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Business etiquette, language and culture

Business culture in Hong Kong and Macau is quite similar to that in the West and people in Hong Kong are sufficiently familiar with British customs to be tolerant of cultural differences. 

 

Language

The official languages of Hong Kong and Macau are English and Chinese (Cantonese dialect, also spoken in the mainland city of Guangzhou and across Guangdong Province – however, many in the mainland city of Shenzhen, just over the border from Hong Kong and Zhuhai just north of Macau, are migrants from elsewhere in the mainland, so speak Mandarin Chinese rather than Cantonese dialect).

English is widely spoken in the business world and in urban areas of Hong Kong and road signs are in both English and Chinese. Generally, English is sufficient for your sales and marketing materials, but in some cases it may be useful to have some prepared in Chinese too.

The traditional form of written Chinese is used in Hong Kong/Macau (and in Taiwan and Southeast Asian markets too), whereas in Mainland China the simplified form is used. Any Chinese-language materials you prepare for the Hong Kong/Macau market should therefore be in Traditional Chinese characters. If you plan to use Hong Kong as a regional base and wish to target audiences in Mainland China then you will need to produce additional materials using simplified characters.

Your business cards for Hong Kong should be bilingual (using Traditional Chinese characters on one side, English on the other), and presented Chinese side upwards with both hands. Cards are exchanged with everyone before every meeting, and on receiving cards from others you should study them and keep them face-up during the meeting. Do not write on the cards you receive or place in a back pocket as this implies disrespect.

When getting a taxi, it can be useful to have the address written in Traditional Chinese characters to show the taxi driver (your hotel concierge can help with this), although most taxi drivers are familiar with the English names of popular destinations.

Many Westerners now learn Mandarin (called Putonghua in Chinese). Cantonese is much more difficult to learn (having eight tones, instead of four), and as English is very widely understood in Hong Kong most Westerners do not attempt to learn Cantonese. Although many locals in Hong Kong can speak some Mandarin, it is courteous if you can learn a few Cantonese words, as this will always be appreciated.

Interpreters

Should you need one, an interpreter is one of your key assets so needs to be chosen carefully. We recommend you use a professional interpreter for negotiations and avoid using electronic translation for correspondence.

Lists of potential interpreters and translators can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/hong-kong-list-of-translators-and-interpreters.

 

Meetings

Establishing personal relationships is essential in conducting business in Hong Kong. You should invest time and effort into creating rapport with your business partners, and be aware that Hong Kong is a conservative, hierarchical society.

Face-to-face meetings and building relationships is important and contacts may wish to meet you several times to get to know you before concluding negotiations. This may include meeting for meals as well as formal meetings in offices.   

The giving and receiving of gifts is viewed as a way to build up relationships with business partners and clients. It is not necessary to give expensive gifts as it is the act of giving that is more important.

[Source – DIT]


 

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