Hong Kong Business Etiquette

Hello, Welcome to Hong Kong!

你好 nǐ hǎo (“Hello” in Chinese)

你好 néih hóu (“Hello” in Cantonese)

Hong Kong might just be the city of all cities. With a skyline as big and beautiful as NYC, its very own Disney World, and a population of more than 7 million people, it’s almost too much for one city. But did you know Hong Kong is more than just another city? In fact, the official name is Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, and it is an autonomous territory, meaning it is officially considered part of China, but it has its own government within China’s.

Between Ancient China, British colonization, Japanese occupation, British rule again, and finally gaining semi-independence in 1997, Hong Kong has a rich history, and a variety of cultural, religious, and ethnic groups. In business, Hong Kong is the place to be; it has the 7th largest stock exchange in the world, it is ranked the 11th most popular destination for tourists, and second in the Ease of Doing Business Index. So before you set sail for the Hong Kong harbor, let’s find out the dos and don’ts of Hong Kong business etiquette.

THE LOWDOWN

  • Chinese and English are both official languages in Hong Kong, and Cantonese is a recognized regional language.
  • Hong Kong’s economy is considered a capitalist service economy, with low taxation and free trade.
  • There is much variety in the religions of Hong Kong, including Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, Islam, and many people follow some form of Chinese folk religion, or a combination of different religions.
  • Hong Kong is only 426 square miles and is located just south of the Tropic of Cancer. It has has a humid subtropical climate with hot and humid summers full of thunderstorms and occasional Typhoons.
  • After more than a hundred years of British rule, many British customs remain, including driving on the left, and handshakes instead of bowing, but the handshake might be lighter and looser than what you’re used to.
  • Because of the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s, Hong Kongers are extremely health conscious.  Stay home if you are sick, and if you need to sneeze of cough, be discrete, use a handkerchief or tissues, and wash your hands.

DRESSING SHARP

  • Hong Kongers tend to dress conservatively, so both men and women should wear dark colored business suits. Men should wear a tie.
  • Designer labels are noticed and considered impressive if you want to appear successful.
  • Colors are important in Hong Kong because of Chinese customs. White symbolizes death, but red is considered lucky. A red accessory, like a tie or jewelry, might impress your Hong Kong colleagues.
  • Check the weather before you go! If you plan on going in the summer, be sure to pack lighter clothing for the hot days, and rain gear in case of a monsoon or thunderstorms.

MAKE OR BREAK MEETINGS

  • Make an appointment at least one month in advance. Avoid the Chinese New Year (usually in late January or early February) as many businesses close for the week.
  • Arrive on time for your meeting and shake hands lightly with your colleagues. Use a title whenever applicable, names are written last to first.
  • Avoid using colors in your presentations or written materials. Colors have great significance and different meanings so you don’t want to offend anyone by using the wrong color.
  • Business cards should be exchanged after the first meeting.  Have one side translated to Chinese. Gold is a favorable color if you want to add some color to the card.

DINING DECORUM

  • Hong Kongers love the night life. Be prepared to go out to restaurants and bars almost every night, and get your singing voice ready for some Karaoke.
  • Toasting is important in Hong Kong, the guest of honor will make the first toast and everyone is expected to drink. It is impolite to refuse the drink, so even if you abstain, you should still accept the drink and raise your glass during the toast.
  • Never rub your chopsticks together before a meal. This suggests that you received faulty chopsticks that might have splinters.
  • Put your chopsticks in the chopstick rest when you stop to talk, take a drink, or finish your meal. Never place them across the top of your bowl.
  • Try everything that is presented to you. Burping is considered a compliment.
  • It is expected that you refuse a second serving before accepting it, and leave a little food in your bowl when you’re finished. This shows that you aren’t gluttonous. Also, never take the last bite from the serving dish.

GIVING AND GETTING GIFTS

  • If you are invited to your colleague’s home, bring sweets, fruits, flowers, or imported spirits as a gift, and small gifts for any children.
  • Colors have significance and different meanings in Hong Kong. Do not bring red or white flowers, and do not wrap your gifts in white, blue or black. Gold and red are typically considered lucky colors, so stick to those when wrapping gifts.
  • Numbers are also important; never give an odd number of items, or four of something. Eight is considered a fortuitous number that signifies a promising future.
  • Wrap gifts elegantly and elaborately and present them with two hands. Your recipient will refuse the gift once or twice before accepting, and won’t open it in front of you.

DOWN TO BUSINESS

  • Relationship building is important to Hong Kongers, so there will be a period of small talk at the initial meeting, in addition to the nightlife activities.
  • Never start with your lowest price, always leave room for negotiations. The decisions will be made at the top of the company, but Hong Kongers tend to be faster than some other Asian cultures.
  • “Silence is golden.” Like many Asian cultures, silence is essential in Hong Kong. Give your colleague quiet time to contemplate their thoughts, and try not to interrupt or fill this silence.
  • After negotiations are finished, your colleagues may hire an astrologer or a feng shui expert to determine a favorable signing date.

Now that you're well prepared for your next jet-setting trip to Hong Kong, don't forget to stay tuned for our next Business Etiquette blurb!

Goodbye!

再见 zai jian (“Goodbye” in Chinese)

再見 joigin (“Goodbye” in Cantonese)