Hong Kong Business Culture

A person who is about to move to a new place should know about the culture and all about that area.

Hong Kong is a cosmopolitan and very sophisticated city, combining the cultures of Europe and Asia. The people are westernized, highly skilled, motivated and educated. Hong Kong is 98% Chinese, more specifically Cantonese, as is the local dialect and culture in southeastern China. But as per the cultural differences in Hong Kong, the people here take themselves as different people as compared to the other Chinese people.

Cantonese customs and habits are dominant in Hong Kong. Here the reputation, wealth, education, prestige and actions of a person reflect negatively or positively on the complete family. Hong Kong displays significant characteristics that are related to China, but at the same time starkly different. The commonality of language and the geographical proximity to the neighboring territory of Guangdong should not mislead you. This is even after the handing over of Hong Kong back to China has confirmed the feeling of belonging to the same country.

The Hong Kong SAR residents are distinguished like people from Hong Kong, with of the characteristics of the Territory’s economic success and which distinguishes them from the Mainland China. The formula of ‘one country, two systems’ is strongly rooted in the minds.

It is vital to comprehend the Hong Kong Business Culture and the workplace etiquette when working as a professional in Hong Kong. Even though there are many cultural differences in Hong Kong, there are some differentiations that a lot of outsiders find that are determined as distinctively Asian.

Before we can move deeper into the Hong Kong Business Culture and the related etiquettes, let us have a brief understanding of the cultural phenomenon with the following elements:

Hong Kong People

If we talk about the locals in Hong Kong, the population is formed by mainly local Hong Kong Cantonese, Chinese, other Asian countries and foreign expats. Cantonese people are the majority here, and the Cantonese culture is the mainstream as well. And it is due to this that many of the Chinese concepts such as the ‘modesty,’ ‘saving face,’ ‘family glory,’ and ‘family solidarity’ carry a strong influence in the Hong Kong Business Culture. However, with modern times a lot of the locals have adopted also the western ways of life.

Language

As mentioned above, since the Hong Kong Business Culture is dominated mostly by the aspects of the Mainland China culture, Cantonese is the widely used language. Since the relapse of the city to China in 1997, the local government there has embraced the ‘biliterate and trilingual’ policy. This means that both English and Chinese are considered as the country’s official languages. On the other hand, Chinese Mandarin, Cantonese, and English are the spoken languages.

Food

Other than the cultural differences in Hong Kong, the country is also known as the culinary capital of Asia where it boasts various delicacies in both overseas and local items. The western nations inspire the city, and a few of the dishes here combine the flavors of the cuisine of the west and the Chinese cuisine.

Holidays

Other than the global holidays, Chinese New Year is the main holiday of Hong Kong. Moreover, many others come under the traditional Chinese holidays that are marked as a national holiday in the Hong Kong Business Culture. These include Mid-Autumn Festival, Ching Ming Festival (Qingming Festival), and Chinese Lunar New Year. Further, they also have a holiday on the other western festivals such as Christmas Day, Easter Monday, Good Friday and many more.

Kung Fu

From the popularity of Kung Fu, you might have a good idea about it where it is used as a form of exercise and entertainment as well. Another sport is Tai Chi, which was referred to as Shadow Boxing many years ago when it was developed. You would always tend to find a group of people practicing Tai Chi in the park at dawn.

Gambling

Even though gambling was founded by the British in 1844, the Jockey Club in the Hong Kong city provides an avenue for gambling and horse racing. And with this, you can see that there aren’t a lot of cultural differences in Hong Kong as compared to the western countries. This club is famous as it was closed for many years during the World War Two. After then, in 1975, another game that is known as the lottery Marks Six was introduced here, and in 2002, the club began to provide wagering for football premier league games.

Cantonese Opera

The Cantonese opera is a highly respected art form in the Hong Kong Business Culture and otherwise. It is a blend of Chinese legends, music, and drama that comes out as an exciting performance. And due to the high value of the Cantonese opera, you can take the training for it from one of the many places such as the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Moreover, there is also an English version that has taken up popularity for some time in the Cantonese opera that is famous among the foreigners.

Religious Beliefs

Last but not the least, religions in Hong Kong are not one but many that include Buddism, Taoism, Christianity, Islam, and many other religions of the world. There are a many Taoist and Buddhist temples that are highly common here. The Feng Shui concept from Taoism that is also referred to as ‘Wind and Water,’ is believed by most of the locals here. This system is a 3000 years old system of the geomantic divination teaching the people (humans) how to attain harmony with the forces of nature and change, and hence gaining prosperity and well-being.

Introduction

Now that you have a better picture of the cultural differences in Hong Kong, you would be able to better understand the various Hong Kong business culture, etiquettes, behavior, and dress code. And by now, the things should not come as a surprise seeing the cultural differences in Hong Kong as compared to your home in the west.

