Public food service communication field in the Chinese students’ linguistic consciousness: ethnocultural barriers and obstacles

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The authors identify, classify and methodologically interpret communicative barriers and interferences arising for Chinese students in the sphere of catering, which is a fundamentally important culturally marked area of social and everyday communication. The relevance of this study is due to the significance and complexity of this social everyday sphere for the consciousness of foreign students, who face significant communicative barriers and obstacles that require methodological interpretation and consideration in the content of teaching Russian as a foreign language. The aims of this work are to identify and methodo- logically interpret communicative barriers of Chinese students in everyday communication (on the material of catering sphere), and to establish their correlations with the phenomena of lexical asymmetry. The main methods used in the research: mathematical processing of the obtained data, questionnaires, component analysis of vocabulary and comparison. The research material includes the results of the questionnaire aimed at identifying the barriers and obstacles encountered by Chinese students in the field of catering. It was determined that barriers and interference related to catering communication occurred for more than 75% of the students. Quantitative and meaningful processing of the questionnaire materials demonstrated that barriers and interference appeared in three main aspects: ethnographic, ethno- psychological, and ethnolinguistic. Methodologically oriented interpretation of communicative barriers is based on their correlation with the facts of the language. The integrative approach to the word taking into account its linguistic and extra-linguistic content determined which components of its structure translate ethnographic, ethnopsychological and ethnolinguistic differences of Russian and Chinese linguistic cultures that create communicative barriers. That is why the process of Russian language teaching considers conceptual, proper-lexical, semantic, connotative, background and contextual lacunas. Considering asymmetrical phenomena in the content of vocabulary teaching allows reducing the level of ethnographic, ethnopsychological and ethnolinguistic barriers and hindrances that arise for Chinese students in the sphere of catering. The prospects of the research include creation of the training dictionary “Gastronomic Culture Code in Language Vocabulary,” aimed at the Chinese students studying Russian.

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It is known that learning a foreign language within the framework of the linguocultural approach is accompanied by mastering the culture and picture of the world of its speakers, with the secondary picture of the world often perceived as something alien, unfamiliar and, as a consequence, wrong. Such perception of another culture creates various kinds of failures (barriers and hindrances) in intercultural communication, which in the broadest generalization are defined as “the phenomena that disrupt the process of communication.”1 Most researchers use these concepts interchangeably, but O.A. Leontovich draws attention to the fact that “barriers impede communication” and interferences “reduce its quality,” emphasizing that “there is no impassable border between them.”2 Faced with the difficulty of clearly distinguishing between these close concepts, researchers use either the broader term “interference” or the combined designation “barriers and interference” as generalizations. Many researchers3 (Sorokin et al., 1988; Gudkov, 2003; Sadokhin, 2008, etc.) studied the phenomenon of communication barriers and interference and created a typology of them. However, the subject of research has been general typologies of barriers and obstacles, not coordinated with the specific sphere of their manifestation and the national audience with whom they arise. This paper will identify, describe, and interpret communicative barriers and interferences in the field of catering for Chinese students studying Russian and living in Russia.

The relevance of identifying the barriers and interferences arising in the sphere of public catering is due to both the fundamental importance and cultural specifi- city of this area of communication for foreign students living in Russia and the need to eliminate them when teaching Russian to Chinese students. The sphere of catering, included in the culture of everyday life of the people, “is in direct connection with the national gastronomic culture,”4 which has been considered by many researchers. Thus, the peculiarities of Russian cuisine and gastronomic culture are considered in the works of famous researchers (Pokhlebkin, 2002; Lutovinova, 2005, etc.). Chinese cuisine and gastronomic culture have also become a subject of description in a number of works (Windridge, 2004; Li et al., 2004; Lin, 2010; Yen et al., 2018; Browning et al., 2019).

