Local Customs in Hong Kong

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Customs in Hong Kong

Culture

Hong Kong has significant cultural differences from mainland China due to its evasion of communist ideologies during the colonial age. After it was handed back to China in 1997, the city has kept their independent and reputable legal system, effective anti-corruption measures, free press that cover a sensitive topic such as Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989. They speak a different language (Cantonese vs. Mandarin), write with different Chinese characters (traditional vs. simplified), read significantly different newspapers, and even have their own border and currency.

You will quickly annoy locals if you suggest that Hong Kongers are subjected to propaganda in the same way as people who live in Mainland China. A question such as "Can you use Facebook in Hong Kong?" will also make you sound ignorant and silly.

In general, during a conversation, it is best to avoid subjects of politics. If you are asked your opinion, best to be neutral about it.

The Sino-Hong Kong relationship, as always, is a contentious topic. Hong Kong people seldom deny their Chinese roots and they do share pride in being Chinese; any racist remarks against Chinese people will certainly offend Hong Kong people. Meanwhile, you will hear the phrase "Mainland China" (Daai luk) or "Interior Land" (Noi dei) a lot from Hong Kong people, who seek to distinguish themselves, both culturally and politically, from other Chinese.

Politics

In Hong Kong, freedom of speech and the press are protected in law. Hong Kong people are free to criticize their government. Websites are not blocked. Hong Kong bookshops house vividly colorful collection of books about the communist regime and many sensitive political issues. Media, despite the growing concern about self-censorship, are diversified to deliver different voices.

Although freedom is secured, Hong Kong people are particularly sensitive about any changes that may affect the freedom they have enjoyed. Once regarded as apolitical and pragmatic, Hong Kong people are also more active in discussing politics, especially the introduction of universal suffrage for electing the Chief Executive.

Major political rallies take place every year on 4th June commemorating the bloodshed at Tiananmen Square in 1989. The 1st July commemorates the SAR's reunification with China, but after more than 500,000 people took to the streets demanding universal suffrage in 2003, this public holiday has become a symbolic day of protest every year.

Politics is split between pro-Beijing and pro-democracy camps. While many desire universal suffrage, a right that Beijing has thus far refused to grant, many also try not to offend the mainland as Hong Kong's prosperity is thought to depend on further economic integration with China. The shape differences can also be observed on many topics such as the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989, independence of Tibet and Taiwan, democracy in China. In Hong Kong where information is freely circulated and people are well read, political opinions are extremely diversified. After all, the city has been served as an information hub for China (and Taiwan before the 1990s) to competitively circulate both propaganda and "dissident views". In Hong Kong, discussing politics may lead you into a debate, but not any trouble.

Unlike Taiwan, the independence movement has never been widely discussed before and after 1997 and it has hardly gained any public support. Hong Kong people, despite apparently sounding "dissident" and "unchinese" on many topics, hardly deny that they are ethnically Chinese who share the same affections and sentiments with other Chinese people.

Manners and Etiquette

Hong Kong is a fast-paced society where the phrase "m goi" (唔該, "m" sounds like "hmm"), which literally means "I should not (bother you)", is used pervasively in a situation that you would say "Excuse me" or "Thank you".

The "M goi" (I should not) mentality extends to a way that they don't want to bother anyone as long as possible. When you get a cough, always cover your mouth with the inner side of your elbow, as that area of your arm does not frequently come in contact with other people, thus avoiding the spread of pathogens. When having a fever, wear a mask. Spitting and littering, an offence subject to a penalty of $1,500, is considered rude because it disturbs others. Hong Kong is noisy due to their huge population density but adding more noises, which will certainly disturb others too, are not welcome. Speaking vociferously over the phone on the bus, for example, will be viewed as egocentric and boorish.

Queue jumping is a taboo and you may be denied service if you do so, because everyone wants to go orderly and speedily on their way with the least disturbances. When smoking in front of a non-smoker, always ask for a permission because they may think you are trying to seriously disturb their health. Many smokers will just walk away to smoke, even in a place where smoking is legally allowed.

While Hong Kong has a generally good reputation when it comes to customer service, it is considered strange to strike up pleasantries with a stranger unless they are pregnant, disabled or senior citizens who are obviously in need. Saying "good morning" to a person you don't know at a bus stop will probably be viewed with suspicion. It is unusual for people to hold doors for strangers and supermarket staff or bank cashier seldom ask about your day. Staff in shops and restaurants might not even say "thank you" when you pay.

