Fuwuyuan preparing a noodle dish in Cuandixia

服务员 – Fu Wu Yuan

This word is one of the first that I learned when I arrived in China. It is for sure included in the top 10 ‘Survival Chinese’ words that all expatriates learn but I think that I cover it only after one year during my official Chinese courses.

What does it means?

The official translation is ‘waiter’. All persons who work in a bar or restaurant are called ‘fuwuyuan’.

Why do we learn this as soon as we reach China?

After few days, I clearly understand that English and polite words are unsuccessful in restaurants. The only way to have the waiter’s attention is to shout ‘fuwuyuan’.

Only calling them is not sufficient as people on the other tables will shout at them ‘fuwuyuan, fuwuyuan…’.

It appears disconcerting and disrespectful for the people working in bars & restaurants but it becomes quickly a habit. This is for several years a cultural tradition and set in everybody’s mind.

I want to highlight that it can be a bit rude for foreigners. Service is often really good in China (from street vendors to high-end restaurants). These ‘fuwuyuans’ are always numerous, devoted to help you and highly reactive to any requests. Waiting more than 5min for a drink or a dish is extremely rare.

This behavior became quickly a habit, we are more impatient and expect immediate answers. It is a bit problematic when I visit other countries where the waiter is alone to serve 10 tables. My friends who still live in France are also shocked with my behavior in restaurants…

China starts to transform me… :(