SOCIAL AND BUSINESS CULTURE IN HONG KONG
Land and climate: Hong Kong is located on the south coast of China, and includes the New Territories (adjacent to China’s Guangdong province), the Kowloon Peninsula, two large islands (Hong Kong and Tai Yue Shan), and 200 smaller islands. Till 1998, when it reverted to China, it was a British territory. Hong Kong Island and the tip of the Kowloon Peninsula form the natural harbour that has made Hong Kong such an important centre for commerce. The climate is tropical with seasonal monsoons. Hong Kong experiences more seasonal changes than most tropical areas. The weather is generally dry and cool from September to March. Hot, rainy weather prevails the rest of the year.
History: The British East India Trading Company began using the Hong Kong Harbour for trade with China as early as 1699. The Chinese ceded control over Hong Kong Island to Great Britain in 1842 following the Opium War, in which the Chinese tried to halt opium shipments to China. Kowloon was ceded after the Arrow War in 1860. Great Britain acquired the New Territories on a 99 year lease in 1898. Hong Kong’s importance as a free port was not established until after World War II, when it became a leading commercial port and tourist centre.
To determine Hong Kong’s future after 1997, the British and Chinese governments signed an agreement (called the Basic Law) in 1984, which stated that Hong Kong will become a Special Administrative Region of China in July, 1997, and retain its unique social, legal, and economic systems for another 50 years. The prospect of transfer of power raised fears in Hong Kong, as well as some calls for independence. The transaction process became tense in 1992, when Hong Kong and British officials supported a plan that would increase democratic political participation in the colony. The transfer, however, was peaceful, and Hong Kong has transferred to China in 1997.
People: Very densely populated, and mostly urban, Hong Kong is ethnically homogenous. Nearly 98 percent of the people are Chinese, mostly Cantonese with roots in the nearby Guangdong Province. Only about 57 percent of all residents were actually born in Hong Kong.
Language: Hong Kong maintains two official languages, Chinese and English. Street signs, telephone directories, and government documents are written in both. Although dialects from all provinces of China are spoken in Hong Kong, the Cantonese dialect dominates. Most students study English, and English-speaking visitors have relatively few communication problems in business circles and tourist areas. The Chinese are delighted with Westerners who speak Chinese, especially the Cantonese dialect, and will praise them for their abilities.
Religion: Strong elements of Taoism and Confucianism, both of which originated in China, and Buddhism, with roots in India, form part of the religious life of many Hong Kong residents. Ancestor veneration is widespread. Many homes contain brightly decorated boxes with pictures of deceased relatives, symbolic offerings of fruit and smouldering incense sticks, which are all part of the Chinese custom of honouring ancestors. Marriages and funerals are special ceremonial events. The faithful observe special occasions with visits to shrines and temples, or perform informal rites on sidewalks in front of their homes. About 10 percent of the population is Christian of various denominations.
Attitude: Hong Kong is referred to as the `Pearl of the Orient’. The name not only describes its scenic beauty, impressive modern structures, and magnificent natural harbour, but also the energetic, hardworking people that have built Hong Kong into a major trade centre. The Confucian ethic of proper social and family relationships forms the foundation of Chinese society. The Chinese are very conscious of their social position in relation to the people with whom they deal. An individual’s actions reflect on the entire family. `Saving face’ or avoiding embarrassment, shame, or dishonour is very important. In social interaction, the Chinese allow others to escape from potential embarrassment with dignity, as causing someone to `lose face’ is improper. The Chinese value modesty and patience over aggression. .
Many social attitudes and traditions are, however, changing with time. The emigration of thousands of people to other countries, to seek citizenship or a new life disrupted traditional family structures, employment patterns, and daily culture. Emigration slowed down in 1994, and many people began to return to jobs, family and also to be a part of Hong Kong. The initial emigration led to the feeling that the best and the brightest were leaving, but recent trends indicate that many strong leaders and business people are staying to take advantage of the booming economy in southern China. People feel that they can be as prosperous under the Chinese as they were under the British.