Even though the business in Hong Kong can be frantic and a lot of people are career-oriented and hard-working, the Hong Kong business culture takes some patience. The decisions aren’t executed on an impulse. Aggressiveness and impatience are usually regarded as negative character qualities. Hence it is advised never to put a lot of pressure on your business associates.

As per the business cultural differences in Hong Kong, even the body language and colors have a very significant role in the business world of Hong Kong. Generally speaking, it is essential to remain polite and calm, but also committed to doing business. Let us now move to the various etiquettes that are important for you, if you are about to engage in any type of business in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Business Culture: Greetings and General Etiquette

Greeting a person in the Hong Kong Business Culture creates the first impression, and it remains like this until the end. Hence, if you are meeting someone in Hong Kong for a business meet or otherwise, it is vital to remember to respect the hierarchy that influences Hong Kong business culture. And you would need to digest the fact that a business deal can only be successful if you treat your associates with courtesy.

Don’t worry too much about pronouncing the names wrong when addressing a person since most of business people in Hong Kong have a Western name to make it easier for foreigners to address them correctly. The following points would give you a better insight to this:

Meeting and Greeting

  • Shake your hands with everyone you are meeting them or leaving them. Also, it must be noted that there are cultural differences in Hong Kong when it comes to a handshake as well. It is usually less firm as compared to the Western handshake.
  • It is polite to inquire about the health or activities of a person when greeting them.
  • Those who have a higher rank are introduced before those who have a lower rank. A person who is old comes before a person who is young, and a woman before a man. When you are greeting a family member, you would have to greet them in the order of their age, where the oldest is greeted first and the youngest at the last.

Names and Titles

  • A Chinese name has two part: the given name and the family name. The family name always comes first.
  • It is important to address a person with either Mr., Mrs., Miss or by their professional title followed by the family name. For instance, Lau Gan Lei would be Professor Lau, or Doctor Lau, or Professor Lau.
  • Unless you have been invited by the host to call them by their names, it is vital to use the appropriate titles and family names.

Body Language

  • In the Hong Kong Business Culture, you can stand close while talking, but any type of body contact is not taken as a healthy sign. Hence, you cannot kiss, hug or pat a person on their back.
  • Point an index finger is not considered respectful, as it is used only for animals. Use an open hand to point at a person.
  • To summon someone, extend the arm with the palm down and make a scratching motion with your fingers.
  • Request for your bill by making a circular motion with your pointer finger.
  • Winking at a person is regarded as a rude gesture.

Hong Kong Business Culture: Dress Code

When it comes to the cultural differences in Hong Kong in the dressing styles, the business people dress somewhat conservatively in the formal ties, shirts, and black suits. For any business occasion, it is vital to dress up formally.

Furthermore, colors have different meanings in the Hong Kong Business Culture where red is considered a lucky color while the white is worn when someone is mourning. Hence, it is vital to keep in mind these meanings when you choose a color scheme for the day. Wearing anything that is red would have a positive effect on the environment and for you as well. Moreover, if you are thinking about accessorizing, an elegant necklace or a fancy watch can assist you to dress to impress.

The following points on the cultural differences in Hong Kong can assist you:

Dress

  • Most of the European-style restaurants or hotels require a tie or coat in the evening. For the women, a cocktail dress or even pants should be worn here.
  • Regarding the dressing sense, the Chinese tend to dress up when they go out in the evening as well.
  • Wearing a good watch would be good and appreciated when noticed.
  • Dark or muted colors are usually the best choice when you are dressing up in Hong Kong, mostly for a business meet.
  • As per the Hong Kong Business Culture, men need to wear lightweight and conservative Western-style ties and suits while the women need to wear conservative blouses and skirts, suits, or dresses.
  • Every type clothes are worn in Hong Kong where the taste and fashion sense look more like Japan rather than the United States or Britain.
  • The residents in Hong Kong are highly style conscious and usually dress well.
  • Cleanliness and modesty are very important as per the Hong Kong Business Culture and otherwise.

Hong Kong Business Culture: Meetings and Negotiations

Even though English is mostly used in the Hong Kong business culture, you have to treat those Chinese business associates who do not know English well, with respect. Speak clearly and slowly for them to comprehend what you want to say. Also, it would be great if you are able to learn Cantonese in Hong Kong. And if you are not, you can at least try a small talk or a few polite phrases to show some effort.

