Fingers Tapping on Table in Chinese Restaurant

Have you dine in a Chinese restaurant selling Dim Sum dishes? It is commonly seen in Hong Kong and China, or perhaps the restaurants located in ‘Chinatown’ of New York city.

There are small dishes of steamed food placed in small wooden basket. Food serves in table usually has a pot of Chinese tea and few small cups made of fine porcelain.

The Chinese starts their Dim Sum meal from late morning till mid afternoon, before a game of mahjong or chess which comes next as a past time for the elderly members. Elderly folks who has retired, housewives, or wealthy ‘TaiTai” love Dim Sum. It’s their Chinese lifestyle.

It’s part of the Chinese culture where people gather in a round dinning table to social; sharing and chatting bit and pieces of daily topics that comes to their mind. This social activity remains unchanged for many years.

In Chinese culture, enjoying good food is as equally important as talking and listening attentively to people within the table. All other smaller gestures can be considered trivial, such as using chopsticks to pick their food.

One little gesture that may have seemingly unnoticed is their fingers tapping on table top when guest being served with Chinese tea. If one tap as if it is hammering, then this manner is obviously rude. Not necessarily it has to exaggerate and create tapping sound, however more specifically showing little brisk movement in discreet manner.

Finger Tapping in Chinese Restaurant, Chinese Culture
Finger Tapping in Chinese Restaurant, Chinese Culture

As part of the table etiquette in modern China, this body language is an expression of saying “Thank you for pouring tea into my cup” to a restaurant waiter.

On the lighter side, the indirect meaning could be telling waiters to walk away soon after pouring the tea and do not eavesdrop our latest gossip of the day.

Olden days in Southern China, this subtle movement may symbolized great honor and respect to an elderly master who serve tea to younger people.

To any one brought up by Western culture might say “Thank you” is the simplest verbal expression in table manners. But not in the Chinese way of saying, especially when people is in the midst of an intense discussion on possibly the ‘juiciest‘ scuttlebutt in the estate.

Well, busy chatting and listening attentively could be a way to keep one’s mind on alertness.

So how does it make sense by using fingers to tap on table top, and how it relate to the Chinese culture?

There has been no substantial proof to explain this. Nevertheless, Wikipedia does provide some sensible reasoning which date back to the Qing Dynasty. Below sharing an excepts:

This custom is said to have originated in the Qing Dynasty when Emperor Qian Long would travel in disguise through the empire. Servants were told not to reveal their master’s identity. One day in a restaurant, the emperor, after pouring himself a cup of tea, filled a servant’s cup as well. To that servant it was a huge honour to have the emperor pour him a cup of tea. Out of reflex he wanted to kneel and express his thanks. He could not kneel and kowtow to the emperor since that would reveal the emperor’s identity so he bent his fingers on the table to express his gratitude and respect to the emperor.

The bent fingers for knocking are technically supposed to be three to signify a bowing servant. One is the head and the other two are the arms.” ~ Source: Wikipedia, Chinese Tea Culture

With this explanation,  you would never follow blindly with other Hong Kong’s elderly and friends to enjoy a sumptuous Dim Sum.