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Excerpted from the Hong Kong Career Guide

Daily Life

Although Hong Kong has a predominantly Chinese population, locals see themselves differently from other Chinese around the world, especially Chinese Mainlanders. Western influence has filtered into Hong Kong, but one should not assume business there is conducted in the same way as in Western countries. Hong Kong business is more of a mixture of the East and the West. Tradition and culture are big parts of the business world in Hong Kong, and the ability to adapt to these customs may influence a company’s success. With the emerging economic power of China, Hong Kong businesses are becoming more aware of the Mainlanders’ mindset and business culture. As in China, business in Hong Kong is based on relationships of trust and on a system of mutual obligations and favors (guanxi).


Many residents of Hong Kong practice Tai Chi. Originally a martial art, Tai Chi today is practiced to maintain good health through a series of 200 movements. People of all ages gather in Hong Kong parks to practice Tai Chi in the mornings.

Communication Style

The Hong Kong Chinese can be very direct in their communications, although such directness is not likely between ranks and more likely among those within the same peer group. Information is normally passed around within the same peer group.

If You Want to Act Like a Local

  • The common toast is Ganbei (‘Bottoms up!’), which is taken quite seriously, and guests are expected to drink the entire amount. The Sui-yi (‘Begin the appetite!’) toast is less formal and allows one to take only a sip.
  • Keep in mind the host will continue to serve a guest until food is politely refused. It is important to taste every dish; not to try everything offered is considered rude. It is appropriate to leave a small amount of food on the plate to indicate the host has served more than enough. It is acceptable to belch and slurp during a meal; this is seen as a tribute.
  • It is acceptable to use chopsticks or knives and forks. For Chinese meals, use the common chopsticks for picking up food and your own chopsticks to eat with. Don’t point the chopsticks at people and never use one chopstick.
  • Office Protocol

    Introductions should be made by a third person; it is best to wait for this rather than introducing oneself. Introductions usually consist of a formal title and family name. Names in Chinese indicate the family name first. Businesswomen in Hong Kong generally do not take their husbands’ surnames. Many Hong Kong Chinese have adopted an English first name or nickname to make it easier on foreigners; it is expected that foreigners have their surname translated into Chinese for similar reasons. Titles and job descriptions are important in the Hong Kong business culture. Titles show the line of authority, while descriptions tell each employee what his or her duties are.

    Management Style

    Most of Hong Kong’s large multinational organizations tend to exhibit a ‘managed’ approach, representative of the company’s home country; decision-making in such organizations is more measured and slow. In contrast, Hong Kong’s many small- to medium-sized indigenous companies, which for the most part were founded by Chinese families and remain under family control, have highly centralized decision-making, with the head of the family making all but the most trivial decisions. Such centralization allows for extremely rapid decision-making in response to changing circumstances.

    Negotiation styles

    Hong Kong businesspeople are no-nonsense when it comes to negotiations. Business discussions are expected to be straightforward, clear and to the point. Hong Kong Chinese, as opposed to those in other parts of China, can move to the heart of the matter rather quickly.

    Conducting a meeting or giving a presentation

    Meeting protocol differs greatly depending on the type of organization. Meetings with large multinational companies are likely to follow standard Western-style meeting protocol with agendas, minutes and standard procedures. In contrast, meetings with smaller, family-owned businesses are likely to be much less formal with a more relaxed approach to the business at hand. Regardless of the makeup of the organization, it is important to show respect to the necessary person – usually the most senior person in the room. This includes standing when they enter the room and giving them the seat of honor at the table; this would usually be the seat at the end of the table or at the heart of the room.

    This is just a short sample of what you’ll find in over 100 pages of information in the complete Hong Kong Guide.

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