Etiquette: Hong Kong



Disclaimer: This post is based on research across various resources. Observations are not mine. Resources are below.

Just as I said I would in a previous post, I have done some research on the etiquette of Hong Kong, as a preparation before we leave in less than a couple of weeks. While our main objective is to minister to OFWs, we will definitely be encountering the natives. Some of the etiquettes are quite familiar, as we apply it in our family/daily life. I am half-Chinese after all, and bits and pieces of Chinese etiquette have been passed down to us from my dad and grandparents.

Meeting and Greeting
  • The handshake is commonly used when greeting westerners and it might be lighter or less firm.
  • 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.
  • Higher-ranking persons are introduced before those of lower rank. An older person comes before a younger person, and a woman before a man. Family members are greeted in order of age, oldest first and youngest last.
Dining Etiquette
  • Table manners are rather relaxed in Hong Kong, although there are certain rules of etiquette. When in doubt, watch what others do and emulate their behaviour.
  • Wait to be told where to sit. There is often a seating plan. Wait for the host to tell you to start eating or for him to begin eating.
  • Food is served on a revolving tray. You should try everything. Never eat the last piece from the serving tray.
  • The Chinese find belching, slurping, clanging utensils and making loud noises at the dinner table acceptable, sometimes even complimentary.
  • Always refuse a second serving at least once if you don't want to appear gluttonous.
  • It is bad manners for a host not to keep a guest's plate full, and it is even worse for a guest not to continue eating as long as the plate is full. Always leave some food on your dish after you are finished with each course. Otherwise the host will continue refilling your plate or bowl.
  • Chopsticks should be returned to the chopstick rest after every few bites and when you drink or stop to speak.When you have finished eating, place your chopsticks in the chopstick rest or on the table. Do not place your chopsticks across the top of your bowl and never stick your chopsticks in a bowl of rice.
  • Toasting is an important part of a Chinese dinner. The host offers the first toast. If you are the guest of honor and are toasted, smile, raise your glass, make eye contact, drink, raise your glass and thank the host and guests.
  • Tea is the customary beverage for all occasions. Your teacup will be refilled continually. Leave your cup full if you are finished. Chinese find adding sugar and cream to tea a very strange Western habit. Place teapot lid upside down (or open if attached) to signal the waiter for more tea.
  • Rice is served as a filler. Do not eat large amounts, which implies the host has not served enough food.
  • Don't be afraid to dirty the tablecloth. Bones, shells, etc. are put on the table; do not put them in your rice bowl. A plate may be provided for this purpose.

Body Language

  • Hong Kong Chinese may stand close when talking, however, they are reserved and uncomfortable with body contact. Do not hug, kiss or pat people on the back.
  • Winking at someone is considered a very rude gesture.
  • Request your bill by making a writing motion with your hand.
  • To beckon someone, extend your arm, palm down, and make a scratching motion with your fingers.
  • Never point with your index finger. This is used only for animals. Point with your hand open.


  • Hong Kong residents are very style-conscious and dress well. Modesty and cleanliness are very important.
  • All types of clothing are worn in Hong Kong. However, taste and fashion look more toward Japan than Britain or the United States. Clothing should be light for summer with sweaters and jackets for winter.
  • For business, men should wear conservative and lightweight Western-style suits and ties. Women should wear conservative dresses, suits or skirts and blouses.
  • Wear a good watch. It will be noticed.
  • The Chinese tend to dress up when going out in the evening. Most European-style hotel restaurants require a coat and tie in the evening. Women should wear cocktail dresses or evening pants.

Other Tips

  • The Chinese are famous for communicating by "Saying it without saying it." You will have to learn to read between the lines.
  • Expect Hong Kong Chinese to ask personal questions.
  • Compliment Hong Kong Chinese, but expect a denial. Politely deny a compliment to show humility. Do not say thank you.
  • Do not speak loudly.
  • You may be referred to as "Gweilo" (foreign devil). While perhaps insulting, it is generally not a personal attack.
  • Hong Kong Chinese are very superstitious; mentioning failure, poverty or death offends them.

Etiquette Tips for Hong Kong
Hong Kong Country Profile
Hong Kong Cultural Etiquette
Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong (picture)

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