder why it is.

It's the 8- to 10- to 12-year-olds who are doing the most dramatic growing.

I suppose there is that big spurt right about eighth grade when they suddenly look like young grownups instead of "young adults."
Title: Re: Is It Rude Not To Clean Your Plate?
Post by: Dazi on July 22, 2013, 10:50:30 AM
I have no idea, but I know many that age that could put away a ton a food.  I remember watching in fascination and horror as a friend of mine, at about age 9-10, ate a huge chef salad, a fully loaded large pizza, and two helpings of dessert.  He was a toothpick.
Title: Re: Is It Rude Not To Clean Your Plate?
Post by: rose red on July 22, 2013, 12:07:51 PM
I remember at that age, going out with my older siblings and eating four large slices of pizza and then going home and eating a full meal again.  Nowadays I can't even finish a personal pizza.  Fascinating and horrifying age.  I was also a toothpick (sadly no longer ;)).

But if they are worried, perhaps serve family style or casually say "If there are leftovers, we can save it/take it home for later."
Title: Re: Is It Rude Not To Clean Your Plate?
Post by: Chip2 on July 22, 2013, 12:58:01 PM
Couldn't your friend just ask them directly if they're getting enough (or too much) to eat?

And she should probably ask the boys what the norm is for their culture; this sounds like a perfect opportunity to discuss differences.
Title: Re: Is It Rude Not To Clean Your Plate?
Post by: Aquamarine on July 22, 2013, 05:07:37 PM
I would mention to the boys that in this country people commonly take their leftover food home so that if they are full this can be an option for them and that they are not obligated to clean their plates.  This is not a commonly done thing in all countries so it may never have entered their minds to do this.  I know in the small German town where my daughter lives that the doggy bag is only now becoming something that a few restaurants do and is starting to "catch on".  After mentioning this I would give no more thought as to whether their plates were clean or not.  I have seen boys and young men consume an absolutely astonishing amount of food to the point that I literally don't know where it all goes.

Maybe their parents have raised them to finish every bite on their plates for different reasons.  I know it wasn't that long ago in this country that many parents insisted on their kids doing this very thing. 

It's never rude to not clean your plate.  Some people could claim that it is but that does not make it so.
Title: Re: Is It Rude Not To Clean Your Plate?
Post by: baglady on July 22, 2013, 05:44:45 PM
This is one of those etiquette minefields. No matter what (general) you do, there's someone out there who will think it's rude. Some hosts will read a clean plate as rude because it implies the guest didn't get enough. Others will think you rude for leaving food on your plate, because it's wasteful.

I've found this is only an issue at formal-ish dinner parties where everyone's food is plated. I have been to exactly one of those (not counting wedding receptions) in the past 20 years. Everything else has been buffet or family style, where nobody cares how much you put on your plate, whether you go back for seconds (or thirds, or fourths), or whether you don't finish a portion.
Title: Re: Is It Rude Not To Clean Your Plate?
Post by: NyaChan on July 22, 2013, 05:56:37 PM
I may be wrong, but I was under the impression that some in the Chinese culture may actually find it rude to completely clean the plate because it implies that the host has not properly provided enough food.  Is the colleague sure she is making enough to handle the appetites of 2 young people?  I remember being shocked how much my guy cousin could put away up through college.
Title: Re: Is It Rude Not To Clean Your Plate?
Post by: Hmmmmm on July 22, 2013, 08:09:12 PM
I think she should just communicate to them that they can eat as much as they like but don't need to finish everything if they are full.  Or start letting them make their own plates.

And at a restaurant, she can lead by example. When the food arrives she can say "oh my, I'll never finish all of this. I guess I'll ask them to box up the rest.

My sister used to host exchange students. They always went a little nuts first couple of weeks enjoying new experiences. I know I eat a lot more when I'm my travel.
Title: Re: Is It Rude Not To Clean Your Plate?
Post by: *inviteseller on July 22, 2013, 08:42:49 PM
My older DD, skinny as a rail, can put professional football players to shame for the amount of food she has always been able to put away.  My dad used to always ask why I was always at the grocery store, until he and my step mom took her to their place in the mountains for a week.  My dad looked at me and asked how I could afford to feed her, and where the heck was she putting it???  Take their food consumption as a compliment, and instead of saying anything, just have your friend watch to make sure they don't show signs of discomfort after a meal. 
Title: Re: Is It Rude Not To Clean Your Plate?
Post by: Pen^2 on July 23, 2013, 03:38:08 AM
I may be wrong, but I was under the impression that some in the Chinese culture may actually find it rude to completely clean the plate because it implies that the host has not properly provided enough food.  Is the colleague sure she is making enough to handle the appetites of 2 young people?  I remember being shocked how much my guy cousin could put away up through college.

