Is my new Asian friend Chinese, Japanese or Korean? How can I tell?

Have you ever had difficulty differentiating between a Korean person, a Chinese person, and a Japanese person? Have you ever had trouble figuring out whether your new Asian friend is Chinese, Japanese or Korean?

True, people from these three countries look very similar, and for some of us, it seems almost impossible to tell the difference. However, there is one special trick that you can use to overcome this challenge, and to assure you, and it does not involve memorizing certain facial characteristics associated with each nationality (frankly, this method is very difficult to apply).

Instead, all you need to do is to take a quick glance at your new Asian friend’s cutlery as he sits down to eat his lunch. And if you think it is going to be chopsticks, well, take a look again. Yes, Chinese, Japanese and Korean people all use chopsticks, but what you have to notice is the different lengths of their chopsticks. To add, if your new Asian friend is Korean, he will also have a spoon beside his chopsticks. Hmm…why?

Simply put, Chinese chopsticks are the longest – and there is a reason for this. Chinese people tend to eat food that is fried or stir-fried in oil. Just think back to the last time you went to a Chinese restaurant. Did you eat Chinese fried rice, Cheng Du Chicken, Chow Mein, Kung Pao Chicken, or deepfried mantou? Because nobody wants to get their fingers greased when they are eating, long chopsticks are used to place their fingers as far away froImagem the food as possible.

Japanese chopsticks, on the other hand, are the shortest. Historically, rice was rare and hard to get in Japan; therefore, Japanese people tended to mix rice with other grains. But because grains were less sticky than rice, it was hard to eat them with chopsticks. So, instead of using the chopsticks to pick up the food, Japanese people brought the rice bowl itself to their mouths and used the chopsticks to “sweep in” the food. In this case, short chopsticks were more effective than long chopsticks. And even today, Japanese people eat with short chopsticks and their rice bowl held to their mouth.  

Unlike Chinese and Japanese people, Korean people use both chopsticks and spoon. The lengths of their chopsticks are shorter than the Chinese, but longer than the Japanese. There is a historical reason behind this: In Korea, meat was rare, so in order to feed many people with a small amount of meat, Koreans boiled the meat in water, mixed it with vegetables, added some spices, and made soup out of it, which could be shared among a large number of people. Since it was impossible to drink the soup with chopsticks, Koreans had to use the spoon. As well, among the three Asian countries, the Koreans are the only people who use the spoon to eat rice. And because Koreans ate more vegetables than fried food – Kimchi is a prime example -, chopsticks were not as long as the Chinese.

So the next time you have trouble figuring out whether your new Asian friend is Chinese, Japanese or Korean, just take a look at the lengths of the chopsticks they use when they eat. And if your friend is Korean, he will also have a spoon beside his chopsticks. If you don’t believe me, just go and visit a Korean restaurant and you will always be given both chopsticks and spoon. In Chinese or Japanese restaurants, you only get chopsticks.  

Categories: 2013

3 replies »

  1. Sounds great in theory, but my Korean bosses run a Japanese restaurant and use Chinese chopsticks for our post-work lunches. ;)

  2. A lot of this bullshit (I’m Korean, I know). It’s not just the lengths that are different. Korean chopsticks are medium length, often metal and rectangular shaped (yes, we do also use a spoon). Japanese are more thicker at one end than the other (than most others) and have different lengths for children and often women and men. Chinese chopsticks are thicker and longer (so yes, you’re mostly right about the lengths). The designs on chopsticks are often in different places depending on were they are from as well. A good amount of what you just said about the foods and history is incorrect. This sounds ignorant to me (where did you find this, wikipedia?). Why do you think you can tell where someone is from by the chopsticks they use? Many of us don’t even use chopsticks all the time, and just chopsticks don’t determine where they are from (I actually prefer and usually use Japanese chopsticks, I don’t have rice or food that drips often so I don’t use a spoon). Also confused why if you’re only going to talk about Japan Korea and China how you say EAST Asian?

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