Here are some main pointers that need to be kept in mind when indulging into any business meet in Hong Kong:

  • Appointments have to be made a month before the date. It is advised to avoid the scheduling of meetings around Chinese New Year, Easter, or Christmas due to vacations. Also, do not forget to call the person you are about to meet a day before the meeting to confirm the appointment.
  • Avoid starting a business in Hong Kong without consulting a “feng shui” professional. They usually advise on moving date, opening date, facility, etc. You can ask a business professional for the number and name of a reliable feng shui professional.
  • Greet the person that is senior most and then get to the juniors.
  • Remain calm, modest, and patient during the negotiations. As per Hong Kong Business Culture, the negotiations task take a little time as things are discussed in details and are considered thoroughly which is why they are effective.
  • Sending a senior who has enough of expertise and experience would get a deal on the spot where it can be sealed with a handshake only during a business deal or a negotiation. Also, be prepared to compromise.
  • “Yes” may not always mean an agreement. It often means that “I hear you.” Also, “No” is not usually said, instead you might hear things like “This may be very difficult” or “I will have to wait.”
    It takes time to build relationships, and it can take a lot of meetings to accomplish the goals. It is best to do a business in Hong Kong face to face where the courtesy calls and personal selling are essential to success.
  • Unless the contracts are drawn up and signed, the lawyers are not included in any negotiation.
  • When you get a business card, have a look at it in front of the person. Also, avoid writing anything on the card in front of the person.
  • Stick to a positive or neutral clothing color scheme during the business meeting.
  • Get your business cards with Chinese written on one side and English on the other side to present during the introduction with both hands and the Chinese side up.
  • Tea is always served during meetings where you must not take the first sip until your host takes it. And if the host has not touched their tea, it means the meeting has ended.
  • Punctuality is expected and respected. You have to be on time for all appointments. Moreover, allow “courtesy time” of about 30 minutes, if someone gets a bit late for an appointment with you.
  • Be prepared for the meeting with facts and figures ready to support all you say or claim. Be very diplomatic with the choice of words.

Entertaining

Moving to the dining and entertainment aspect of the Hong Kong Business Culture. If you get an invitation for lunch or dinner with your business contact in Hong Kong, never refuse it. If you can’t make the date, suggest another date. Also, for the business meetings, partners and spouses are not invited. So, avoid taking them along.

During the meals, it is good to pay attention to the seating etiquette, where the guest of honor sits opposite to the host and far from the entrance. And the second or third most crucial guest sits on the left and right side of the person. If you have doubt, ask politely where to sit or wait for them to sit first.

  • Tea is the custom beverage for any occasion, and it would be refilled continually until you are full. So, leave it filled when you are finished.
  • The Chinese find the act of adding sugar and cream to tea for the table a strange habit. If you want more tea, place the teapot lid upside down or open if attached to signal the waiter.
  • Toasting is something very essential for a Chinese dinner. If you are toasted as a guest of honor, then smile, raise your glass, make eye contact, drink, raise your glass and then thank the host and the guests.
  • As per the Hong Kong Business Culture, the guest of honor (you) have to rise, thank the hosts for everyone invited to the dinner by making a simple, polite and short toast for success, friendship, and cooperation.
  • In a banquet, the host visits each table and makes a toast, and the toast is made in the middle of the feast when the soup is served.
  • It is considered bad when a host doesn’t keep the plate of the guest full, and it is taken as something worse when the guest does not continue eating as long as the dish is full. As soon as you are finished, leave some food on the plate for each course. Else the host would keep refilling your plate.
  • Ensure that you reciprocate with a feast of equal quality. Ask your hotel to assist you in the preparations.
  • Chinese find making loud noises, clanging utensils, slurping, and belching at the dinner table acceptable and even complimentary at times.
  • Don’t be scared to dirty the tablecloth by placing the shells, bones, etc. on it. Do not put them in your rice bowl instead, ask for a plate for this purpose.
  • After you are done with the chopsticks, lay them on the table to rest. Do not stick them in the rice bowl as this gesture is reserved for offerings at ancestral altars.
  • Rice is a filler, so do not eat large amounts as it implies that the host is not serving enough food.
  • Oranges or any other fruits are served during the ending of a meal. Leave as soon as the meal ends.

Gift-Giving

Gift-giving is an essential part of Hong Kong Business Culture to establish and maintain meaningful business relationships. The Chinese New Year and Christmas is the best time to offer a gift. For children and non-government staff, the best New Year gift is an even amount of cash in a red envelope.

However, gifts are also given and received at other times of the year. Do not be surprised if the gift is refused politely at the beginning. Continue to offer it politely where the recipient would accept later as they do not want to seem greedy. In the gifts, you can give a typical souvenir from your home country, which can be a beverage, food, or candy. But there are something that is not supposed to be gifted as per the cultural differences in Hong Kong.

