Hong Kong is very sophisticated and cosmopolitan, blending the
cultures of Asia and Europe. Its people are highly educated, very
motivated and westernized. Hong Kong is 98% Chinese (Cantonese), but
the people view themselves as different from other Chinese.
Cantonese habits and customs are dominant. An individual's actions,
prestige, education, wealth and reputation reflect positively or
negatively on the entire family.
Meeting and Greeting
- Shake hands with everyone -- men, women and children -- upon
meeting and leaving. Note that Hong Kong Chinese handshakes may be
less firm than a Western handshake.
- Higher-ranking persons are introduced before those of lower
rank. An older person comes before a younger person, and a woman
before a man. Family members are greeted in order of age, oldest
first and youngest last.
- It is polite to inquire about a person's health or activities
Names and Titles
- Use family names and appropriate titles until specifically
invited by your host or colleagues to use their first names.
- Address the Chinese with Mr., Mrs., Miss or professional title
plus family name. Example: Lau Gan Lei would be Mr. Lau or Doctor
Lau or Professor Lau.
- Chinese names have two parts: family name and given name. The
family name comes first.
- Hong Kong Chinese may stand close when talking, however, they
are reserved and uncomfortable with body contact. Do not hug, kiss
or pat people on the back.
- Winking at someone is considered a very rude gesture.
- Request your bill by making a writing motion with your hand.
- To beckon someone, extend your arm, palm down, and make a
scratching motion with your fingers.
- Never point with your index finger. This is used only for
animals. Point with your hand open.
Many Hong Kong businesspeople have been educated in Western
schools and are well-heeled, well-traveled and possess an
international perspective. The business climate in Hong Kong is
"wide open," with a free market and limited government
involvement. Hong Kong business activities are competitive, honest
and quick. Making money is the main goal. The style of business is
similar to that of the United States.
- Punctuality is expected and respected; be on time for all
appointments. Allow "courtesy time" (30 minutes) if someone is
late for an appointment with you.
- Tea is served at meetings. Do not drink until your host takes
the first sip. A host leaving tea untouched signals the end of the
- Bring business cards printed in English on one side and
Chinese on the other side. Make sure that the Chinese side uses
"classical" characters, the written form of Chinese used in Hong
Kong, and not "simplified" characters, which are used in the
People's Republic of China. Upon introduction, present your
business card with both hands and with the Chinese side up.
- Be sure to look at a business card upon receiving it. Do not
write on a business card in front of the person who gave it to
- Lawyers are not included in negotiations until contracts are
drawn up and signed.
- Negotiations may be slow and detailed, but very efficient.
Send senior people with technical and commercial expertise
prepared to function as a team and make decisions on the spot.
Business deals may be sealed with a handshake alone. Be prepared
- Banking contacts are very important. Use a bank to set up your
- Take time to build relationships. It may take several meetings
to accomplish goals. Do business face to face. Courtesy calls and
personal selling are vital to success.
- "Yes" may not mean agreement; it often means "I hear you."
"No" is generally not said. Instead, you may hear "I will have to
wait," or "This may be very difficult."
- Do not attempt to open an office in Hong Kong without hiring
or consulting a "geomancer"/"feng shui" professional. A feng shui
professional advises on facility, moving date, opening date,
entrance, etc. and positions office furniture to be in harmony
with cosmic forces. Do not ignore this custom. Many Chinese will
not do business without feng shui approval for fear of trouble
from spirits. Ask a Hong Kong businessperson for the name and
number of a reliable feng shui professional.
- Make appointments for business meetings a month before
Dining and Entertainment
- Tea is the customary beverage for all occasions. Your teacup
will be refilled continually. Leave your cup full if you are
finished. Chinese find adding sugar and cream to tea a very
strange Western habit. Place teapot lid upside down (or open if
attached) to signal the waiter for more tea.
- Toasting is an important part of a Chinese dinner. If you are
the guest of honor and are toasted, smile, raise your glass, make
eye contact, drink, raise your glass and thank the host and
- The guest of honor rises and thanks the host for everyone
present at the end of dinner. Make a simple, polite, short toast
to friendship, success and cooperation.
- The banquet host visits each table and makes a toast. A toast
is often made in the middle of a banquet when the shark fin soup
- Be sure to eat and show appreciation for shark fin soup if it
is offered. This delicacy is offered only to special guests, and
is very expensive.
- It is bad manners for a host not to keep a guest's plate full,
and it is even worse for a guest not to continue eating as long as
the plate is full. Always leave some food on your dish after you
are finished with each course. Otherwise the host will continue
refilling your plate or bowl.
- Be sure to reciprocate with a banquet of equal quality. Your
hotel can assist you in preparations.
- Rice is served as a filler. Do not eat large amounts, which
implies the host has not served enough food.
- Lay your chopsticks on your chopstick rest or neatly on the
table when you are finished eating. Never stick them in a bowl of
- Don't be afraid to dirty the tablecloth. Bones, shells, etc.
are put on the table; do not put them in your rice bowl. A plate
may be provided for this purpose.
- The Chinese find belching, slurping, clanging utensils and
making loud noises at the dinner table acceptable, sometimes even
- Oranges or other fruits are served to signal the end of the
meal. Leave soon after the meal ends.
- Never refuse an invitation to lunch or dinner. If you can't
make the date, suggest another date.
- Spouses are usually not included in business dining. Do not
bring a spouse unless invited to do so. If spouses are present,
business is generally not discussed.
- Hong Kong residents are very style-conscious and dress well.
Modesty and cleanliness are very important.
- All types of clothing are worn in Hong Kong. However, taste
and fashion look more toward Japan than Britain or the United
States. Clothing should be light for summer with sweaters and
jackets for winter.
- For business, men should wear conservative and lightweight
Western-style suits and ties. Women should wear conservative
dresses, suits or skirts and blouses.
- Wear a good watch. It will be noticed.
- The Chinese tend to dress up when going out in the evening.
Most European-style hotel restaurants require a coat and tie in
the evening. Women should wear cocktail dresses or evening pants.
- Gift giving is a tradition in Hong Kong that communicates
respect and friendship. Be prepared to present a small gift at the
first meeting, such as high-quality cognac, brandy, candy or pens.
Unlike other Asian countries, Scotch whiskey is not special in
- Never go to a Chinese home without a gift.
- Present and receive a gift with both hands. Do not open a gift
upon receiving it.
- The word for the number "3" in Chinese sounds like the word
for "life," and the word for the number "8" sounds like the word
for "prosperity." The Chinese word for number "9" is a homonym for
the word "eternity." Give gifts in these numbers, if possible. Do
not give gifts in a group of four; the Chinese word for "4" sounds
similar to the word for "death."
- Avoid giving white or red flowers (white is a symbol of
mourning, red is a symbol of blood); clocks are associated with
death, but watches are suitable gifts.
- Every conceivable product can be purchased in Hong Kong. Try
to bring something from your hometown or state.
- It is illegal to give a civil servant a gift.
- The Chinese are famous for communicating by "Saying it without
saying it." You will have to learn to read between the lines.
- Expect Hong Kong Chinese to ask personal questions.
- Compliment Hong Kong Chinese, but expect a denial. Politely
deny a compliment to show humility. Do not say thank you.
- Do not speak loudly.
- You may be referred to as "Gweilo" (foreign devil). While
perhaps insulting, it is generally not a personal attack.
- Hong Kong Chinese are very superstitious; mentioning failure,
poverty or death offends them.
Especially for Women
- Foreign businesswomen should have little trouble conducting
business in Hong Kong.
- Chinese women generally do not drink alcohol. However, it is
acceptable for Western women to drink alcohol in moderation.