Dos and Don’ts when Travelling to Hong Kong


To make sure you start on the right foot, let’s find out what’s acceptable and what’s not in Hong Kong.

The dos and don’ts when traveling to Hong Kong

1.         Dining

Don’t turn a whole fish over

When it comes to enjoying a delicious plate of full fish, many of us dig straight in with no plan but to gobble up the fish. Often, we eat one side of the fish, then flip it over to eat on the other side.

However, in Hong Kong and China, flipping a fish is compared to flipping a boat. It is considered back luck and can bring misfortune to one’s family.

The right way to eat fish in Hong Kong is to eat one side, remove the exposed backbone, and then eat the lower side without flipping.

Don’t pour your own drink first

When enjoying a few drinks with your buddies, do not pour your own drink first. Instead, pour everyone a drink, including those who already have their glasses full, even if it means adding a few drops to their drink.

Pouring your own drink first is considered a lack of protocol.

On the other hand, toasting to friendship or business is considered drinking etiquette.

When drinking, the glass is held with both hands, with one hand at the bottom of the glass.

When offered a drink, it is considered impolite to refuse. If you feel too intoxicated, pour a glass of something nonalcoholic but join in the fun.

Don’t eat the last bit of food on your plate

During meal times, never take the last bit of food on a serving plate. Doing this shows you are not yet full, and the guest may take offense as it implies, they were skimping on the portion size. 

They will likely bring out more food.

Do learn the chopsticks

Expect to use chopsticks on a lot of local dishes. If you are planning a trip to Hong Kong and still do not know how to use chopsticks, it is high time that you learned.

While they may seem a bit tricky to start, you will soon get the hang of it and realize how fun and handy they are during meals.

Learning to use chopsticks can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 15 minutes. It is quick and easy; and, with the right teacher, you can use chopsticks for your meals in no time.

2.         Gifts

Don’t give sharp objects as gifts

If you have a friend to whom you would like to offer a gift, never provide sharp objects, such as scissors or knives. as gifts. These signify the cutting of ties or ending of relationships.

Your friend may, therefore, take offense and refuse your gift.

There is a saying in Hong Kong and China, “one slash two parts,” which basically means the ending of a friendship.

Don’t give anything in sets of fours

People in Hong Kong, as well as the remainder of China, consider the number four to be unlucky. In fact, the word for the number four is similar to the word for death in China.

And to put things in perspective, buildings do not have a fourth floor in China. Instead, the floor that rises above the third is numbered the fifth floor, and so on.

Do provide a gift to your host

Your host will appreciate a gift from your native country.

Make sure to do your research and avoid offering gifts that are unacceptable, such as:

•           Mirrors – believed to attract ghosts

•           Sharp objects – believed cut off relationships

•           Handkerchief – signifies farewell and parting

•           Gifts in fours – signifies death and bad luck

•           Shoes and umbrellas – a sign of bad luck

•           Clocks – signifies parting

•           Pears – given in funerals

•           Cut flowers – signify breakups

•           Black and white objects – often used in funerals and a sign of bad luck

Do refuse a gift several times before accepting

Instantly accepting a gift in Hong Kong is considered greedy and could be viewed as having an inflated sense of self-worth. The best way to accept a gift in Hong Kong is to start by refusing the gift several times.

Often the generally accepted number of times to refuse a gift is three. However, you can refuse more times, depending on the type of gift and the relationship involved.

The one offering the gift will then insist on you accepting the gift.

Do offer and receive a gift in two arms

When someone offers you a gift, the proper way to accept it is by using both arms (after refusing the gift several times, of course).

Also, when offering a gift, you should provide the gift while holding it in both arms. This is considered etiquette.

Considering also that gifts are provided as a sign of respect, love, friendship, or even hospitality; etiquette dictates that gifts should also be received with both hands.

3.         Behavioral

Don’t take your top off at the beach

Hong Kong has over 450 miles of coastline and up to 100 beaches. It is a perfect destination for beach lovers and those looking to spend quality time in the sun. 

However, it is important to dress appropriately in an acceptable manner. The locals in Hong Kong are a conservative bunch and do not appreciate nudity. This is considered disrespectful and is against the law. Never take your top off while at the beach.

Don’t be surprised to see locals wear t-shirts over swimsuits in Hong Kong.

Don’t point with your index finger

Many of us have no problem pointing at the person referring to in a conversation with our index finger.

In Hong Kong, people don’t appreciate being pointed at with a single finger. This is interpreted as a sign that you despise that person. The proper way is to use all fingers when pointing at someone.

Do provide a light handshake when you meet someone

Locals in Hong Kong are often reserved. They do not expect a hug or kiss when you meet them.

Instead, offer a light handshake when you meet someone new.

Handshakes are considered a form of courtesy when meeting someone or when saying goodbye. A handshake can also be used as a form of expressing thanks and encouragement.

Keep in mind that it is inappropriate to shake hands for too long. It should also be simple and light without overexertion.

4.         Lifestyle

Don’t feel the need to tip

In the west, many of us find it appropriate to tip at restaurants. In Hong Kong however, tipping is not customary.

In some hotels, tipping could be received negatively and viewed as patronizing. In more expensive hotels, the bill will usually include a 10% service charge.

Do bargain when shopping in Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, merchants will try to sell you items at exorbitant prices, especially when they notice you are a foreigner.

It is up to you to bargain the price. You can do this by pointing flaws in the item and asking for a lower price. Often you will be able to get a much lower price for your desired item.

Do speak in simple English

In Hong Kong, English is taught at an early age, often from kindergarten. The locals, therefore, have a good grasp of the English language.

However, locals will often not understand complex words, including slang. It is best, therefore, to use simple English when communicating in Hong Kong.


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