Etiquette and Beliefs

Appointments: Be sure to arrive in time for any appointments or meetings, as punctuality is important in Chinese culture. It is considered somewhat insulting to keep the other party waiting. If you are detained, call and advise the person you are meeting, and apologize profusely when you arrive.

Dressing: Dress conservatively for business meetings, in dark business suits and ties for men; suits or smart dresses for women.

Introductions: The Western-style handshake is widely practiced and is the common form of introduction in Hong Kong. When meeting with a group of people, always greet the most senior member first and then the next most senior, working your way down the ranks. Business cards are typically exchanged after the initial introduction. Have your business cards printed in English on one side and Chinese on the other. Your business card should also mention your title for it helps your Hong Kong business colleagues understand where you stand in your company’s hierarchy. When presenting and receiving business cards, use both hands, and hand your card so the typeface faces the recipient. Once you have received a business card you should be seen to read it carefully and should then leave the card out on the table in front of you throughout the meeting. You should never write on a business card unless you are specifically asked to.

It is considered very rude to wink at someone in Hong Kong.

Entertaining: Entertaining is common practice in Hong Kong, and is mostly done in restaurants during long meals. It is considered polite to leave some food in your bowl at the end of the meal, to show that you have had enough to eat. Chopsticks should be returned to the chopstick rest or the table when you have finished eating, and not across the top, or in, your bowl. Drinking and toasting is an important part of business culture, and is considered impolite to refuse. Generally, it is rare to be invited to a business associate’s home, but if you are, be sure to ask if you should remove your shoes before entering your host’s home.

Negotiations: Negotiations in Hong Kong are often long and protracted, as the Chinese prefer to examine everything in detail. Remember to always keep calm and patient, and avoid confrontation or aggression, as this is unacceptable in Chinese culture. Be diplomatic at all times, and try to avoid directly saying no to anyone, and instead give more general answers.

Gift Giving: Gift-giving is part and parcel of doing business in Hong Kong, as it helps to establish and maintain relationships. If you are invited to someone’s home, it is considered polite to take a small gift of fruit or chocolates. Avoid giving clocks, books or blankets as gifts as these are considered unlucky items. Gifts should be accepted with both hands, and opened later in private. The Chinese will often initially refuse a gift, before accepting gracefully.

Personal Names: In Chinese the surname comes first and it is impolite to call someone by their given name unless specifically invited to do so.

Maintaining Face: The concept of “face” is a central governing principle in Hong Kong and people will go to great lengths to avoid embarrassing or shaming themselves or others. Being argumentative or aggressive is unacceptable and many people will tell very obvious lies in order to avoid embarrassment.

Guanxi: Society in China and Hong Kong is driven by personal relationships and networks that are referred to as Guanxi. Quite often it is not what you know that will get you a job or a table at the best restaurant, it is who you know.

Superstitions: The Chinese are highly superstitious and often allow their superstitions to dictate their lives. Many buildings in Hong Kong skip the level 4 as the word “four” in Chinese sounds similar to the word “death”. The number 8, on the other hand, is considered highly lucky. Colors, too, are highly symbolic with red representing prosperity and black, death. Chinese people also avoid wearing a green hat as this represents the fact that a man’s wife has been unfaithful to him! People here organize their homes and offices according to the principles of feng shui and will often arrange important family events such as weddings and moving house around the position of the moon.

Personal Questions: Whilst in Hong Kong, you must get used to answering personal questions. Hong Kongers have no qualms asking direct, personal questions which would probably be a no-no elsewhere.