(Above: Definition of Single White Female)
Moving to a new city involves a series of steps and steep learning curves and it can take some time to feel at ease in your new surroundings. Learning the unspoken rules of the city is one of the hardest steps because you can look like a fool for some time before you master the city rules.
Hong Kong is full of these unspoken rules in terms of work, eating, social etiquette and non social etiquette for that matter. I’ve compiled a list of a few UNSPOKEN RULES I learnt in my first few months that can hopefully help those of you who are new to the city or thinking of moving.
Rule 1: Escalator Etiquette. Stand on the left of the escalator so people can walk on the right. WRONG. In Hong Kong it’s the opposite way around and you will be mauled down by someone (i.e ME) if you break that rule. On the topic of escalators, people will also be pissed off if you take your suitcase on the escalator and block the path. Sometimes it can’t be helped but be mindful of your designated escalator space and don't go outside those boundaries or there will be consequences..
Rule 2: Personal space is not considered a ‘thing’. You will be breathed on heavily by someone walking WAY too close to you down the street and you will be in situations on the MTR where someone will have their backpack in your face while their hand is placed on your butt, not necessarily during peak hour. People here don’t consider a 1m circumference around you to be “personal space”. That doesn't exist so get used to it.
Rule 3: Business Card Etiquette/ you need to have a business card to not feel like an idiot all the time. As someone who has never had a business card, and quite frankly never needed one until Hong Kong, I found this rule to be a bit pretentious. You meet people here and before they even tell you their name sometimes they have their business card out ready in two hands (i’ll get to that in a minute) and expect you to pass yours back in exchange. Without a business card those networking events can get a bit awkward. The two hand thing, well I find it just plain weird but it seems it’s been passed down through generations to do this weird double handed/ bow /nod thing when handing over business cards. According to forums it’s meant to be done like you are handing over your inheritance. The person must face you and hand their card to you with two hands and then you must receive it with two hands, be sure you face them, read (or pretend to read) their card for a few seconds and then look back to them to say thank you and repeat process with your own card. You also don’t want to be caught out in any situation without any cards so always carry spares around with you - for those of you that have them at least. For now I’m going to remain an anti business card advocate. Save the planet one piece of card at a time…
Rule 4: Dim Sum Etiquette. Upon being invited to a work group dim sum outing (which for some people could mean waiting years for a team invite...) you will notice there are a number of customs to abide by. Weirdly there are a few courteous rules when it comes to dining at Dim Sum unlike every other dining experience I have here where locals gurgle, spit and chew their food as loudly as they can. The locals will know exactly what to do at Dim Sum but if you don’t oblige by the rules you can seem like a complete fool and never get that second invite. First thing to note is the private vs public chopsticks. Don’t use the chopsticks on the lazy susan. These are for general use of maneuvering food from communal plate to personal bowl ONLY Not for you to stick in your mouth. Second thing to note is the tea tradition. Always pour to those around you before serving yourself and when someone pours for you, you need to do this knocking sound on a table with two knuckles as a sign of appreciation. It's a tradition that goes back to the days of the emperor and if you want go read about it, do so on google. I don't have time to explain.
Rule 5: Stay Single and Unmarried around Chinese New Year (also pop out a kid just before the new year)
Having survived two CNY now I feel more at ease with the whole tradition but initially it's just this flurry of confusion and anxiety.There are all these rules about who gives who what over, the appropriate time frame to give and receive money and who you should give to and what you should say when doing so. I remember my first CNY I avoided the door men in my building for THREE WEEKS because I couldn't remember what to say to them and I didn’t want to wish them bad luck by accident so I used the back entrance to avoid all confusion (on a side note I’m pretty sure they saw me leaving the back exit from the CCTV and cursed me for the next year because I didn’t give them any money). The simple rules are as follows:
If you are the boss of a team you have to give your staff Lycee (money of varying amounts) based on their position/ ranking.
If you are a single woman you don’t have to give money (except to maybe your door men). It is bad luck to receive from a single woman (curse all those single women out there… ) so even if you are a boss of a team don’t worry about giving handouts. They don't want your bad juju.
You give to those younger in the family or sometimes younger children in your building. You will notice that there are a lot of births just before CNY because if you time your delivery of new born baby nicely for mid to late January your child will receive a sh*t tonne of money from everyone and anyone. People with children go around to family houses (kind of similar to halloween but more of a marathon than a sprint) and collect from every living relative they know of.
Note: This list is not a list of annoyances. Just merely things you have to learn to survive. The list of annoyances is a whole other essay on things people do here that set me off. For another time.