Yeah, this has nothing to do with Chinese culture, or if anything, is against the norm in said culture. It sounds like the boys are just hungry.
Title: Re: Is It Rude Not To Clean Your Plate?
Post by: Nemesis on July 23, 2013, 03:57:20 AM
I am of Chinese descent, though not born or brought up in China.

Yes, I was brought up to understand that it is rude to leave food on your plate. Every morsel of food must be eaten, every grain of rice should be carefully scooped up and finished. Wasting food is the one thing that we can get severely punished for. Anything that I could not finish when I was a child, was finished by my dad. All my Chinese friends in the neighbourhood were brought up the same way.

When visiting, we are to finish our food, and we are not allowed to ask for seconds until all the members of the older generation had finished eating. We were, however, allowed to have seconds if someone from the older generation offers the food to us. It is considered very rude to ask, but not at all rude to accept the offer of more food.
Title: Re: Is It Rude Not To Clean Your Plate?
Post by: Gyburc on July 23, 2013, 05:23:17 AM
From a non-Chinese perspective (I'm in the UK), this was a bone of contention between my mother and my grandmother (Mum's MIL) when I was a child. Mum was born in 1939, so in her earliest years she was brought up under WW2 rationing and Austerity. She was very firmly of the view that you cleaned your plate, even if you didn't find the food massively palatable.

Gran on the other hand was a generation older, and had been brought up to believe that it was actually rude to clean your plate, particularly if you were a guest. It was polite to leave just a little at the end of the meal to indicate to your host that they had not under-served you.
Title: Re: Is It Rude Not To Clean Your Plate?
Post by: Twik on July 23, 2013, 11:14:51 AM
I think someone on this board once told a story about a host from one culture, where you never let a guest sit in front of an empty plate without refilling it, serving a guest from a different culture, where eating everything on your plate was mandatory. The poor guest nearly exploded.
Title: Re: Is It Rude Not To Clean Your Plate? Update P19
Post by: Shabooty on July 23, 2013, 11:17:48 AM
My colleague served family style last night to see what would  happen.  She instructed her son to wait until their two guests had served themselves before he prepared his own plate.  She then watched his eyes get big as the two boys took HUGE portions.  She was actually concerned for a second that there might not be enough left for her, her DH and son. 

The boys did, however, eat every last bite. :)
Title: Re: Is It Rude Not To Clean Your Plate?
Post by: Cherry91 on July 23, 2013, 11:26:26 AM
I think someone on this board once told a story about a host from one culture, where you never let a guest sit in front of an empty plate without refilling it, serving a guest from a different culture, where eating everything on your plate was mandatory. The poor guest nearly exploded.

There was an advert for a bank that used to be shown in the UK (I don't know if it was also shown in the US) of a european businessman who was in Japan and taken out to dinner by his colleagues. They serve eel, and the businessman looks very queasy at the thought of eating it, but the voiceover tells us that European manners say he must finish it... so he does.

THEN the v/o says that in Japan, it's bad manners for a host to leave his guest's plate empty, so they bring him another plate of food with a bigger eel. Once again the man finishes and it continues from there.

The advert ends with a Kaiju of an eel being carried into the restaurant by several men.  ;D
Title: Re: Is It Rude Not To Clean Your Plate?
Post by: SplishFish on July 23, 2013, 01:33:51 PM
From a non-Chinese perspective (I'm in the UK), this was a bone of contention between my mother and my grandmother (Mum's MIL) when I was a child. Mum was born in 1939, so in her earliest years she was brought up under WW2 rationing and Austerity. She was very firmly of the view that you cleaned your plate, even if you didn't find the food massively palatable.

Similarly, my grandparents grew up in the Midwest during the Depression. They raised my mom (and she in turn raised me) with the belief that wasting food was one of the biggest non-mortal sins you could commit.

Even now that I'm in my 40s, I don't feel right if I don't clean my plate. Thankfully most restaurants let you box the leftovers, otherwise I'd explode.
Title: Re: Is It Rude Not To Clean Your Plate? Update P19
Post by: Snowy Owl on July 23, 2013, 02:14:12 PM
My colleague served family style last night to see what would  happen.  She instructed her son to wait until their two guests had served themselves before he prepared his own plate.  She then watched his eyes get big as the two boys took HUGE portions.  She was actually concerned for a second that there might not be enough left for her, her DH and son. 

The boys did, however, eat every last bite. :)

In that case I would chalk it up to the boys being hungry and / or a growth spurt in the offing and she shouldn't worry (as long as there's enough food for everyone).