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Hong Kong - Business and Workplace Culture

Understanding business and workplace culture and etiquette is important when working as a professional in Hong Kong. Although many of the cultural facets are similar to Western ones, there are a few differentiations that many expats come to determine as distinctively Asian.

Business contacts should be greeted with a handshake and a small bow. Other than the handshake, it is not usual to engage in any kind of physical contact when meeting people. The business hierarchy is important to keep in mind, too. When being introduced to a group of associates, always greet the senior member before you greet the others. You should be able to recognize the senior member by their title.

Professionals in Hong Kong are addressed with their title and their surname. For instance, you might address someone as “Doctor Kwan.” Many business professionals in Hong Kong employ the use of a Western sounding name in order to simplify the pronunciation for Western associates.

Business professionals in Hong Kong tend to dress on the conservative side. You might find that office culture dictates dark suits, ties, and dress shirts. For women, it is common to wear dress slacks or skirts. Business attire is carried over into the evening hours, even when there are business dinner commencing. If black isn’t available then other dark colors are considered appropriate. It is essential to remember that colors have various meanings in Hong Kong so it’s important to dress accordingly. White, for instance, is normally a sign of mourning and death and is generally saved for traditional funeral services. Of course, fashion trends may dictate otherwise and you might find people wearing white outside of the office. On the other hand, red is considered to be a lucky color.

When it comes to scheduling a meeting in Hong Kong, try to make the appointment as far in advance as possible. Avoid scheduling any meetings on Christmas, Easter, or around the Chinese New Year. These are all public holidays as well as popular vacation periods. To confirm your meeting or appointment, email or call your associate at least 24 hours in advance.

For added respect, when you have your business cards printed, have one side in English and the other side in Cantonese. This shows your Hong Kong associates that you are respecting their country and culture, even though you are a foreigner.

Diplomacy and respect are highly desirable in the Hong Kong business culture. When you are negotiating, try to remain calm and patient. Having facts and figures to back your argument up is important, but you also don’t want to come across as rude. Instead of simply giving your associates a “no” a much more passive and apologetic tone is normally taken.

If you are able to take classes in Cantonese then this would be highly desirable. Although English is spoken largely in the business world of Hong Kong, learning even a few simple words and phrases will be appreciated by your Asian associates. You can normally find Cantonese classes at language institutes, although you might also hire a private tutor as well. For an added bonus, taking a class in Mandarin might be helpful as well.

It is considered to be rude if you simply refuse an invitation to dinner by one of your business associates. If you are not able to attend on the suggested date, then try suggesting a time and date that are more convenient to you. In most cases, your spouse or other members of your family are not automatically invited, especially if it is made clear that it is a business meeting. When you’re at dinner, then make note of the seating arrangements. The host sits across from the guest of honor. In general, the host sits closest to the entrance.

When you get full, make sure that you leave some food on your plate. If you don’t then your host might think that you are still hungry and you could find your plate repeatedly refilled. It is considered poor manners to let a guest go hungry so the Hong Kong etiquette is to continue filling the plate of those that are empty.

Lastly, special attention should be given to gift-giving. Gift-giving is very important in Hong Kong, even in the business world. If you purchase a gift for someone, you might notice that it is refused at first. If this is the case then continue offering it to the individual. It is considered rude to accept it on the first offer.

Some items are not ever meant to be given as gifts. These include handkerchiefs; clocks; sharp objects; anything that contains the colors black, blue, and white; anything not beautifully wrapped; or anything related to the number 4.

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