Hong Kong is a city that moves at such a fast pace you can’t help but get swept along by it. You pick up local habits faster than you realise they even exist. From the good to the bad and the uniquely Hong Kong, these are some of the habits that form part of everyday living in the city, whether you want them to or not.
Drinking hot water
Unlike a lot of places, if you ask for water at a restaurant or cafe in Hong Kong you will most likely be served hot water instead of the standard ice water. For a city like Hong Kong where soaring summer temperatures and 100% humidity combine to make it feel like a gigantic sauna, hot water is the last thing you think people would want. However, most Hongkongers believe hot water is better for you and eases digestion and although given Hong Kong’s hot weather it seems illogical, it’s surprising how quickly hot becomes the new cold.
Some expressions have a unique knack of being able to express how you feel in so many situations without technically having to mean anything. In Hong Kong that word is “ai-yah!” or “ai-yahhh!”. It’s a handy phrase used to describe surprise or discontent in a whole host of situations. For anything that causes mild irritation a simple “ai-yah!” will get it off of your chest and let everyone around you know how you feel. You hear it being uttered all the time in Hong Kong. It’s satisfying to say and is one of those catchy sayings that slips into your vocabulary before you, or anyone else, even really knows what it means.
Becoming hyper-efficient at the shop counter
Hongkongers are in a hurry – they work some of the longest hours in the world and don’t have time to be made to wait. No more is this evident than at the local 7-11 shop counter or supermarket. You quickly find that before the person in front has even finished paying for their groceries, the person behind them in the queue has already plonked all their items on the counter in anticipation of being served. God forbid you take too long paying by cash or credit card; come prepared with your Octopus card at the ready and aim to beat the world record for the fastest transaction ever made – otherwise face the chorus of tutting and discontent from everyone else in the queue.
During the sweltering summer months in Hong Kong, your home air conditioning unit becomes your very best friend – it becomes a lifeline. Aircon bathing has become the new sunbathing in this city. Many would sooner stay indoors in the comfort of an air-conditioned room than have to face the ridiculously sticky, insufferable humidity of Hong Kong in the summertime. If you do venture outside in the height of summer, expect to join other groups of aircon bathers loitering at the front entrances of shops and inside shopping malls basking in the cool air beneath the air conditioning vents. It’s the most popular summertime habit.
Not holding the door
Bad habit number one. Almost all people in this city have an aversion to holding the door open for the person behind them. Sad to say, most people who are new to this city sooner or later join in with this bad habit. Many Hongkongers view it as a sign of weakness to hold the door open for others. They also feel that if you hold the door open you will be standing there all day as the flow of people is non-stop. So if a door slams in your face, try not to be offended – speed and efficiency generally come before manners in this city.
Pressing the “door-close” button in the lift at lightning speed
Lifts, elevators, whatever your chosen term for those things that transport you from floor to floor – you need to love them to live in Hong Kong because in this vertical city there are possibly more lifts than there are people. It’s not unusual to live on the 30th floor of an apartment block and so you get used to taking the lift very quickly. In a bid to avoid waiting for others to hop in, a majority of people have become masters at stabbing the door-close button at the speed of light (often before they’ve even selected their floor.) It’s a bad habit, but an everyday part of life for those who are always in a hurry in Hong Kong.
Drinking tea with every meal
Tea is your trusty companion in this city. You soon get into the habit of drinking it before, during and after every meal. It definitely does help with digestion and after a while, eating a meal without it feels odd. Tea is also used to rinse utensils and plates before meals. This is done mainly out of tradition and habit, not because they aren’t clean. A basin will be provided for the table at the beginning of the meal, which is used to dispose of the tea used to clean the dishes and utensils or chopsticks.
Going for dim sum (“yum cha” 飲茶 in Cantonese) is the term given to describe the act of drinking Chinese tea and eating dim sum. These delicious bite-size dishes are as tasty as they are addictive. Eating dim sum in Hong Kong is what afternoons are made for and it’s one habit that you’ll probably happily adopt.
Hong Kong is super crowded. With a population of over seven million and almost 60 million tourists visiting a year, there’s hardly any space to breathe. Moreover, Hong Kong’s Mong Kok area is the most densely populated place on earth. No surprise then that you get used to living life with a crowd of others wherever you go. Walking down the street in the city is like an obstacle course. You must become skilled at weaving your way through the crowd to get anywhere. It becomes like a dance to get from A to B. Indeed, it’s an essential habit for surviving one of the world’s busiest cities.
Avoiding the number 4
Unlike in the west where the number 13 is deemed unlucky, in Hong Kong the number 4 is the unlucky numeral as it sounds similar to the Cantonese word for “death”. Even some local buildings will not include the fourth floor – generally, the number is avoided at all costs and sooner or later you’ll start to avoid it too. Living in Hong Kong = four no more.