What Can’t Chopsticks Do? A Guide to Using Chopsticks Properly

Chopsticks Feed Billions but Also Prevent Assassinations and Train Olympians

Sometimes when I’m waiting in a coffee line, an odd annoyance pops into my head. It bothers me that my 10-year-old son does not know how to use chopsticks properly. It’s not a top-tier concern, up there with climate disasters or hate crimes, but it happens more than I’d like. He’s not the worst with the wooden variety but the metal ones in Korean restaurants? Fuggedaboudit. Not a chance.

Koreans have used chopsticks to eat their meals since at least 500 AD so I was surprised to come across a story that claimed 80% of 5th grade elementary school students in South Korea did not know how to use chopsticks properly. Yikes. At the turn of the century, in 2004, a Daelim College professor was distraught after he conducted a survey that found that in fact, a majority of both Korean children and adults (60%) were not proficient with chopsticks. (He blamed excessive Western influence.) It was a small study that queried only a few hundred individuals but he wanted to sound the alarm.

Many Korean children are given training chopsticks from a very young age. Photo courtesy of the author.

Be not afraid. Chopsticks aren’t going anywhere. Recent surveys have found that globally, the world’s population is about evenly split into thirds: roughly 30 percent eat with a fork (North/South America and Europe), 30 percent dine with chopsticks (Korea, China and Japan) and 30 percent primarily use their hands (India/Southeast Asia and Africa).

Thousands of years ago, chopsticks had a somewhat dark origin story. Confucius urged the use of chopsticks in order to promote a more harmonious, less violent dining experience.

“The honorable and upright man keeps well away from both the slaughterhouse and the kitchen. And he allows no knives on his table,” the vegetarian philosopher advised.

Similarly, the origin of metal chopsticks also started as a means of preventing unfortunate dining experiences. Back in the Joseon Dynasty, aristocrats believed that silver chopsticks would darken at the touch of poison in their food. Assassination prevention doesn’t play the role it once did in Korean society but metal chopsticks still remain quite popular in homes and restaurants. (In fact Korea stands alone as the only country to commonly use them.) Many users firmly believe that the increased weight and slippery texture of metal chopsticks improve dexterity and strengthens the hand.

Taking this notion a step further, that alarmed Daelim professor believed using chopsticks not only improved a diner’s physical dexterity but also sharpened mental agility. He claimed chopsticks require a person to use 64 muscles and 30 articulate movements simultaneously, which helps to develop more neurological potential by increasing neural connections.

Hmm… I’m not sure I buy that chopsticks pump up brain power. But one prominent coach is all in that metal (over wooden) chopsticks contribute to Korean women dominating the sport of archery.

chopsticks and archery
2020 Tokyo Olympics: The South Korean Women’s Archery Team win gold for the ninth consecutive time.

“South Korean women have more sensitive hands than any other women in the world,” said Baek Woong-gi, who coached the Korean team in the London Olympics. “Doctors talk about ‘chopstick technology’. Our women archers have excellent feeling with their fingers. They know whether they shot well or not immediately after the arrow leaves their fingers.”

Food for thought. And even though my son has a zero percent chance of making the cut on a Korean archery team, I’ll still keep pushing him to use chopsticks properly. Shame him in a good way. The Korean way.

Tutorial on How to Use Chopsticks Properly

1. Place first chopstick on the crook of the thumb and balance it on ring finger.
2. Hold second chopstick between pointer finger and thumb; rest it on the middle finger.
3. Use thumb, pointer and middle fingers to grasp the second chopstick firmly.
4. Index and middle fingers do the lifting.
5. Use index and middle fingers to close chopsticks over food.

Pro Tips!
  • Make sure your hand is near the top of the chopsticks.
  • Make sure your chopsticks are evenly aligned with each other.
  • Make sure the first chopstick is stationary and only the second chopstick is moving.

For more articles like this please sign up for the Best of Korea newsletter!   


Welcome to Best of Korea!

Please Sign Up for Updates

We hate spam.
You can unsubscribe