Various aspects of lexical material related to this sphere have been investigated in the methodology of teaching Russian as a foreign language: lexical-semantic groups of catering establishments names (Chepinskaya, 2020), lexical units reflecting mismatches in the sphere of national cuisine (Van, 2006), and in the traditions of feasting and national tea drinking (Ma, 2002; Tszou, 2007, etc.), etc. However, mismatches related to catering, which include not only national food traditions and gastronomic culture, but also catering organization (types of catering establishments, range of dishes served there, behavior and service stan- dards, order of serving dishes, table serving traditions, etc.) that can create communication barriers for Chinese students have not yet become a subject of directed methodological oriented research.

Since barriers and hindrances, which are obstacles to mutual understanding in the process of communication, “need interpretation, commentary” (Sorokin et al., 1988: 4), this study, focused on Chinese students learning Russian, involves methodological interpretation of correlation of communicative barriers and hindrances with the language material being studied, which accumulates linguocultural asymmetry.

To describe and interpret asymmetric phenomena in vocabulary, the concept of “lacuna” is often used. Many Russian and foreign researchers5 (Hockett, 1954; Stepanov, 1965; Hale, 1975; Sorokin et al., 1988; Glazacheva, 2003; Sternin et al., 2003; Vereshchagin, Kostomarov, 2005; Makhonina, Sternina, 2005; Horoshavina et al., 2013; etc.) considered the problem of lacunarity and created typo- logies of lacunas. The developed typologies of asymmetric phenomena are general in nature and do not reveal the specificity of culturally conditioned mismatches manifested in the sphere of public catering and reflected in the language.

Thus, the aim of this work is to identify and methodologically interpret communicative barriers and interferences arising for Chinese students in the sphere of everyday communication (on the material of catering sphere), as well as to establish their correlations with the phenomena of lexical asymmetry.

Methods and materials

On the first stage of the study, the questionnaire method was used to identify the barriers and obstacles to successful communication in the field of catering.

The initial survey involved 962 students from higher education institutions in China: students studying the Russian language at Shandong University; students from Russian-Chinese joint institutions: North China University of Water Resources and Electric Power, Jiangsu Normal University, Zhongyuan University of Technology, as well as Chinese students who during the survey were studying in Herzen State Pedagogical University of Russia and ITMO University in St. Petersburg.

Out of 962 students only 348 were in Russia and could have encountered real difficulties in catering, so only their answers were included in the questionnaire processing program.

The questionnaire program included the following steps: 1) based on the ana- lysis of research and reference books the authors identified six components in the sphere of catering, where Chinese students could potentially face difficulties; 2) the questionnaire was created containing 39 questions, which were divided into six thematic groups, according to the highlighted areas; 3) each thematic group of questions had a two-level structure:

  1. orienting questions that allowed students to recognize and identify the nature of specific difficulties encountered in a particular area of catering;
  2. generalizing questions requiring an unambiguous answer “Yes,” “No,” “I find it difficult to answer.”

Here are examples of questions included in the questionnaire.

