If you've ever eaten in a Japanese restaurant in the U.S., you've likely witnessed diners slide their wooden, disposable chopsticks (waribashi) out of their paper packaging, split them apart, and proceed to vigorously rub them together. It's such a common practice in the U.S. that you might be led to believe that it is part of Japanese dining etiquette. On the contrary, it's actually a big no-no.
Here's why: The purpose of rubbing chopsticks together is to remove potential wooden splinters that may occur in cheaply made utensils. Therefore, if you are rubbing your chopsticks, you are essentially saying that you believe them to be of low quality — and that's kind of insulting to the establishment if you are dining in a high-end restaurant. You are also perhaps sending a message that you are only accustomed to eating in cheap, low-quality restaurants... the types of places that might give you splintery chopsticks.
According to the Japanese National Tourism Organization's essential guide to Japanese dining etiquette, rubbing chopsticks together is neither "necessary nor polite." Chef John Um from Sushisamba Las Vegas had this to add: "It is considered an insult, suggesting the quality of the chopsticks is poor. Do ask for a new pair of chopsticks if you see a splinter in the wood."
If you are presented with waribashi at an upmarket restaurant, you can be fairly certain that they are of high enough quality that they are unlikely to splinter when they break apart. But if the thought of a splinter in the lip is just too much to get you out of your chopstick-rubbing habit, maybe just try to do a little more subtly next time you dine out, rather than making it look like you're trying to start a bonfire at the table.
And, by the way, if you are eating sushi, many chefs would prefer that you use your fingers anyway.
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