The Rules of Gift Giving in Hong Kong
Thanks to the rich history of Hong Kong, when it comes to the act of gift-exchanging there is often an overlap of East meets West tradition and a silent rule book that is followed. This can be confusing to some who aren’t familiar with the local culture, due to the rules that specific to the SAR.
While obviously the act of gift giving implies good intention and will always be appreciated, there are still instances when a faux-pas means that the recipient is less than thrilled with their gift. For example, you should never give a pair of shoes to a Chinese person here, as the word for shoe in Cantonese sounds like the Chinese word for ‘rough’.
To make sure your gift is always received with the pleasure you intended on giving, we give you the rules of gift giving in Hong Kong – some rules you may already know, some, unfortunately, that are not so obvious.
- You should never arrive at someone’s house empty-handed, a gift is a gesture of thanks for the kind invite. If you’re lost for ideas, either bring something from the culinary field or something to adorn the home: a carefully chosen bouquet of fresh flowers will always be appreciated, as long as they're not overly fragrant.
- When it comes to gifts the two most obvious no-no’s are clocks and shoes.
1) Clocks: Watches are included in this category as the Cantonese word for watch is ‘jung’ and to give a pair of shoes is to ‘song jung’ , unfortunately also the Chinese term for funerals.
2) Shoes: All shoes are included as the word for shoes is ‘hai’, homophonic with the Cantonese word for 'rough'. And the sound alone qualifies it to be a forbidden gift.
- Opening gifts in front of the giver is considered rude in Chinese culture. Unless the giver insists on the gift being opened on the spot, there should be no reason to do so.
- A refusal of a gift is very common in Chinese culture thanks to the common act of being ‘hak hei’, however this should not be taken at face-value. The key is to persist, and the receiver should accept it after an initial resistance. But should the receiver be adamant in their refusal after a few give-and-takes, don’t continue pushing as there is probably a solid reason for refusal.
What is the correct party etiquette in Hong Kong? We give you answers here.
- Gifts given, especially in the Chinese New Year and an elderly person's birthday, should be wrapped in red or gold. While this rule is quite dated as most are open to gift wrapping of any shade, it still is preferred, and an acknowledgement of the tradition is appreciated.
- Sign a card with blue or black ink. Other colours are acceptable, but we would suggest staying away from neon and red.
- Consider the value and what is deemed appropriate. A gift should be a gesture of celebration or thanks and not a medium for intimidation nor to make one feel uncomfortable upon receipt.
- To show your appreciation, it is good manners to send a thank you card. For smaller occasion such as Christmas and birthdays a polite e-mail will suffice, however for bigger occasions such as weddings, engagements and baby showers a card is a must.
- Receive a gift with two hands, taking a gift with one hand suggests a unappreciative manner.