Your insider’s guide to Hong Kong

10 Hong Kong customs travellers should know about

From tipping to the art of the lai see, we explore some of the customs in Hong Kong that a traveller should know

Words: Andrea Lo

Photo: Meng He

Top tip
Tipping those in the service industry can be tricky business. In Hong Kong, things are made simpler by the fact that in most establishments, there’s a 10 percent service charge added to bills. For restaurants and bars that don’t have a service charge, adding 10 percent is standard. Tipping is not expected at local cha chaan tengs and dai pai dongs.


Two hands
Whether you’re at a casual event or business function, remember to give and receive business cards with both hands – a sign of respect. There’s an art to it all – if you happen to receive a card while at the dinner table, place it near you with the person’s name facing up.


Dress to impress
Dressing the part in Hong Kong is encouraged and appreciated. Make the effort to look sharp for outings to upmarket restaurants and bars. Like in many cities across the world, many five-star hotel’s establishments have a smart dress code.


Lai see low-down
Lai see, or red packets, are envelopes of “lucky money” usually given from an elder relative to the young, from boss to employee – and ideally, from everyone to those who serve them. So that includes your doorman, service industry staff, or even a barista who regularly makes your coffee. What should you do when you receive one? Always accept graciously, and never open the envelope in front of the giver.

Photo: Joanne Wan

Photo: Leo Kwan

Shared feasts
Don’t like to share your food? Better get used to family-style dining, which is how meals are typically served in Chinese cuisine. In a formal setting, wait until your host signals you can begin – and serve others first with your chopsticks if you can.


Exit cues
Speaking of formal meals, during Chinese banquets – think weddings and the like – the serving of oranges signals that guests are free to leave. So, when the citrus hits the table, feel free to make your exit.


What a bargain
Haggling is expected, if not encouraged, with street vendors. Go lower than what you expect to pay, and at some point you and the vendor should be able to come to an agreement. This doesn’t mean you should bargain in stores, however.

Touchy subject
When greeting new acquaintances, a handshake never goes amiss. How much body contact you should have with thereafter should depend on the setting, so judge the situation and take your cue from others around you.


Giving face
Hongkongers are all about giving face. Simply put, it’s a concept of paying respect to others – especially in a formal, or business setting. Face-giving can be wide-ranging, from letting someone pay the bill if they absolutely insist, to showing up to events you’ve RSVPd to.


Rules of thumb
Hongkongers are a superstitious bunch, so avoid gifting clocks, white flowers, or lai see amounts in odd numbers – all considered bad luck, or disrespectful.


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