Professional Travel and Cultural Competence
Pursuant to an agreement signed by China and the UK on 19 December 1984, Hong Kong
became the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China on 1 July 1997. In this agreement,
China promised that, under its "one country, two systems" formula, China's socialist economic system
would not be imposed on Hong Kong and that Hong Kong would enjoy a high degree of autonomy in all
matters except foreign and defense affairs for the next 50 years.
The handshake is commonly used when greeting westerners. The Hong Kong Chinese handshake
is rather light.
When greeting people, it’s polite to ask about their health or activities. Hong Kongers may ask,
“Nay sik jo fan mei ah?” (nay sick JO fan may ah), which means “have you eaten?” This
question is similar to “how are you?” and requires a simple “yes” as an answer.
During the greeting, many Hong Kong Chinese lower their eyes as a sign of respect. There is no
need for you to emulate this gesture, although prolonged eye contact should be avoided during the
Higher-ranking persons are introduced before those of lower rank, older people before younger
ones, and women before men.
At smaller functions, it is polite to wait for your host or hostess to introduce you. At a large
function, you may introduce yourself to other guests.
The Chinese traditionally have 3 names: The surname, or family name is first and is followed by
two personal names. Address the person by last name and professional title. Don’t use first names
until your colleagues specifically invite you to do so. Try to pay attention to how others are
addressing your host/counterpart and follow their lead. Some Chinese adopt western names and
may introduce themselves using this name.
Don’t take it personally if someone refers to you as a guei lou (foreign devil). The term reflects
the millennia-old belief in Chinese culture’s superiority.
When Hong-Konger say “okay” or “yes”, they mean “I understand”, not “I agree.”
Business Card Etiquette
Business cards are exchanged after the initial introductions.
Business cards are exchanged using both hands. When feasible, have one side of your business
card translated into Chinese. Hand your card with the Chinese side up.
Examine business cards carefully before putting them in a business card case. It is important to
treat business cards with respect - never write on someone's card unless directed to do so. Your
own business cards should be maintained in pristine condition.
Never visit a Hong Kong home without bringing a gift.
A gift may be refused one or two times before it is accepted.
In business setting, be prepared to present a group gift or a small gift for each person at the first
meeting. Let your hosts initiate gift giving.
Appropriate gifts during an initial business trip include mementos from your home region or
impersonal products bearing your university/company logo (photo book, pen set, etc). Gifts
produced in the U.S.A are preferable, and items unique to the location are very much appreciated.
A Hong Konger with extensive experience in Western business customs may ask you to open a
gift; if this is the case, open the gift.
It’s illegal to give a civil servant a gift.
If you are invited to someone's home, bring good quality sweets, fruit, flowers, or imported spirits
to the hostess.
Do not give: red or white flowers; scissors, knives or other cutting utensils, as they indicate that
you want to sever the relationship; clocks, handkerchiefs or straw sandals, as they are associated
with funerals and death.
Elaborate gift wrapping is important. Do not wrap gifts in white, blue or black paper. Gold and
red are lucky colors, so they make excellent gift wrapping.
Do not give odd numbers as many are considered unlucky. Never give a quantity of four items.
Eight is a particularly auspicious number, so giving eight of something bestows good fortune on
A small gift for the children is always appreciated.
Do not give green hats.
Always present gifts with two hands. Gifts are not opened when received.
Conversation and social norms
Acceptable topics: Family (yours or theirs), sports (horseracing is one the most popular spectator
sports), money (yours or theirs), and Hong Kong’s natural beauty, about 40 percent of the land is
Unacceptable topics: Any failure, poverty, death, and criticisms of Hong Kong or China. Avoid
issues surrounding the governance of Hong Kong, and relations between Hong Kong, China and
When someone compliments you, politely decline to show humility. Never say “thank you.”
Don’t wink, hug, kiss or pat people on the back.
Fidgeting shows disrespect or a lack of interest.
Hong Kongers never point at people with an index finger. They gesture with an open hand.
Business Etiquette and Protocol
Although businesspeople in Hong Kong do not require long-standing personal relationships to do
business, many businesses are family-owned, so personal relationships are an integral part of the
enterprise. Once you have begun to work with a Hong Kong businessperson, it is important to
maintain the relationship.
When you first meet, expect a fair amount of small talk. Your Hong Kong colleagues will want to
get to know you well enough that they are comfortable working with you. Do not be surprised if
you are asked questions that might be considered extremely personal in your home country.
Hong Kong Chinese are direct communicators, although they also make use of non-verbal
If someone sucks air through his/her teeth while you are speaking, it means that they are unhappy
with what you have just said. If at all possible, try to re-state your position or modify your
request, since you have made the other person extremely unhappy.
As in many Asian cultures, silence is a form of communication. Resist the urge to jump into the
conversation if your Hong Kong business colleague remains silent for a minute.
Appointments are necessary and should be made between 1 and 2 months in advance if you are
travelling to Hong Kong.
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You should arrive at meetings on time. If you are detained, telephone and advise the person you
When meeting your Hong Kong business associates, allow the most senior person in your
delegation to lead the group and be introduced first.
Face is an intangible quality that reflects a person's reputation, dignity, and prestige. Companies
as well as individuals have face and this is often the rationale behind business transactions.
You give someone face by complimenting them, showing them respect, or doing anything that
increases their self-esteem. Such actions must be done with the utmost sincerity. Doing them in a
patronizing manner causes both parties to lose face.
Humiliating people by publicly reprimanding them, insulting them publicly, or contradicting
them in front of someone else causes them to lose face.
Table manners are rather relaxed in Hong Kong, although there are certain rules of etiquette.
When in doubt, watch what others do and emulate their behavior.
Wait to be told where to sit. There is often a seating plan. Wait for the host to tell you to start
eating or for him to begin eating.
You should try everything.
Hong Kongers consider it disgusting to eat any food held with bare hands.
Never eat the last piece from the serving tray.
Burping is considered a compliment.
Chopsticks should be returned to the chopstick rest after every few bites and when you drink or
stop to speak.
Always refuse a second serving at least once if you don't want to appear gluttonous.
Leave some food in your bowl when you have finished eating.
When you have finished eating, place your chopsticks in the chopstick rest or on the table. Do not
place your chopsticks across the top of your bowl.
The host offers the first toast. You may reciprocate later in the meal.
Kwintessential Cross Cultural Solutions:
CIA Fact Book:
Wikipedia - Hong Kong:
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Vickers, Claire. 2006. Hong Kong - Culture Smart!: A quick guide to customs and etiquette. Kuperard.
Bosrock, Mary Murray. 2007. Asian Business Customs & Manners. Meadowbrook Press.
Morrison, Terri and Conway, Wayne. 2006. Kiss, Bow, or Shakes Hands, Asia: How to Do Business in
12 Asian Countries. Adams Media Corporation.
Wolkerstorfer, Terry, ed. 1997. Put Your Best Food Forward.: A Fearless Guide to International
Communication and Behavior. Mary Murray Bosrock
For health and safety tips, visit:
U.S. Department of State: Info on Hong Kong
McKinley Immunization and Travel Clinic
Travel Regulations (OBFS)
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