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Hong Kong Culture: Social Etiquette

Respecting and honoring others is crucial in Hong Kong culture. Be careful to never embarrass someone in public– this will have a negative effect on their social standing among their acquaintances. Read on to discover how to conform to the unwritten rules of Hong Kong culture.
Even though it looks straightforward here, mastering social etiquette in Hong Kong can be hard to do!

Hong Kong culture is built around unspoken customs. For example, don’t unwrap a gift in front of the giver, don’t discuss politics, and don’t act drunk in public. Find out the reasons behind these examples by checking out this article.

Hong Kong Culture: Greeting People

Greet people with a light handshake, and observe the Hong Kong culture of lowering your eyes. This is a sign of respect, as is waiting to be introduced to someone. These rules are particularly important if you are applying for a job or are in a subordinate position. If, however, you hold a higher position than your guests, feel free to initiate the handshake and maintain slightly more eye contact.

Addressing someone by name is also confusing. It is typical, in Hong Kong culture, for locals to have three names: the family name, then a generational name and a given name. However, some locals have adopted Western names in addition to their Chinese ones, because Westerners have difficulty pronouncing Chinese names.

Usually, then, you should use the family name and a title (“doctor”, “professor”, “Mr”, “Madam”) to address someone. Do not switch to first names until you are specifically invited to do so by your host or colleagues. Usually, once you begin talking on a first name basis, your friend will tell you which of their names to use.

Hong Kong Culture: Body Language and Small Talk

It is typical Hong Kong culture to stand close to one another during conversation. However, body contact does not occur. Therefore, never hug or kiss another person, or pat someone on the back.

This is especially true if the person in question is older, or in a position of authority. This is perceived as offensive and rude, as is winking at someone.

You might experience some Hong Kong culture shock, as you realize that small talk and friendly greetings are not common. Do not be offended if the cashier at a supermarket does not strike up a conversation, or if waiters in non-touristic restaurants do not even say “thank you” when you pay your bill.

Shouting a greeting to a stranger on the metro or at a tram stop is also likely to earn you a few strange looks. This is also true of such basic things as holding the door open for a stranger.

If you do strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know well, avoid politics and expressing your opinion freely. This may be seen as vulgar: therefore, communicating with people from Hong Kong culture requires careful attention to what is both said and unsaid.

Hong Kong Culture: Gifts

Hong Kong culture dictates that, if you are invited to someone’s house, you should never show up without a gift. Flowers, imported spirits, and good quality sweets are all suitable choices. Be careful to never present four gifts – “four” means “death” in Cantonese – and try to give three (similar to the word “life”), eight (sounding like the word “prosperity”) or nine (another word for “eternity”).

Try to wrap gifts in the lucky colors of gold and red, and make sure you hand it over with both hands. It is polite for the host to refuse the gift a couple of times before accepting it, and it is also part of Hong Kong culture that the gift is not unwrapped for some time. The host does not want to discredit the giver if the gift is something inappropriate. 

Hong Kong Culture: Public Behavior

Always avoid loud and obtrusive public behavior to blend into Hong Kong culture. Avoid holding hands and public displays of affection, too, as these are frowned upon. Try not to drink too much in public, and be careful with smoking: it is even forbidden in some outdoor areas, such as beaches and parks.


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