Toothpick – Is it just a Chinese habit?

Who can forget Chow Yuen Fatt with a toothpick dangling from the corner of his mouth? It is like so cool and so macho. Very much like Italian mafia heads and their cigars.

Almost all Chinese restaurants have supplies of toothpicks. Many will leave the little container of toothpicks on the table for your convenience. Some come wrapped in little paper, flavoured with mint. Some are just blatantly exposed and who knows how many people had touched the tip before you put one into your mouth?


I have a feeling only Chinese have this habit of using toothpicks. Am I right? ‘Cos I haven’t seen much of Westerns movies with toothpicks. Does the Westerner use dental floss in the privacy of the washroom to get rid of the chunks of steak or what? When I was in China, I know that the people in the restaurants are laid back, dig their teeth and talk with lots of warmth. No hang-ups, no social problems.

Since small, our parents had taught us to use a toothpick discreetly. Cover your mouth with one hand while you dig in. Of course, this is not a very nice thing to do, no matter what. But when you have just eaten a piece of tough meat, the irritation of the meat stucked in between teeth is so great, one is tempted to forego manners for the sake of comfort.

So, does other people than Chinese pick their teeth with toothpicks after a meal?

Post Author: Lilian

Food, travel, recipes. Chinese Malaysian, blogger, photographer and writer.

3 thoughts on “Toothpick – Is it just a Chinese habit?


    (January 3, 2007 - 7:08 am)

    i am chinese and can vouch for the fact that i love the toothpick. there is something pleasurable in dislodging stubborn food particle wedged tight between molars. its very slenderness and pinpoint sharpness adds to the overall feeling.

    Bradley M

    (January 3, 2007 - 3:53 pm)

    Yes, Westerners do use toothpicks. My father is obsessed with them, and they have to be the ones with a point on each end.

    I think most households have a supply of toothpicks, but because they are so versatile, they may not be primarily used for cleaning teeth. You can poke holes in things, mix epoxy, suspend strings in water for making rock candy, make a picket fence for your gingerbread house, etc.

    Actually, one of the most common uses of toothpicks is for spearing and picking up small bites of food (especially sauced or sloppy food) at parties, and making the fruit or vegetables added to cocktails accessible to your fingers. This leads to companies making colored or sword-shaped picks which they call “party picks.”


    (January 4, 2007 - 12:55 am)

    I had a friend in college that had a toothpick in his mouth everyday. He liked to just have it there for cleaning his teeth or whatever reason. So the answer is yes, I can vouch for Americans using toothpicks. However, I don’t think people who believe themselves have any class use them in public LOL

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