Tips on Hong Kong Chinese Culture

Colour

The colour white is associated with death and mourning and considered inauspicious. Please avoid wearing all white when attending any event. Red is the Chinese traditional wedding dress colour, therefore the colour red is associated with happiness and festivals.


Giving/Receiving Gifts

When visiting someone’s home, it is customary to bring a small gift, such as fruit or candy. Gifts should be wrapped. Do not give clocks as presents, because the Chinese pronunciation of “giving clocks” sounds like one is going to the receiver’s funeral. Books are also not recommended as it sounds the same as “losing” in Chinese. Furthermore, do not give hats/caps in green colour or anything with a sharp cutting edge such as knives or scissors. It is polite to present/accept gifts with both hands. As an act of courtesy, the recipient should first attempt to refuse the gift before finally accepting it. In Chinese traditional culture, gifts are expected to be unwrapped at home; however with the influence of the Western culture, sometimes they will do so on the spot. It is best to keep the gift unopened unless the givers asked you to do so, or ask if the gift can be unwrapped on the spot.


Numbers

The number 4 is considered inauspicious as it sounds the same as the word “death” in Cantonese. Therefore any numbers with a 4 (e.g. 14, 24) are considered unlucky numbers. Number 8 is an auspicious number as it sounds the same as prosperity and wealth in Chinese, however, in Cantonese, 58 is considered as an unlucky number as 5 sounds “do not/can not”, so 58 becomes “do not/cannot prosperous”. 7 is a neutral number generally, but do not order 7 dishes in the restaurant as it is when family and friends go for the meal after a funeral would have 7 dishes.


Business Etiquette

Generally start with introducing yourself, following with a slight nod and handshakes. Business cards are exchanged using both hands with the print facing the recipient. It is important to make an effort to examine the details of the card before putting them away as this signal a show of respect to your business associate/client.


Dining Etiquette

In Chinese restaurants, dishes are shared; it is common courtesy to consult others before ordering a dish. Food is generally eaten with chopsticks.

  • ● Do not drum your bowl with chopsticks, as it is considered very impolite.
  • ● Never stick the chopsticks vertically into a bowl of rice as this is reminiscent of incense sticks burning at the temples for the deceased.
  • ● Do not use your chopsticks to examine a dish piece by piece, once you pick a piece, you are obliged to take it.
  • ● Taking food from the center of the table and putting it directly into your mouth is regarded as impolite, therefore pick the food and put it into the bowl first. Always hold the bowl up while eating.
  • ● When someone is picking a dish, don’t try to cross over or go underneath his arms to pick a dish, wait until they finish picking. In most cases, a dish is not supposed to be picked simultaneously by more than one person. If a piece is too slippery to pick, do it with the aid of a spoon, do not spear it with the sharp end of the chopstick.
  • ● Do not turn over the fish when one side is finished, the appropriate way is to remove the fish skeleton, put it aside, and then continue to eat the other side.
  • ● Communal chopsticks are not always provided but the waiters will supply one when requested. Do not take the last bit of food in a serving plate before asking if anyone wants it.
  • ● Spoons are used when drinking soups or eating watery dishes such as porridge; please note that the dish should be scooped towards you, and not away from you as done in the West.
  • ● Making slurping noises when eating could be considered inappropriate.
  • ● When pouring tea from the teapot, always serve others first (usually by the seniority order) and yourself last. To thank the person who is pouring tea for you, tap two fingers on the table. If you want more tea in the pot, leave the lid open, and it will be refilled.
  • ● It is not unusual for customers to rinse their plates and utensils with hot tea before starting their meal, and a bowl is often provided for this very purpose.
  • ● It is still common to see Chinese competing to pay for the bill. Treating is still the norm when two are in obviously different social status or class. For example, men are expected to treat women, elders to juniors, rich to poorer, employers to employees, hosts to guests, working class to non-income class (students). However, if they are peers such as colleagues and friends, splitting the bill is an accepted practice.

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