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The ins and outs of meeting people and making friends in Hong Kong

Updated 5 Feb 2019

Hong Kong is one of the world's most popular expat destinations, particularly for Brits and Western Europeans. People come here for different reasons, whether it's the (almost) perfect climate, the unique multicultural atmosphere or the business boom taking off – many expats arrive and very few people leave. But something that even the most intrepid of travellers and globetrotters can struggle with is meeting people and making friends in a new country.

Hong Kong is a very particular region of the world – similar to hundreds of other cities but also outstandingly unique. One of the first things expats may notice, and one of the obstacles they’ll have to overcome, is the noise. Hong Kong is a business city and the residents work hard to play hard; crowds are large and tight, trains are packed and restaurants are full. Don’t let it overwhelm you – you'll soon grow accustomed to it and be more than comfortable weaving your way through Causeway Bay.

Expats are certain to encounter some new and unfamiliar customs and traditions in Hong Kong, particularly when it comes to dating and making friends. The amalgamation of cultures and religions in Hong Kong has bred a very particular national philosophy. Learning how Hong Kong works is essential for building relationships, whether you’re finding friends or looking for love.

Meeting fellow expats in Hong Kong

Hong Kong used to be the breeding ground for wealthy businessmen and women, flown out to take control of their company’s international relations. While work still plays a huge role in the life of many expats, it’s less common for it to be the sole reason for moving. Nowadays, it’s likely that expats will search outside the workplace to meet people and make new friends in Hong Kong.

Tsim Sha Tsui is one of the busiest tourist areas in Hong Kong, which attracts expats seeking a slice of Western life. Made up of cosmopolitan shops and eateries, and centred on the Tsim Sha Tsui Clock Tower, the area is a popular meeting point on the Kowloon Peninsula, directly opposite the harbour. With so many people standing around enjoying the scene, striking up conversation is natural and welcome.

Bars and nightclubs in Hong Kong are ideal places to meet like-minded expats, particularly the Lan Kwai Fong area in Central. A square of streets, this area is almost always teeming with foreigners frequenting the cocktail and wine bars. The Wan Chai area is a similar hotspot.

If wining and dining isn’t your thing, then your best option will be to get involved with the Hong Kong clubs and societies culture. Everything from tennis to embroidery, local councils to horticulture – socialising is a big part of life here and any chance to indulge is swiftly taken. These societies are perfect places to meet people with similar interests, or even the same nationalities. Some of the larger clubs include the American Women’s Association, the Foreign Correspondents Club, the China Club and the Helena May.

Making friends with the locals in Hong Kong

This is a question that a lot of expats ask – where to meet locals who are receptive to Westerners. Many expats report that Hong Kong is one of the friendliest places that they’ve ever lived in, and they have yet to meet a strictly ‘non-receptive’ local. There are areas in the city where English is spoken almost universally, where educated Chinese citizens frequent and where the locals are interested in other cultures. Near Lan Kwai Fong is the Soho District; the area is popular with locals who have studied at international schools or abroad. The district is full of life, food, music, and a wide demographic mixing in a small space. Cafés and bars are open all day and well into the night.  

Three important cultural differences for dating in Hong Kong

Culture is a big thing to expats, whether it’s holding onto your own or embracing a new one. In the synergy of nationality, religion and familiarity, it can be easy to get lost in the crossovers. Hong Kong is a forgiving place to live, very Westernised for the most part, but it holds a strong connection to its traditional culture. There are some important differences in the dating culture of Hong Kong, and if you intend to date locals, then it would be wise to brush up on the local customs.  

Casual dating

You might find the concept of ‘casual dating’ a little hard to come by in Hong Kong. While the Western dating style might hold prominence for expats and the younger generation, it’s still far from being accepted in the traditional Chinese ‘dating scene’. Be careful with your commitments if you’re dating a Chinese partner; a few dates might not mean much in the UK or US, but they can indicate an unspoken commitment in Hong Kong. 

Local lingo

As an extension of this, conversation with locals in Hong Kong can be a very different experience. It’s not uncommon for Westerners to tell friends that they miss them, like them, and even love them, but words are much more literal in traditional Chinese culture. If your Chinese partner tells you they miss or like you, they may have singled you out as a spouse.

Meeting parents

Having dinner at your partner’s parent’s house in the Western world might not be a big deal – it probably means that you’re not embroiled in a temporary fling, but it’s far from an indication of what’s to come. In most of China, Hong Kong included, the meeting of your partner’s parents can be seen as a declaration of commitment.

Don’t let these cultural differences deter you from pursuing relationships with a Chinese partner – people in Hong Kong are almost universally friendly and fun. It’s a unique city, and the locals are unique and beautiful inside and out.

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