I am a PhD student in Wageningen University and this is my fourth month in the Netherlands. Last Friday evening I attended the New Year's dinner in our group. It was the first time I felt strongly the differences between the eating customs in the Netherlands and China.
In China, seating arrangements abide by the rules of 'left and eastern seats honored' and 'seats facing the gate honored'. We can distinguish the relationship between the host and guests according to the distance between their seats. The seat closer to the host is more respected. If you are the host, you should arrive early and wait for your guests at the door, and lead them to their seats. The guest should follow the host. In China, people always sit around a round table. But in the Netherlands, people can sit anywhere they want, and they often eat at a long table.
Second, the talk during the dinner is different. In China, all the guests will listen very carefully to the host and give some response or comments at an appropriate time. In the Netherlands, people will form small groups to talk about something they like. When you are in this atmosphere, it drives you crazy. Everybody wants to say something and it is so noisy that sometimes you cannot hear clearly.
In both countries several courses are served. But after a Chinese dinner, guests should not leave the dinner table before the host suggests that the meal is over. In this respect, people in the Netherlands maybe have more freedom./Xiangdan Meng, PhD student in Rural Sociology Group of Social Sciences Department