  1. Questions identifying the nature and significance of the obstacles associated with the organization of catering in Russia:
    a) What is the difference between a canteen and a restaurant? Do you understand what a buffet restaurant is? Is it possible to eat at the theater during intermission, and at what place is it customary to do so? At which place can you get a quick bite to eat without taking off your outer clothing?
    b) Have you ever had difficulty while choosing a particular place to eat in Russia because you do not know the nature and purpose of the place?
  2. Questions aimed at revealing the level of students’ understanding of the names of places of public catering by their internal form:
    a) What can be eaten or drunk in public catering places called “Blinnaja” (Pancake House), “Sladkoezhka” (The Sweet Tooth), “Pirozhkovaja” (Pie House), “Pel'mennaja” (Pelmeni Shop), “Pyshechnaja” (Doughnut House), “Kafe-morozhenoe” (Ice Cream Café), “Rjumochnaja” (Drinking Room), “Chajnaja” (Tea House), “Kolobok,” “Kroshka-kartoshka” (Crumble Potatoe), etc.?
    b) Have you ever had difficulty in understanding the range of dishes offered by catering establishments based on their names?
  3. Questions aimed at determining the level of understanding of the names of public catering establishments according to their affiliation to different national cuisines:
    a) What country's cuisine do you think is offered in restaurants called “Chaikhana,” “Tokyo City,” “Tbilisi,” “Baku,” “Suliko,” “Peking opera,” “McDonald's,” etc.?
    b) Have you ever had difficulty in understanding the relationship between the name of the catering establishment and a particular national cuisine?
  4. Questions revealing the nature and significance of the interferences rela- ted to the Russian gastronomic tradition (against the background of the Chinese tradition):
    a) Is Russian cuisine similar to Chinese cuisine? What are the main differences? Is Chinese cuisine different in Russia and in China? What dishes of Russian national cuisine do you like/dislike?
    b) Have you had any difficulties, failures, disappointments related to Russian gastronomic tradition?
  5. Questions for identifying the extent and nature of students' difficulties related to the traditions of behavior in Russian eating places:
    a) Does the behavior of Russians and Chinese in a restaurant differ? Is it customary to tip in public catering establishments? If yes, where and how much? What is the difference between the furnishings, interior design, table service, and menu in restaurants in Russia and China?
    b) Have you had any problems with the traditions of catering in Russia? Have you ever experienced discomfort while visiting them?
  6. Questions aimed at identifying the evaluative attitude of Chinese students to the organization of catering and gastronomic culture in Russia:
    a) Do you like the service in Russian public catering places? Are you satisfied with the size of the dish in a Russian restaurant or café? Do you like the food in the university canteen? For what reason can you refuse to go to a particular eating place? What foods are of special value to Russian people?
    b) Have you had any difficulties with your different appreciation of gastronomic traditions, rules of behaviour, etc., in Russian catering establishments?

The first (orienting) group of questions (a) was not quantitatively processed and was clarifying and specifying. The second (generalizing) group of questions (b) was processed with the method of mathematical data processing based on  the indicators adopted for the convenience of automatic results processing: “Yes” – 2 points; “No” – 1 point, “It is difficult to answer” – 0 points (Tables 1, 2).

At the next stage of the study, aimed at identifying asymmetrical pheno- mena in the vocabulary, correlated with communicative barriers and obstacles, a comparative method was used, as well as the method of component analysis of the vocabulary.


The results of the survey are presented in Tables 1 and 2.

The first group of questions revealed the least amount of interference among Chinese students. Familiar with the main types of catering establishments are 83.9% of the respondents (292 people). Only 13.8% (48 people) have difficulties in differentiating catering establishments. 2.3% (8 people) found it difficult to answer the question (Table 1).

The second group of questions revealed obstacles for 54,6% (190 people) of the survey participants. The main hindrances were due to the lack of understanding of the names of institutions, associated with the Russian national tra- dition and folklore texts, for example, “Kolobok,” “Ryumochnaya,” etc. Had no difficulties 45.4% of respondents (158 students) (Table 1).

Table 1. Percentage results

General question number

Answer option

Yes, %

No, %

It is difficult to answer, %
























Table 2. Results in a point system

General question number

Answer option


Yes (2 points)

No (1 point)

It is difficult to answer (0 points)






























Answers to the questions in the third group revealed that Chinese students had almost no difficulty in understanding the connection between the names of catering establishments and global national cuisines (“Tokyo City,” “Beijing Opera,” “McDonald's,” “Venice,” etc.), but significant difficulties were revealed when “meeting” with the national cuisines of the countries, which were previously part of the USSR (“Chaikhana,” “Tbilisi,” “Baku,” “Suliko,” “Uzbechka na rechke,” etc.). The obstacles were pointed out by 75% of the respondents (261 people), whereas 6,3% (22 people) did not manage to answer this question (Table 1).

The peculiarities of gastronomic traditions and table serving created obstacles for 35.7% of Chinese students (124 people) (Table 1). For example, with a fairly close acquaintance with the Russian culinary tradition, students attributed the following dishes to the Russian national cuisine: shashlik, pilaf, samsa, shawarma, yogurt, Caesar salad, pizza, etc. The comments by Chinese students that “the portion size in a good Russian restaurant is suitable only for women, but not enough for men;” that “the dishes are beautifully decorated, but the portions are small, smaller than in China” are also revealing. It is also logical to point out the use of unusual for Chinese students cutlery in catering places, etc.

