Cantonese, Mandarin and English. The larger the company one deals with, the more likely that English is spoken.
Conservative dark suits are the usual business attire.
Gifts are expected to be reciprocated, and should be given and received with both hands. Gifts are not opened in the presence of the giver.
Women play a significant role in business, but expats may still notice that male colleagues are deferred to in business meetings.
Business culture in Hong Kong
The business culture in Hong Kong tends to be conservative. Business people are expected to dress in formal suits and their conduct should be professional at all times. Punctuality, mutual respect and deference to seniority are all valued principles that are widely practised.
The Asian concept of “saving face” applies in Hong Kong, so expats should avoid embarrassing, confronting or contradicting business associates at all costs. Bad news should never be presented in company. Containing emotions is also very important as anyone who openly displays anger or irritation is likely to make a bad impression, causing the person losing their temper and those around them to lose face as well.
Westerners aren't necessarily expected to bow when greeting local associates, although if no handshake is offered a bow is appropriate. It should be noted that handshakes in Hong Kong may not be as firm as expats might be used to. Associates may avert their eyes when greeting as a sign of respect and, while this won't necessarily be expected from an expat, it is a good idea not to hold another person's gaze too strongly. Similarly, a moderate amount of eye contact is suggested during conversations.
Expats should pay close attention to their choice of words and the way in which they are conveyed. Using confrontational or vulgar language, especially expletives, is a sure way to lose face. Poor choice of words, or even tone, can be enough to sever a relationship with a business. It may not be evident at the time, but the message will become clear as future efforts to meet or do business are continuously deflected. This, on the other hand, will be because Hong Kong Chinese will be intent on saving face for all parties involved and will very rarely directly give a negative answer.
On another note, while physical contact, especially between people of the same gender, is fairly common in a social setting, it should not extend beyond a handshake in the business setting – most people dislike being touched by strangers. Conversely, people in Hong Kong might hold conversations at a much closer distance than some expatriates will be used to.
Expats in Hong Kong should expect small talk at the start of meetings before talk turns to business. Similarly, business negotiations will move at a slow pace, which should be respected.
That said, expats can expect to be invited to social occasions by their business associates. These should always be accepted as personal relationships are valued and these events, usually lunch or dinner, are a good way to build business connections.
Hong Kong is one of the world’s most international cities and expats are integral to its economy. Foreigners are unlikely to experience prejudice or hostility, although observing cultural etiquette is vital in ensuring equitable treatment.