Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Cultural considerations

My sister Carla and her family are planning a trip to Hong Kong next month, so I thought I would give them some pre-travel tips based on what we have learned about the culture here.

  • When you visit someone's home, be sure to take your shoes off at the door.
  • A handshake is commonly used when greeting westerners. The Hong Kong  handshake is rather light.
  • A gift may be refused one or two times before it is accepted.
  • If you are invited to someone's home, bring good quality lollies or fruit, but not red or white flowers (unlucky), scissors or knives (they indicate that you want to sever the relationship), or clocks (associated with funerals and death).
  • Do not wrap gifts in white, blue or black paper.Gold and red are considered lucky colours, so they make excellent gift wrapping.
  • Do not expect your gift to be opened in public.

  • Burping is considered a compliment.
  • When you have finished eating leave some food in your bowl. Place your chopsticks in the chopstick rest or on the table. Do not place your chopsticks across the top of your bowl.
  • Never stick your chopsticks straight up in your bowl of rice.
  • Also, never use a chopstick to point at something, especially a person. 

    • When riding the escalators especially in the MTR stations, always stand on the right. The left is for anyone wishing to walk up or down and keep the flow of people moving.
    • Any attempt at the local language is always appreciated by the locals.
    • Don't be afraid to push your way through like the locals otherwise you may find yourself being left behind in the rush.The mad dash for seats seen in the underground train systems in mainland cities is also considered uncivilised in Hong Kong, so move in an orderly manner when entering the MTR trains and queue in line.
    • It is uncommon for someone to hold doors for strangers.
    • Don't expect the supermarket cashier to make chit-chat. Hong Kong is a fast paced society where people often neglect pleasantries in the name of efficiency. It is generally considered strange to strike up pleasantries with a stranger, or to thank a bus driver. Saying "good morning" to a stranger on the street will probably be viewed with some apprehension.
    • As a visitor, you should be mindful of the volume of your voice when speaking in public. Speaking or laughing loudly on the bus, for example, will be viewed as rude. 
    • Spitting on the pavement, while common in China, is considered uncivilised in Hong Kong. Spitting is against the law and carries a fixed penalty fine of $5,000. 
    • Business cards are exchanged using both hands. Don't put it in your bag immediately. Never write on someone's card unless directed to do so.
    • Hong Kong people are also very conservative in their dress and you will attract some unwanted stares if you wear anything too revealing.


    1. Also, if you are over a size 12, you will be the biggest person on the train.

    2. I would like to use your photo (of the MTR) in my column in a magazine (http://flash.on.cc) which I am writing about riding escalator.

    3. You are welcome to use the escalator photo, Brother William.