Significant communication barriers (63.6% of the respondents, or 221 people) were caused by differences in traditional behavior in catering establishments in Russia (Table 1). For example, Chinese students described the behavior of Russian people in a restaurant as “quiet, reserved against the background of lively, open, noisy, brightly and festively decorated Chinese restaurants.”

The evaluative attitude of Chinese students to the Russian culinary tradition and the organization of public catering was manifested both in positive evaluations of Russian cuisine (for example: tasty, healthy, diverse), and in negative ones (for example: bland, fatty, too caloric, containing too much sweetness). Negative ratings were the reason why a number of Chinese students (68.4%, or 238 people) (Table 1) responded that they prefer to eat in Chinese restaurants in Russia: “I only eat Chinese food because I'm not used to Russian food,” “I usually choose Chinese restaurants and bars,” etc. At the same time, many respondents noted that Chinese food in Russia and China differs significantly: a particularly big difference is noticeable in inexpensive Chinese restaurants, where “the taste of food is heavily adjusted to the tastes of Russian consumers;” “the dishes are not so spicy;” “their taste is influenced by ingredients that differ from those used in China.”


Summarizing the answers, we can conclude that the barriers and obstacles in the sphere of catering are manifested in three main aspects: ethnographic, ethnopsychological, and ethnolinguistic.

Ethnographic barriers are mostly evidenced by students' responses to groups 1–4 of the questions included in the questionnaire.

Ethnographic barriers and hindrances are mostly caused by:

  • geographical and climatic differences, which created priority of certain products in gastronomic sphere (wheat and rye – in Russia; rice – in China; dairy products – in Russia; vegetables and fish – in China, etc.);
  • national culinary traditions (unlike Russian cuisine, Chinese cuisine does not have a lot of desserts, confectionery (sugar, chocolate, confectionery is traditionally minimized because it is considered unhealthy), and dairy products; is cha- racteristic of mainly rapid cooking of meat, fish and vegetable dishes (baking and roasting are almost never used), a lot of spices, which can significantly change the taste of food; a large number of specific treats cooked for numerous festivals (for example, on the Festival of the Sun in the zenith they cook “zongzi” – triangular cakes of sticky rice with various fillings, wrapped with cane leaves);
  • table service traditions (in China the dishes are often put on the common table with a rotating tabletop in the center; only rice bowls are served individually, the rest of the dishes are tasted from the common plate by turning the center of the table; according to the traditions of using cutlery in China they use wooden, bamboo or plastic chopsticks – the ingredients are cut so that it is convenient to use them; in Russian eating places the portion size is unaccustomedly small for the Chinese where the portion is so large because traditionally several people gather for a meal and want to try different dishes; the number of dishes in China is also specific: each meal includes 3–4 main dishes, and one dish is added for each guest);
  • the order in which the dishes are served (the main dishes are usually brought at the same time; “rice is served at the beginning of the meal, but if  the family has a guest, then at the end of the meal; at a holiday reception there may be up to 12–13 dish changes, soup is usually served at the very end” (Windridge, 2004);
  • meal time (meal time in China is a little earlier than in Russia: lunch at 11:30–12:30, dinner at 17:30–18:30; after lunch it is customary to rest till 14:00, and to stay as a guest after 21:00 is considered impolite in China, it is late).

Ethnopsychological barriers and hindrances related to behavioral and mental features of Russian and Chinese culture representatives were reflected in students' answers to groups 5 and 6 of the questions included in the questionnaire.

These can include:

  • peculiarities of behavior in eating places (the Chinese eat noisily, conti- nuously talk and laugh);
  • special attitude to the healing properties of food in Chinese culture (Li et al., 2004), omnivorousness (which is historically due to frequent starvation and food shortages (Browning et al., 2019); the Chinese, by their own admission, “eat everything edible” (Lin, 2010: 304);
  • the international character of Russian cuisine and a certain “closedness” and stability of the Chinese culinary tradition, which has changed little over the centuries;
  • a persistent preference for their own national cuisine over other gastronomic cultures even when in another country (Yen et al., 2018) and an awareness of the fact that, for example, Chinese cuisine in Russia differs from Chinese cuisine in the home country;
  • differences in taste preferences when combining different foods, products, textures, and flavors (in China you can taste sweet tomato or sweet sausage, noodles and dumplings are eaten with vinegar/pepper, etc.): “through the principle of mixing, countless combinations of flavors arise” (Lin, 2010: 308).