Dress and appearance: All styles of clothing are worn in Hong Kong, from traditional to modern, from European to Asian. Modesty is important in public, as is cleanliness. Western-style suits are worn in business circles.
Greetings: Both the Western handshake and Chinese greetings are common in Hong Kong. Upon greeting, polite conversation usually includes inquiries about one’s health, business affairs, or school activities. The Chinese practice modesty and reserve in dealing with others; aggressive behaviour is offensive. Humility or self-demeaning comments are normal in describing oneself or one’s accomplishments. Sincere compliments are given and appreciated, but the Chinese try to deny praise.
Gestures: When sitting, one’s hands should be in the lap and feet on the floor. Although traditional Chinese will not cross their legs, one may do so without offending if the feet or shoes do not point at others. Winking at someone is impolite and can have bad connotations. An open hand is usually used for pointing. Beckoning is done with the palm down and all fingers waving. Talking loudly is inappropriate.
Visiting: During the Chinese New Year or other festivals, guests at a home take a gift of fruit or candy for the hosts. Gifts are not expected on other occasions or for ordinary visits. However, a first-time guest may wish to present a small gift as a special token of respect. People offer and receive all gifts with both hands. Contrary to customs in other Asian societies, shoes are not usually removed when entering a home. Visitors should sit when invited to do so and maintain good posture. Special effort is made to greet and show respect to older people. When visiting with others, correct social manners include generosity.
Eating and diet: The Chinese usually use chopsticks when eating at home. Dishes of food are typically placed in the centre of the table. Everyone helps themselves by taking portions of food with chopsticks from the central plates, and placing them in their own personal bowls of rice. It is proper to hold the rice bowl close to one’s mouth when eating. The host will refill the guest’s bowl with more rice and other food until politely refused. It is considered impolite to make noises or talk too much during the meal. Because of Hong Kong’s cosmopolitan nature, restaurants offer many types of food, including American fast food.
Most food is imported. Rice is the main staple for Chinese families. Chinese dishes are often prepared with fish, pork, chicken, and vegetables. A large variety of fruits are also available. Business is often conducted over lunch or dinner. Lavish restaurant meals are common for weddings and other special events. Service is often included in the bill, but it is still customary to leave a tip.
Family: Chinese family members are bound by a strong tradition of loyalty, obedience, and respect, as reflected by one of the lowest divorce rates in the world. While families have traditionally been large, the trend towards smaller families is clearly seen in Hong Kong. The Chinese do not usually display affection in public, but this is changing among the youth. A source of stress for many families in Hong Kong is the sharp difference between traditional values and more modern, or Western, practices. Also straining the traditionally strong family is the fact that many who have left Hong Kong, have also left behind the elderly and disabled, sometimes with no one to care for them.
Marriages: Marriages, arranged by the parents of the bride and groom, are no longer common. Western-style dating and marriages have become quite normal. Couples tend to marry at an older age than those in Western countries. A large banquet (such as a 12-course meal) is the highlight of the elaborate wedding celebration.
Recreation: Movies and television are perhaps the most popular forms of entertainment. Beach outings and picnics are also enjoyed. Favourite sports include table tennis, soccer, skating, squash, tennis, swimming, horse racing, basketball, and boating. The noise of mahjong tiles (a game that is a cross between dominoes and cards) being slapped on a board often fills the streets, as people enjoy playing the game in parks.
Commerce: A six-day, 48-hour week is common. Business hours are from 9.00 AM to 5.00 PM, five days a week, and from 9.00 AM to 1.00 PM on Saturdays. However, shops are open from early in the morning to late at night, as many owners live above their shops.
Holidays: Holidays are based on the lunar calendar, and fall on different days each year. The Chinese New Year is often in February and is the most important holiday. Week-long festivities include parades, visiting relatives, paying one’s debt, and displaying messages of prosperity and longevity on doorways. The Ching Ming Festival in April is a time for honouring the dead and includes ancestor worship activities. In June, the Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated with dragon boat races. The Mid-autumn Festival is a harvest holiday celebrated with lanterns and moon cakes. Other holidays include the British Queen’s Birthday (June), Liberation Day (August), Chung Yeung (in October, also a time to honour the dead), Easter, and Christmas.