Superstition

Superstition is the Hong Kong psyche and it can be observed everywhere. Many buildings are influenced by the Fengshui principles which refer to a decoration style that blend the Five Elements (Gold, Lumber, Water, Fire, Earth) together, which will turn out to bring you luck, fortune, better health, good examination results, good relationships, and even a baby boy, according to their believers.

Many buildings come without 14th and 24th floors, which phonetically means "you must die" and "you die easily". They love the number 18 (you will get rich), 369 (liveliness, longevity, lasting), 28 (easy to get rich), 168 (get rich forever).

Hong Kong people love to tease at their superstition thoughts but they don't mean to ignore it. When visiting your friend in Hong Kong, never give them a clock as a gift because "giving a clock" phonetically means "attending one's funeral". No pears will be served in a wedding party because "sharing a pear" sounds like "separation". Some people refuse to open an umbrella indoor because a ghost spirit, who is thought to fear sunshine, will hide themselves into it. Breaking a mirror will bring you 7 unlucky years.

Religion

Swastikas (reversed) are commonly seen in Buddhist temples and are regarded as a religious symbol. They do not represent Nazism or anti-Semitism, so visitors should not be offended when seeing them among the possessions of locals.

Business

When you give or receive a business card, always do it with both hands and with a slight dip of your head or you will be seen either disrespectful and ignorant, even if you are a foreigner. Welcoming someone should also be done with a slight dip of the head and with a customary firm handshake, but there is no need to bow.

You will find that the cashier may hand receipts or change with both hands too. This is considered a gesture of respect. Because you're the patron, it is up to you to do the same or not when handing cash to the cashier.

Dress

When the thermometer hits 30 degrees, expect to see many local people wearing warm clothing - this is to protect against the harsh air-conditioning often found on public transport and in places likes cinemas.

Hong Kong women are known for their fairly conservative dress code, although wearing halter-necks and sleeveless tops are not uncommon and acceptable. Public nudity is prohibited. Being completely naked on the beach is also prohibited.

The dress code for men, especially tourists, is less conservative than it might have been. Even in 5-star hotels, smart casual is usually acceptable; although you might want to make your own enquiries in advance before dining in those places. Tourists from colder climates sometimes assume that wearing shorts in the tropics is a sensible idea, but hairy knees can look out of place in urban Hong Kong.

Gay and Lesbian Hong Kong

Homosexuality was decriminalised in 1991. The age of consent between two males is 16 according to the ruling by the Hong Kong Court of Appeal in 2006, while there is no law concerning that between two females. Same sex marriages are not recognised and there is no anti-discrimination legislation on the grounds of sexuality. The display of public affection, while not common, is generally tolerated, but it will almost certainly attract curious stares. Gay bashing is unheard of, although an effeminate boy could be a target for school bullying.

Hong Kong people generally respect personal freedom on sexuality. The prominent celebrity film star, Leslie Cheung, openly admitted that he was bisexual but his work and his personality has still been widely respected. His suicide in 2003 shocked many, and his fans, mainly female, showed considerable support for his partner.

However, while gay pride parades have recently been held in Hong Kong, there is no obvious gay community in daily life, and same-sex marriages are not legally recognised. Coming out to strangers or in the office is still regarded as peculiar and most tend to remain silent on this topic.

Gay bars and clubs are concentrated in Central, Sheung Wan, Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui (TST). The quality of these venues varies considerably and will perhaps disappoint those expecting something similar to London, Paris or New York. Dim Sum magazine, available for free in most cafes, eateries, bars and clubs, is Hong Kong's bilingual GLBT magazine which gives a pretty good idea about gay and lesbian parties and events happening in Hong Kong. There's also a gay and lesbian section in HK Magazine (free, only in English) and TimeOut Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film Festival is one of the longest running GLBT events in Hong Kong, and indeed in Asia. Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2009, it brings to Hong Kong various international and regional GLBT films. The festival is usually held in November. Hong Kong also held its second Gay Pride ever on 1 Nov 2009, attracting over 1,800 people, gay and straight, to the event.

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