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New in town and not sure about Hong Kong’s business culture? Indeed, business practices in Hong Kong are unique and worth learning to help you fit in seamlessly. Whether it is the first greeting or at the dinner table, we share our tips for successful business dealings in this international, yet culturally rich city!
Greetings are the most important in making a good first impression in all cultures. Hong Kong is no different! And while not as strict as a place like Japan, it certainly has its protocols as well. To start, when greeting, Hong Kong businessmen tend to be bowed their head slightly, to signal a sign of respect. The Cantonese translation of “Hello, how are you?” is captured by two succinct words: 你好 (pronounced Lei - as in “lay” - Ho). Depending on your note, it can convey enthusiasm or deference. Additionally, a key part of Hong Kong business etiquette is the act of giving your business card and receiving it from others with two hands. Once the exchange is complete, you should keep the business cards you received on the table, in order to help you refer to their names when speaking to them. Keep this in mind especially for important client or partner meetings.
Yet, perhaps the most confusing aspect of Cantonese vernacular is the phrase “thank you”. Indeed, there are actually two ways to say thank you, respectively 吾該哂 (pronounced Ng Goi Sai - as in “koi with a g” and “tie with an s”) and 多謝 (pronounced Do Che – as in “doll without the l sound” and “Che in Check”). The nuances between the two can be confusing even to locals, so do not worry about getting it right away, your business partners will certainly appreciate your willingness to attempt them. Essentially, Ng Goi Sai is the more casual thank you, for when someone brings you a glass of water or pulls out the chair for you. Meanwhile, Do Che is a more formal thank you, for when someone gives you a gift or when they do a favor for you that you particularly appreciate. To emphasize the gratitude, you can combine it with the head bow to make it more deferential and appreciative.
Doing business in Hong Kong also involves the all-important dinner table. Hong Kongers love to get down to business during a meal, as it is a great opportunity to get to know each other better, and you’ll be sure to impress if you can master these small tips during the meal. Of course, there are several rules surrounding the often-dreaded chopsticks. First, at more formal restaurants, you will often be given two pairs of chopsticks. Hong Kong dining etiquette dictates that the outside chopsticks are for serving oneself or others, while the chopsticks closer to the plate is for eating. Second, it is considered poor form to point at someone with your chopsticks – this is quite possibly the most important business dining etiquette to keep in mind. Third, it is not a big deal at all if you are not yet familiar with the art of chopsticks. Instead of forcing yourself through it, we recommend getting the standard fork and knife. It will make your life easier, and you can use your energy to focus on building the relationship you have with them instead!
Lastly, we would be remiss if we did not mention a TV commercial HSBC did a while ago, in which the foreigner was served a dish of fish that looked unappetizing to him. Thinking it would be rude for him not to finish it, he gulped it down, much to the chagrin of his hosts, who ordered a bigger dish of fish, and so on and so forth. The reason behind this is that in the East, there is certainly a concept that a gracious host orders more than the table needs, so don’t force yourself to finish all of the food if you’ve had enough!
Ultimately, when doing business in Hong Kong, respect for others is the overarching principle. Conduct yourself in a respectful manner to others and you are sure to make a positive impression. Coupled with these etiquette tips, you should be able to succeed in Hong Kong’s business culture, setting you up for bigger fish – no pun intended!
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