QUICK POINTS FOR INDIANS
GREETINGS AND INTRODUCTIONS IN HK
1. a small bow and handshake. Their grip is light. Like many Indians, they commonly lower their eyes in respect. Beyond the handshake, they keep physical contact such as hugs, back-slapping, touching to a minimum.
2.Greet seniors before juniors. If you greet with some Chinese words, it delights the locals.
Exchange business cards in the correct manner GREETINGS AND INTRODUCTIONS IN HK
So, this vacation, you are planning to visit Hong Kong for the first time. Sure, many Hong Kongers speak English, but it is British English, and the culture is very different from the American. Here are a few tips that may help you.
3.Hong Kong’s local natives greet Westerners with, following the Japanese ritual.
4.Many Hong Kong local natives use Western names such as Jackie, Bruce, Nancy, Mary, etc.
5.Hong Kongers of Chinese ethnicity have 3 names: First is the surname or family name. The second is the generational name, which may be also the father’s name. The third is the given or first name of the person. Most married Chinese women do not use their husband’s name. They retain the maiden name
6.Address Hong Kongers with honour titles such as Mr / Ms / Dr / Prof, followed by the surname, unless invited to use the first name. Ask how they would like to be addressed.
EXCHANGING BUSINESS CARDS
1.Carry plenty of business cards for business and social events. Not offering a card implies that you do not care to know the person, or that you do not think he or you are important, and worse, that you are not keen to do business in HK.
2.Print cards with English on one side and Chinese on the other; use gold lettering.
3.Your card should include your designation, and awards you have received.
4.Receive and offer cards with both hands. Ensure the writing faces the recipient right way up.
5.Scan the card you receive. Ask a question, and then put the card in a card case or on the table, not directly in your pocket.
6.Respect the card. Do not fold or in any way mutilate it. Do not write on a card you receive, and never in any case, in red.
7.Keep your cards in mint condition.
WHEN ON THE TELEPHONE WITH HONG KONG LOCAL NATIVES: TIPS FOR INDIANS
1.Keep paper and pen handy. You may need to note something down. Asking the other party to `hold on while I get some paper’ is not polite.
2.Put a smile in your voice. Speak in a cheerful voice, with energy and enthusiasm. Do not sound angry, rushed, stressed. Remember they cannot see you!
3.Introduce yourself clearly. Some Indian names may not be familiar to Hong Kong local natives .
4.Address the caller correctly, politely, with the right title, and name. Apologise if you make a mistake
5.Listen without interruption. Repeat important facts to check if you got it right
6.Speak clearly, slowly. Don’t talk fast. They may not be able to understand the Indian accent. Do not shout or whisper.
7.If others speak fast, say: May I request you to repeat a bit slower please. I did not understanding what you just said.
8.Seek clarifications. Common phrases or words have different meanings in different cultures
9.Use simple English. Do not put on an accent.
10.Give direct answer to `Yes’ or `No’ questions. Expand and explain after the direct reply, not before.
11.Do not use swear words, abbreviations, Jargon, slang, local proverbs or references
12.Do not eat when talking on the telephone.
13.Do not rush to answer. Allow yourself translation time to respond.
14.Don’t pretend to understand. Better to request a repeat for clearer understanding
15.Indians should use all the suggestions for talking on the telephone, when communicating in face-to-face situations
PRONOUNCING AND USING ENGLISH WORDS IN HK
1.HK has two official languages: Chinese (Cantonese dialect), and English (British). Hong Kong local natives speak British English for business purposes. Cantonese is the language of the Hong Kong local natives of Chinese origin. Due to the growing ties between Mainland China and Hong Kong, Mandarin is also becoming common.
2.Avoid discussing the history of Hong Kong’s relationship with mainland China.
