Three Culture Tips for Business Success in Hong Kong

02/07/2017 11:28 am ET
unsplash Alex Talmon

Renowned as the Wall Street of Asia, Hong Kong is famous for its economic prowess and flourishing foreign investment. Ranked as the top Economic Freedom country of 2016 by The Heritage Foundation, it’s no wonder that so many investors are interested in gaining a foothold in the small but mighty region.

This cosmopolitan island creates a fascinating cultural fusion, blending the Asian heritage of Buddhist temples and ancient Walled Village with Western innovation. Hong Kong’s blend of East and West comes with cultural customs that business professionals will find fascinating. If your next business trip is taking you to the Wall Street of Asia, consider these three cross-cultural tips when seeking to achieve guanxi:

1.   Knowing the National Language:

Although many are quick to assume that the national language of Hong Kong is Mandarin, 89.5 percent of the population speaks Cantonese, or Yue. There are important distinctions between these two dialects: Cantonese is written with classical Chinese characters in a system called jyutping, whereas Mandarin uses simplified symbols. And while both dialects are tonal languages, Cantonese uses nine tones whereas Mandarin uses five. Hong Kongers are proud of their language, and will more readily converse with visitors in English than in Mandarin, which the Chinese government has tried to impose as the national lingua franca.

As a professional doing business, print business cards with English on one side and Cantonese on the reverse. A Cantonese and Mandarin phrases and pronunciation chart is provided from Access to Asia:

2. Polished presence:

Business professionals are well-dressed, and expect visitors to dress with similar elegance and taste. Even during the summer months, business professionals will opt for conservative silhouettes. When packing, be color conscious because colors carry different connotations. Chinese culture associates dark tones like black and navy, with professionalism. As a symbol of luck, add a red tie or crimson blouse. Avoid white clothing, which symbolizes mourning.

3. Giving graciously:

Appropriate gift-giving communicates friendship and good-intentions. Offering a small present at the first meeting, such as a quality pen, luxury candy or brandy, will start business on a high note. Wrap gifts in red or gold in honor of the national tradition, present them with both hands. Giving gifts in groups of 3, 8, or 9 is ideal, as the lucky numbers associated with life, prosperity, and eternity. Avoid giving items grouped in unlucky numbers of 4 and 13; and refrain from offering white flowers associated with funerals. Lastly, avoid timepieces such as clocks or watches as gifts, as the Cantonese word for clock is ‘jung’, which resembles the term for funerals, ‘song jung

When receiving a gift, accept it graciously with two hands. Express gratitude, placing it carefully in your briefcase to open later. Send a personal thank-you note written in blue or black ink to demonstrate your appreciation and foster friendship.

Hong Kong has earned its reputation as a beautiful world city with fascinating multiculturalism. If your business travels take you to this international hub, consider these three culture insights for a successful venture.

Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural trainer, modern manners expert, and the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE centre, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary seriesConfucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. She is the resident etiquette expert on two popular lifestyle shows: ABC Tampa Bay’s Morning Blend and CBS Austin’s We Are Austin. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, and the National Business Journals. Her best-selling book Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, now in its second printing, was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. Sharon is the winner of the British Airways International Trade, Investment & Expansion Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards.

Photo: Unsplash

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