EW Guide on how to behave in Hong Kong including how to greet locals and friends, dining out and the giving of gifts.
19 March 2014| Last updated on 28 June 2017
Hong Kong is considered to be extremely cosmopolitan despite the fact that a great majority of the population is Chinese. They are highly educated and consider themselves westernized, for the most part. However, when it comes to etiquette, the people of Hong Kong tend to stick to their Chinese roots. We have the dos and don’ts of etiquette for you to familiarize yourself with.
When greeting people that you are not very closely acquainted with, ensure that you greet people who are more important first. When greeting a family, greet according to age, oldest to youngest. When greeting people speak formal English, do not revert to slang terms, and shake everyone’s hand when saying hello and goodbye. When greeting people use their title and last name until you are given permission to use their first name, also use their professional title, if they have one (such as doctor or professor).
The Chinese are reserved and are uncomfortable with personal contact, therefor avoid hugging, kissing or patting people on the back in conversation. Winking at someone, even in a farcicle manner is considered rude, as is pointing with your index finger – use your open hand to point.
If you are invited out for lunch or dinner, always accept the invitation, if you are busy on the day, suggest another date for the meeting. The Chinese consider themselves excellent hosts and will go out of their way to ensure that as a guest you are given enough to eat and drink. Tea is the customary beverage for all occasions, and your cup will continuously be topped up. If you have had enough just leave the full cup to signal you are finished.
The same can be said of the plate of food that you are served, if you finish everything that is on your plate, you will be served more food. Once you feel full ensure that there is a little bit of food left on the plate to signal that you are full. The chopsticks should be laid on the rest, and never left in the rice bowl or the plate.
If you are served fish, do not turn it over, this is a bad omen as it represents a boat capsizing.
Toasting forms a large part of Chinese culture, if you are giving a toast makes sure that you fill everyone’s glasses, before you fill yours. Even if your companion’s glass is full pour a few drops in. If someone toasts you, take a sip and toast them back to thank them for the toast. At the end of your meal, make a toast thanking your hosts. Toasts should be simple and positive reflecting on friendship, success and cooperation.
If you are invited to a business dinner, it is considered rude to bring your spouse, unless they are specifically invited. When spouses are around, business is generally not discussed.
Tipping is not customary in Hong Kong. In smaller restaurants it could be considered patronizing and rude and in more up market restaurants a service fee is included in the bill.
It is customary to give a gift to your host, especially if you are visiting from afar. Bringing a small gift that is representative of your home country is considered polite. Never visit a Chinese home without a gift. Gifts of cognac, brandy, candy or pens are considered appropriate. Symbolism is important to the Chinese who have many superstitious beliefs. Always give gifts in 3s, 8s or 9s – never give gifts in groups of 4s. 3, 8 and 9 have positive connotations in Chinese culture, the number 4 symbolises death.
Do not give red or white flowers, as they symbolize mourning. Clocks, and gifts wrapped in white and blue paper symbolize death. Sharp objects such as knives should not be given as gifts as they represent a severing of the friendship.
If you are given a gift, make sure that you refuse it aseveral times before accepting it humbly. Accept the gift with both hands, but do not open it immediately.