3.Some Hindi words used in HK:
a)`Chop’ comes from `chaap’ and means a stamp or seal, EG, “He used a personal chop’
b)`Amah’ comes from `Amma’ or mother, a full-time domestic maid
c)`Shroff’ is a cashier
d)`Nullah’ is a concrete-lined canal or drain
1. Hong Kong local natives , like Indians, stand closer than Westerners. They may stand closer in queues, but they are not comfortable with close body contact. The Hong Kong local natives of Chinese ethnicity do not hug or kiss members of the opposite sex in public.
2.Never point with the index finger. Point with the full hand open.
3.In a restaurant, ask for the bill by writing in the air. Don’t hiss or call out.
4.Do not blow your nose in public, especially at official dinners.
5.Sucking in air though the teeth quickly and loudly indicates dismay at having made or notices a mistake, or of being dismayed or surprised.
BUSINESS MEETINGS IN HONG KONG
1.Cold calls rarely work. Seek appointments one to two months in advance, and confirm before departure.
2.Avoid scheduling or seeking meetings during Chinese New Year (between January and February as per the lunar calendar) as many businesses close for a week to ten days.
3.Be strictly punctual. Leave well in time to beat or manage HK’s notorious traffic. If getting late, call and explain and re-schedule.
4.Senior-most persons on both sides lead the delegation into the room, and are introduced first by the convener / interpreter / meddle-man. Always greet high-ranking people before those with a lower status.
5.Before business discussion, make polite talk about the person’s health, family, travel, etc.
6.If your hosts offer tea, accept graciously, even if you do not want it.
7.Wait to be told where to sit. Senior-most managers sit farthest from the door, facing the door.
8.Even though the pace of life in HK is fast and hectic, meetings require patience. Often the same situation is discussed repeatedly. So, don’t rush things; be calm, don’t lose your temper or use high-pressure tactics (remember `face’). Decisions are made by senior-most person, and hence are faster than in Japan or India.
9.Always plan and prepare very well for business meetings. Support presentations with accurate facts and figures.
10.Deal signing date and time are often determined by an astrologer or `feng shui’ master.
BUSINESS BEHAVIOUR IN HONG KONG
1.Business in HK is determined by both Chinese (hierarchical, top-down decisions) and British (flatter, and team-oriented) influences.
2.Both men and women dress formally and conservatively in dark business suits. Men wear ties (red or dark blue are good colours), and women wear modest blouses, often with scarves. Avoid all-white, the colour for mourning.
3.Be more formal than friendly during work. Do not address informally; use titles and surnames. Shake hands formally; avoid friendly physical contact.
4.Though business behaviour in HK more westernised than in mainland China, many mangers in Hong Kong prefer to maintain a professional distance from their juniors. Seniors do not socialise with juniors, except at company events.
5.Networking and relationship-building are integral to success in business in Hong Kong, though not so much in mainland China. Business gifts help develop relationships with new contacts.
6.Punctuality is important, yet commitments are not always met. As in India, deadlines are flexible and need to be followed-up and confirmed, when dealing with Hong Kong local natives of Chinese ethnicity.
7.Hong Kong is a multi-cultural society, and you will meet people of diverse cultures. Be open-minded.
SOCIAL / PUBLIC BEHAVIOUR IN HONG KONG
1.If invited to a home, greet family members in order of age. Wait for hosts to introduce you in a small function. Introduce yourself if attending a very big event.
2.Hong Kong’s public transport network is exceptionally efficient, economical, reliable and of the highest standard of cleanliness. When using buses in Hong Kong or MTR (Mass Transit Railway) do not eat, drink or litter inside the bus (or outside). When getting off the bus, remember to thank the driver. It is rude not to do so.
3.If anyone opens or holds the door for you to enter or exit, do remember to thank the person. Remember to hold the door open for an older person, a lady or someone who is only a few feet away. In a lift, if you are unable to reach the panel, ask politely: “Could you please press 4 for me? Thank you so much”.
4.Remember to form queues at the airport, in a mall, a bank, etc. Do not break a queue, unless there is an emergency. Then take the permission of the first person in the queue, and thank if allowed to go first.
