Shake hands with everyone upon meeting them
In Hong Kong, it’s important to greet everyone you meet properly. When meeting a group of people for the first time, you’ll be introduced to the highest ranking person first. The others will then be introduced in descending order of seniority.
Present and accept business cards with both hands
When doing business in Hong Kong, it’s crucial to have a stack of business cards at the ready. You should expect to exchange business cards with every single person you meet professionally. If you don’t have any cards on hand, you will come across as unprepared.
A Hongkonger presents their business card with both hands and sometimes, with a slight bow. When taking the card, do so with both hands. You should examine the card for a brief moment (one or two seconds) before putting it away, preferably in a card case. It’s considered very rude to take the card with one hand, or to stuff it in your pocket without so much as a glance.
Adhere to formal business attire at all times, including business related lunch and dinner events.
For men, that means a dark colored suit with a shirt, tie and leather shoes. Women should dress in a skirt, blouse and jacket, although a pantsuit or a conservative and dark colored dress is usually also acceptable.
Avoid flashy or brightly colored clothing and jewelry.
Address people by their proper title and family name
Address everyone by their correct title (doctor, professor, chairman, etc), or otherwise as “Mr” or “Ms.”
Keep in mind that married Chinese women retain their maiden names rather than taking the surnames of their husbands.
Refrain from physical contact
When interacting with others in a business setting, avoid physical contact, such as a hug or putting a hand on someone’s shoulder, as this typically makes Hongkongers feel uncomfortable.
Never refuse a dinner invitation
Business dinners and banquets are seen as essential opportunities for relationship building and negotiating, so you should never turn down an invitation to a business dinner. If you can’t make it, suggest another date instead.
If you are eating a traditional Cantonese restaurant, don’t be surprised if your host constantly refills your plate and cup. This is a common courtesy in Chinese culture. If you don’t want a refill, keep some food remaining on your plate.
At dinner, the host settles the bill
The host is expected to foot the bill. If you are the host, discreetly slip your credit card to the server sometime before the end of the meal. Sometimes, your guests will offer to pay, which you are expected to graciously refuse. This may happen two or three more times before they finally “give up,” allowing you to pay.
Never unwrap a gift immediately
It’s not unusual for business partners to present one another with gifts, such as a bottle of wine or cognac. When receiving a gift, you should say “thank you” while accepting it with both hands.
However, you shouldn’t unwrap the gift in front of the person who gave it to you – that’s considered a sign of greediness.
If you are giving away a gift, make sure it is nicely wrapped – anything less would seem careless. Keep in mind that there are some taboo objects that should never be given as gifts in Hong Kong:
- Clocks, because they are associated with death.
- Anything that comes in a set of four, as the Cantonese word for “four” sounds similar to the word for “death.”
- Sharp objects such as knives are also unsuitable, as they represent a severing of relationships.