Of course, the main difference on the Chinese dinner table is chopsticks instead of knife and fork, but that’s only superficial. Besides, in decent restaurants, you can always ask for a pair of knife and fork, if you find the chopsticks not helpful enough. The real difference is that in the West, you have your own plate of food, while in China the dishes are placed on the table and everyone shares. If you are being treated to a formal dinner and particularly if the host thinks you’re in the country for the first time, he will do the best to give you a taste of many different types of dishes.
The meal usually begins with a set of at least four cold dishes, to be followed by the main courses of hot meat and vegetable dishes. Soup then will be served (unless in Guangdong style restaurants) to be followed by staple food ranging from rice, noodles to dumplings. If you wish to have your rice to go with other dishes, you should say so in good time, for most of the Chinese choose to have the staple food at last or have none of them at all.
Perhaps one of the things that surprises a Western visitor most is that some of the Chinese hosts like to put food into the plates of their guests. In formal dinners, there are always “public” chopsticks and spoons for this purpose, but some hosts may use their own chopsticks. This is a sign of genuine friendship and politeness. It is always polite to eat the food. If you do not eat it, just leave the food in the plate.
People in China tend to over-order food, for they will find it embarrassing if all the food is consumed. When you have had enough, just say so. Or you will always overeat!