5.If someone sneezes, please say, “Bless you”.
6.Saying `I apologise’ and `So sorry’, Excuse me’, `I beg your pardon’, and `Thank you so much’ are very important, even for the smallest of favours.
EXCHANGING GIFTS IN HONG KONG
1.A gift may be refused once or twice (insist politely and thank when accepted); gifts are not unwrapped till the giver leaves so as not to appear greedy.
2.Receive and offer gifts (or anything) with both hands.
3.Consider offering fruits for the family, sweets for children, imported liquor for men, and flowers for the ladies (not white chrysanthemums or red roses).
4.Lai-See, a red envelope of even number new notes is gifted to children, staff, or clients on Chinese New Year Day.
5.If offering a branded item, offer it in the original bag.
6.Offer gifts in sets of two or eight – considered auspicious.
7.Red, pink, gold are auspicious wrapping colours.
8.Do not gift sharp items such as knives, scissors (signify break in relationships); clocks, handkerchiefs, straw sandals, associated with death and funerals; blankets (decline in prosperity).
9.Avoid giving anything in sets of four (sounds the same as death).
10.Avoid wrapping in white, black, and blue.
11.Gifts to civil servants or government employees may be mistaken for bribes.
12.Reciprocate a gift with one of equal value. A banquet is commonly reciprocated with another.
DINING IN HONG KONG
1.A business invitation may not include a spouse.
2.Wait to be told where to sit. Important guests sit farthest from the door, facing the door, either at the head of the table, or at the central position.
3.Start eating when the host or senior-most person picks up `kuazi (pronounced `kwhyza) to eat.
4.Eat with chopsticks `kuaizi’. Observe etiquette regarding the use the `kuazi’: Do not spear food with `kuazi’; do not point `kuazi’ at others; do not stick `kuai’ vertically in rice bowl, as joss sticks are held up like that at funerals; do not tap `kuazi’ on the edge of the bowl, as beggars do that.
5.Bring rice bowl up to the mouth to push rice into mouth with chopsticks. Don’t overeat the rice- it is a filler.
6.Use serving `kuazi’ to pick up food from community to your plate. Return to serving dish. Or, invert your own `kuazi’ if no serving implements are provided.
7.Do not `dig’ into serving dish for choice morsels.
8.So as not to appear greedy, always refuse a second helping at least once
9.Always leave some food in your bowl when you are full, or else, the host may keep re-filling your bowl.
10.The host offers the first toast; guests may reciprocate next.
11.Do not eat the last piece from a serving platter.
12.Taste everything, unless you have medical reasons.
13.Do not turn a fish over. It implies a boat will capsize. A waiter delicately separates the fish skeleton from the flesh.
14.Burping is a compliment to the cook / hostess.
15.Wine is likely to be served during and after the meal.
16.Eating in the food stalls or food courts is common. The food is very tasty, and far more economical than restaurants.
17.Locals commonly shell their prawns on the tablecloth, discard bones by their plates, and slop soy sauce everywhere.
18.Do not refuse any food or beverages. If you do not take alcohol, make the action of offering a toast with an empty glass. If you do take alcohol, drink in moderation.
COMMON CANTONESE PHRASES
1.Hello / You good : Nay Ho
2.More formal greeting : Nima Hao.
3.On the telephone : Wei
4.Good Morning : Joe Sarn
5.How are you : Dee maa
6.Thank you : xie-xie nin (Shi shiye)
7.Thank You (for help) : Mmm g-oi
8.Thank You (for a gift) : Doo Zyha
9.No need to mention it : Poo kothi
10.Bill please : Mai Darn
11.How much ($) is it? : Gay doo Chin?
12.Where is the bathroom? : Say so gaan hai bin du a
13.Do you speak English? : Nay si m sik gong ying mahn a?
This is a great addition to the portfolio of articles in Shehjar. With so many people traveling globally, intermingling of cultures is a by-product. Thanks to Mrs. Renu Mattoo for such valuable information.
Added By Vijay Trisal