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Social Customs & Etiquettes in Hong Kong


The teachings of Confucius describe the position of the individual in Hong Kong Chinese society. Confucianism is a system of behaviours and ethics that stress the obligations of people towards one another based upon their relationship. Confucianism stresses duty, loyalty, honour, filial piety, respect for age and seniority, and sincerity. These traits are demonstrated by the Hong Kong Chinese in their respect for hierarchical relationships. Although not readily apparent to the casual observer, there are strict rules about appropriate behaviour and the manner in which people must act in order to respect the hierarchy.

'Face' is an intangible quality that reflects a person's reputation, dignity and prestige. You may lose face, save face, or give face to another person. 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 patronising 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.

Meeting & Greeting

The handshake is commonly used when greeting westerners. The Hong Kong Chinese handshake is rather light.
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 greeting.

If you are at a large function, you may introduce yourself to other guests. At smaller functions, it is polite to wait for your host or hostess to introduce you.

The Chinese traditionally have 3 names: The surname, or family name is first and is followed by two personal names. The first personal name is their father's name and the second personal name is their own name. Address the person by an honorific title and their surname. If they want to move to a first name basis, they will advise you which name to use. Some Chinese adopt more western names and may ask you to call them by that name.

Gift Giving Etiquette

A gift may be refused one or two times before it is accepted. 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 or wrap gifts in white, blue or black paper. Gold and red are lucky colours, so they make excellent gift wrapping. Elaborate gift wrapping is important.

Never give a man a green hat in China unless you are trying to tell him that his wife/girlfriend is cheating on him! Apparently no Chinese men would ever wear a green hat, even the People's Liberation Army (PLA) had changed the colour of the caps their soldiers wear. It turns out that in the Ming and Yuan dynasties, men whose female relatives were prostitutes would have to wear green head coverings.

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