Living Here Living In Hong Kong

Meeting and greeting: Etiquette for expats

By: Natasha Lloyd

As a newcomer to Hong Kong, you’ll be keen to get to know people. This process can include getting to grips with the – for some, perplexing – issue of correct etiquette when it comes to greeting people, especially with a kiss!

Questions of etiquette

Picture the scene: it’s a few weeks after you’ve arrived in Hong Kong. The boxes are all unpacked, the children settled at school and you’re starting to embrace the shift in working hours and the mass exodus from the office at lunchtime. No longer fresh off the boat, you now feel ready to start socialising and meeting people in the hope of forming the friendships that will prove so fundamental to your new life here.

Perhaps a kind colleague or fellow school parent has invited you to dinner at their apartment, or has organised a restaurant brunch to welcome you into the fold. So, having successfully navigated the taxi journey, you arrive at the venue with some trepidation, to be met with a mixed bunch of fellow expats kissing each other in a flurry of affectionate embraces.

etiquette: One kiss or two?
One kiss or two?

So, what’s your next move? How will you greet your fellow guests – strangers for now, but brimming with potential to become shiny new friends? You’re no doubt keen to make a good first impression, and you’re wondering how to go about saying hello.

Well, unfortunately the customs of your country of origin may not help here, especially if you hail from one of the more straight-laced Anglo Saxon nations, where a decent handshake and perfunctory “Pleased to meet you” would suffice. Will the impeccably groomed lady to your left plant a kiss on your cheek as she introduces herself, as she seems to have done to everyone else in the room? And will it just be one, or might she unexpectedly go for the double just as you pull back?

etiquette: Handshake?

Follow the leader

Hopefully your charming host will be available to gracefully steer you through the initial social encounter. However, should they be occupied with greeting other guests or pouring wine, seize the initiative with an engaging smile and outstretched hand as you introduce yourself to the nearest available fellow diner – this will set the appropriate tone of warmth and approachability, while avoiding any confusion as to the correct number of cheeks to proffer.

Of course, you may have arrived from a culture where you and your compatriots feel entirely comfortable with puckering up to complete strangers. In this case, it’s best to adopt the Hong Kong default of a kiss on both cheeks when meeting and greeting. This should be a proper lip-to-cheek contact, not some half-hearted “air kiss” affair, and there should certainly be two of them!

After a few months of living here, you will come to observe the different greetings practised by various nationalities. Context is key, however, according to whether they are amongst their own community or socialising in a mixed group of expats from any number of cultural backgrounds.

etiquette: You now know how to greet in a group enviroment
You now know how to greet in a group enviroment

Cultural customs

The French, unsurprisingly, will say hello to friends, relatives and the newly met alike with a kiss on both cheeks as a matter of course. Australians, however, more accustomed to the etiquette of just the one peck on the cheek back at home, might be blindsided by a double-kiss nose-clash if the recipient retreats too soon.

Indians, I’m told, are less likely to touch on first meeting, and those who might previously have simply politely inclined their heads in greeting will often be more physically affectionate here in Hong Kong. On the other hand, Americans and Swedes who would usually hug their friends might rein in their natural tendencies to embrace those from different cultures. The Dutch, who at home kiss three times when saying hello to friends, would likewise scale back the effusion, whereas the British might just overcome their natural reserve and start kissing with gusto. This is where a homogenised greeting really helps to level the playing field.

But it really doesn’t matter how you say hello. The joy of living here is that you will be welcomed into a wonderfully diverse community of people from all over the world. Your new friends will be delighted to see you whether you kiss, hug or just smile at them, so enjoy the meeting part, and don’t worry too much about the etiquette of the greeting.

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