Note the following for gift-giving in Hong Kong Business Culture:

  • Gifts for government employees or civil servants are misunderstood as bribes at times.
  • Anything that is unpacked looks tacky to them.
  • Sharp objects represent a severing of relationships.
  • Four is unlucky as the Chinese word “four” is similar to death. So, do not give four things at once like four bottle of wine, etc.
  • Anything with the color blue, black and white is associated with mourning and has to be avoided.
  • Handkerchiefs and clocks are associated with death.

As per the proper Hong Kong business culture, always use both hands to present the gifts or accept it. While receiving the gift, thank the giver and keep it on the side, as it is rude to unwrap in their presence. After getting a gift, ensure that you reciprocate with a gift of equal value. Nonetheless, the cost of a present should be corresponding with the level of business dealings. Both extravagant and cheap gifts should be avoided.

Other Tips

Now that you have had a good idea about how to behave properly when doing business in Hong Kong, some other things have to be kept in mind. As per the Hong Kong business culture, they are:

  • When in doubt, follow the lead of the host to deal with the etiquette easily.
  • Sucking air via the teeth loudly and quickly is a sign of surprise or dismay. It means that you contact is not pleased, and you need to rephrase the request.
  • In case you are offered tea or drinks, do not refuse. And if you are not a person who drinks a lot, be sure to participate in the toast with your host.
  • Do not blow your nose in public or during a business meet.
  • Take enough time to get to appointments. The Hong Kong streets are crowded, and it can take time to get to the respected office. Ensure that you are not late as punctuality is important.

Helpful Hints

  • The Chinese in Hong Kong are very superstitious, and mentioning death, poverty or failure would offend them.
  • You should avoid speaking loudly.
  • Compliment the Chinese in Hong Kong, but you should always expect a denial. It is better to deny the compliment to show humility politely, and do not say thank you.
  • Expect the Chinese in Hong Kong to ask you personal questions.
  • The Chinese are popular for communicating by saying something without saying it. You would have to learn the art of reading between the lines.

Especially for Women

  • Women in China and Hong Kong do not drink alcohol, but it is acceptable for the Western women to drink in moderation.
  • As per the Hong Kong business culture, foreign businesswomen should have little trouble directing business in Hong Kong.

The difference compared to Europe and America

As mentioned above, cultural differences in Hong Kong is more inclined towards China, but they have a lot of practices of the West that are followed strictly.

America & Hong Kong Business Culture Differences

When we talk about business or work, in Hong Kong everything is achieved as a group while in America, it is more of a personal achievement. Also, humility is taken as a weakness in American but as a strength in Hong Kong. Moving to the family, the children are expected to learn all from the family and play upon their knowledge. While in America, the child is independent of the family and gain understanding on their own as per their interest.

In Hong Kong, friends need to limit and those who you can trust, unlike America where the number of friends can be unlimited and can be anyone. The friends of people in Hong Kong are the close friends while those in America do not fall under the close friend’s category. When we get to the laws section, the laws are applied to everyone in America without any exception, while in Hong Kong, not all the laws applied to everybody. Different factors can have a different impact.

As per the business cultural differences in Hong Kong, it can be seen that the businessmen in China are usually laid back and are relatively quiet while dealing with a business. In America, the men are loud and pushy when it comes to business dealings. The approach of the sales in America tends to be direct while in Hong Kong, it tends to be indirect.

In Hong Kong, people find it rude to not keep in touch with the contacts and feel that every business dealings need respect unlike the American where they only keep in touch with those who would serve them some purpose.

Europe & Hong Kong Business Culture Differences

When we look at the cultural differences in Hong Kong and Europe, we can see that Europe is extremely international where there are many different communities here that also includes people from Mainland China and Hong Kong as well. But if we look at Hong Kong, even though is the is the most cosmopolitan city in China, it has about 95% Chinese.

Moreover, we take Hong Kong as an international city since we have representatives of people from all around the world. And when we say Chinese here, they are also the people who have many passports and might be culturally mixed.

Another Hong Kong business culture difference is that they have the best and most modern infrastructure, while London lacks in this case and need to be updated or repaired. Moreover, Hong Kong also scores high regarding convenience, as everything is centrally located and has access by public transportation. But there is a downside when compared to Europe, where it is much less spacious and barely any large urban green spaces.

Other than these things, there are many similarities between Hong Kong and Europe or America.

Conclusion

From all that you have read above, we discussed how Asia is rising significantly especially in the business sector. Each city has its benefits and drawbacks as well, though Hong Kong is a great place to start off with for your business. Living there might be tough at first due to the Hong Kong business culture.

Overall, Hong Kong business culture was born in a sophisticated fusion of both the West and the East. It has not only kept the Chinese traditions but has also experienced a rebirth of the western culture. This condition led to the diversity of the culture in Hong Kong, and the people there are open-minded to accept variety.