Ethnographic and ethnopsychological barriers and hindrances that Chinese students encounter in catering correlate with the facts of language, are primarily manifested at the lexical level, create interferences of ethnolinguistic nature, which should be taken into account in the content of Russian language teaching for Chinese students.

With the integrative approach to the word, which implies consideration of its linguistic and extra-linguistic content, it is possible to determine the content components which translate ethnographic and ethno-psychological differences of Russian and Chinese cultures that invoke communicative interference. In view of the ability of a word, considered with all its content components (linguistic and extra-linguistic), to reflect in its content the specificity of national cultures, in the corpus of lexical means related to catering, the following types of lacunas should be considered: conceptual (absolute, non-equivalent vocabulary), assuming the absence of concepts and phenomena in one of the compared languages; proper-lexical (absence of lexical units, naming universal concepts for the compared languages); semantic (differences in the semantic volumes of the correlating words); connotative (mismatch of associative and evaluative potential of words); background (mismatch of knowledge about the denotations of the correlating words), contextual (mismatch in the contextual realization of the correlating units).

Conceptual (absolute, non-equivalent), assuming the absence of concepts and phenomena in one of the compared languages, include numerous names of dishes of Russian cuisine that are absent in the Chinese culinary tradition. For example, in the dictionary “Intercultural Communication: Russia – China (Dictionary of Lacunae)” these names include borsch, blin, rassolnik, zapekanka, sivukha,6 other studies add kvass, okroshka, svekolnik, schi, syrok, etc. (Vasilieva, Nekora, 2012: 208). The same group of lacunas can include the concepts table spoon, dessert spoon, teaspoon, etc., absent in the Chinese culture.

The proper-lexical lacunas (absence of lexical units, corresponding to the universal for the compared languages concept) can include the lexeme soup, which has a correspondence in Chinese, but the name first (or first course) for this concept is absent in Chinese. This lexical gap is caused by the discrepancy in the order of serving dishes in the Russian and Chinese cultures: for example, the name first courses in Russian implies soup, but in the Chinese culture soup is served at the end of the dinner. This lexical gap may become an obstacle in understanding the menu in Russian eating places. Another example of this type of lacunae is the lexeme melon, since the Russian word in Chinese corresponds to several lexical units naming different types of melon.

An example of semantic lacunas (differences in the semantic volumes of correlating words) is the lexeme, which has a conceptual and lexical correspondence in the Chinese language – cha. However, the lexeme chai ‘tea’ in the Russian language has four meanings (plant, dried leaves, drink, tea-drinking), while in Chinese there are much more (plant, dried leaves, drink, a gift for the bride on engagement, tea oil, tea flower, dark brown color, etc.). It is indicative that “the meaning of tea-drinking in Chinese is designated as an independent unit, i.e. Russian ‘tea-drinking’ is a semantic lacuna for Chinese students” (Tszou, 2007). Semantic lacunas can be found when comparing the names of various foods with figurative meanings in Russian with their Chinese equivalents that do not have figurative meanings (for example, kissel meaning characterless, indecisive person, pyshka – fat low woman, etc.).

An example of connotative lacunas (mismatch of associative and evaluative potential of words) is the lexeme khleb ‘bread’, which is not only a lexical lacuna for Chinese students, because in Chinese this lexeme has no meaning of food in general, but also a valuable one. It is known that for the Russian people bread is a moral category, not an ordinary foodstuff, but a symbol of life in general. In view of this, the value-evaluative content of the lexeme and its associative potential (e.g.: life, blockade, the most important thing, head to everything, you cannot throw it away, etc.) constitute a connotative, coded gap for Chinese students.

