The Orient is a totally different place from the western civilizations in public behavior as well as business practices. When doing business in Hong Kong it is very important to understand protocol, etiquette and acceptable manners. What’s perfectly fine to do or say in America may be strictly taboo overseas.
Make appointments well in advance and plan to be on time to show respect. Simple apologies are not satisfactory if you arrive late. Apologize again and again even if the delay was no fault of your own. If your Hong Kong associate is late avoid showing any negative feelings about it if you want to be seen as a reasonable person. Business hours are similar to the U.S., with most offices open from nine to five. Saturdays are often seen as business days with shorter hours, usually from nine to one. Many businesses are closed from noon to two for lunch. Popular vacation times for Hong Kong residents are the weeks of America’s Christmas and Easter, as well as the Chinese New Year, when many establishments close for the entire week.
Business suits for men and women, in dark colors, are most appropriate. Bright colors with busy patterns, such as on a tie, are frowned upon, generally. Modest dress for women is acceptable but short skirts, plunging necklines and tight-fitting clothing are not. At a social gathering, avoid wearing blue or white since these shades are seen as mourning colors.
Casual conversation at the opening of a business meeting is permissible but avoid topics like the associate’s wife and kids, financial status or plans for the weekend. These types of questions are viewed as far too personal. Understand, before the meeting, the usage of the associates’ names. When seen in print, the first name is the family name. Therefore, you should address an individual by his title, or “Mr.” and the first name you see in print. A woman will not take her husband’s family name so avoid calling her “Mrs.” and her husband’s family name. Use titles like “Colonel” or “Dr.” if appropriate. Make sure your pronunciation is exact.
Giving gifts is appropriate during business transactions or in social settings but the practice is to give and receive. If you’ve been given a gift it will be seen as impolite to not give one in return. Whether giving or receiving a gift, do so with both hands rather than one. It is rude to open the gift in front of others, especially the presenter. Thank the person for the gift instead, then set it aside for a later opening.
If a banquet is thrown in your honor it’s a must that you reciprocate. If you have not been thrown a banquet, this is still a very respected gift to give an associate or business partner. Take a gift, when invited to a home. Candy, fruit baskets or a handmade craft are acceptable gifts but avoid personal gifts like a rug or perfumes. Don’t go on and on about a particular vase or something else in the person’s home. Simple compliments are fine but excessive compliments about a particular item will likely encourage the associate to feel obligated to give you the item. Do not give gifts of clocks or timepieces – these are associated with death. Blankets are not good choices either since they represent a decline in future prosperity. Also avoid green hats, unwrapped gifts and gifts with blue wrapping paper. During Chinese New Year it’s almost obligatory to give gifts of cash to children and persons whose services you use. The present should be given only in a red envelope and in even numbers of bills and amounts.
Business documents should be printed in English as well as Chinese. A company logo printed on the card is seen as impressive to associates in Hong Kong. Offer a business card to each and every person who gives you theirs. Not having one to give them in return is the same as telling them you’re not interested in doing business with them. When handed a business card, don’t put it away immediately. Read the card, nod in acknowledgment then set the card on the table or place it carefully in your wallet or card holder.
If it has fallen on you to give bad news to a Hong Kong associate, do so in private and in front of no one. It is in extremely poor taste to present bad news in front of other associates or even family members. Never do or say anything that may cause you or your associates to “lose face”. A simple comment such as “you didn’t know that already?” can be all it takes to sever all relations between yourself and this company. And if you lose face, it’s with basically the same consequences. Using an expletive accidentally during a meeting can be all it takes to ruin your hard work. Carefully choose your words as well as the tone you use during conversation. Never brag, use hard-sell tactics or a loud, booming voice.
Many business meetings are conducted over a cup of tea but after being served wait for the host to take the first sip. Even if you don’t care for tea, accept it graciously. To not do so will be seen as rude. “No” is rarely heard during a business meeting. “Maybe” or “We’ll see what happens” are more likely responses which can mean the same thing. The word “yes” can be used for “give us some time to think about it” or even “I understand what you’re saying”. Never show temper, irritation, aggravation or anger during any meeting – business or personal. This culture has a low opinion of those who cannot control their own emotions in public.
When greeting those at a dinner or meeting always start with the oldest member and work downward to the youngest. Age is a major consideration when dealing with anyone in Hong Kong. The older you are the more respect you demand. Ignoring an older associate to converse with a younger one is strictly taboo unless acknowledgments have been previously made.
Learn to use chopsticks before visiting Hong Kong since they are the major utensil of the country. Do not take offense if others at the table belch. This is a common practice and is considered a compliment to the cook. Do likewise in order to convey your appreciation of the meal. Leave portions of food on the plate to give the impression that more than plenty was served.
Bowing is often the typical way to greet. When bowing, allow the Hong Kong associate to rise first. If a hand is offered to shake, do this rather than bowing. Natives of Hong Kong may ask you if you’ve eaten as a way of saying “hello”. Do not go into a lengthy statement about what you had for breakfast or how hungry you might be. Simply saying “yes, thank you” is appropriate. Touching an associate, such as a pat on the shoulder, is taboo. Personal contact is not seen as friendly, but rather, inappropriate.
Do not point with one finger. If pointing is necessary use the entire hand. It is acceptable for women to cross their legs but not men. Keep both hands in lap while seated. Most countries have different beliefs and practices than others so it’s important to understand these differences before your visit. Read more about the particular region where you will be staying. Studying up on etiquette and manners, along with acceptable behavior, will only improve your relationships with your Hong Kong associates.