Background lacunas (mismatch of knowledge about the denotations of the correlating words) represent the most common type of lacunas reflecting cultural differences in catering. This includes all knowledge related to ethnographic and ethnopsychological differences of cultures, often missing, as demonstrated by the students’ answers to the questions in the questionnaire. For example, it is the knowledge that tea in the meaning of tea drinking (cf. invite someone to tea) has a special tradition, different from the Chinese tea ceremony. Tea is an intimate conversation, a hearty unity of “souls warmed by tea.” Background informa- tion about bread also includes knowledge of the 125 grams of bread in the besieged city of Leningrad, which remain an open wound in the soul of the Russians. Contextual lacunas (inconsistencies in the contextual realization of the correlated units) include word combinations reflecting the national tradition of eating a dish, different from the Chinese (e.g., tea with jam, tea with lemon, soup with sour cream, buy/bring something for tea, etc.). Here we can also include idioms reflecting the peculiarities of attitudes toward food and traditions of table behavior that are characteristic of Russian culture: “When I eat, I am deaf and dumb,” “You cannot spoil kasha with butter,” “Bread is the head to everything” and many others, as well as numerous precedent texts that include the theme of food and attitudes toward it.


Communicative barriers and hindrances in catering sphere show lacunas on three levels (ethnographic, ethnopsychological and ethnolinguistic), i.e. they have an integrative nature, as they accumulate differences related to ethnography, ethno- psychology and ethnolinguistics, due to which they cannot always be clearly differentiated. The inclusion of asymmetrical phenomena, highlighted at all levels of word content, in the process of teaching vocabulary to Chinese students will reduce the level of communicative barriers and obstacles that arise for Chinese students in the sphere of catering. It should be taken into account that in addition to the linguistic information contained in the conceptual, lexical and semantic level of word content, the connotative content is very important, conveying the attitude of Russian people to food, feast, table behavior, as well as the background knowledge about the history and traditions of national cuisine, gastronomic culture, rules of table serving, order of serving dishes, types of eating places, cultural ties of Russia with other national traditions. The prospects of this research include creation of a teaching dictionary “Gastronomic Culture Code in the Vocabulary of the Language,” which will continue the series of dictionaries “Verbal Culture Codes in the Vocabulary of the Language,” focused on Chinese students and devoted to various culture codes reflected in the vocabulary of the language.


1 Leontovich, O.A. (2003). Russia and the United States: an introduction to intercultural communication: textbook. Volgograd: Peremena Publ. (In Russ.) p. 273

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Kapkan, M.V. (2016). Everyday life culture: Textbook (p. 87). Yekaterinburg: Izd-vo Ural'skogo un-ta Publ. (In Russ.)

5 Bykova, G.V., Glazacheva, N.L., & Lu, C. (2011). Intercultural communication: Russia – China (lexical gaps dictionary). Blagoveshchensk: Izd-vo BGPU Publ. (In Russ.); Muravev, V.L. (1980). Problems of ethnographic lacunae emergence: A textbook on the typology of the Russian and French languages. Vladimir: VGPI Publ. (In Russ.)

6 Bykova, G.V., Glazacheva, N.L., & Lu, C. (2011). Intercultural communication: Russia – China (lexical gaps dictionary) (p. 141). Blagoveshchensk: Izd-vo BGPU Publ. (In Russ.)


About the authors

Galina M. Vasilieva

Herzen State Pedagogical University of Russia

ORCID iD: 0000-0003-2356-9489

Doctor of Philology, Full Professor, Professor of the Intercultural Communication Department, Faculty of Philology

52 1-ya Liniya Vasilevskogo Ostrova, St. Petersburg, 199053, Russia

Marina A. Chepinskaya

Herzen State Pedagogical University of Russia

Author for correspondence.
postgraduate student, Philological Faculty, Intercultural Communication Department 52 1-ya Liniya Vasilevskogo Ostrova, St. Petersburg, 199053, Russia

Jian Wang

Hangzhou Dianzi University

ORCID iD: 0000-0002-4593-5809

Associate Professor, Deputy Director of the Hangzhou Dianzi University - ITMO University Joint Institute, Professor at ITMO University

Hangzhou, Zhejiang, 310018, China


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