10 unspoken rules in Hong Kong that would utterly confuse foreigners… And even locals!

Hong Kong is a fishing-village-turned-metropolis where old meets new, east meets west… 

Yes, we know you secretly rolled your eyes to this. Maybe you know Hong Kong like the back of your hand and think “Hah, I don’t need to read some amateur blogpost about my city!”. Well guess what – you actually know Hong Kong a lot less than you expect! This time, we snooped around our family and friends, asking them if there are any bewildering mysteries that even us Hongkongers don’t have answers to!

1. Hongkonger-identifying-box

If you have a bunch of people from different parts of the world, where would you need to put them, in order to figure out which one is a Hongkonger? 

The answer is rather simple — you put them in an elevator and see who reaches for the close door button FIRST! As a Hong Konger, we cannot fight the urge to press that close button, not once, but multiple times. It is only when we travel to the rest of the world that we realise it is not a universal culture to press it that frequently. Some places don’t even bother wiring up the close button, or they simply go without it. You can imagine the unsettling feeling we feel when we encounter such situations. We also despise designs that confuse us between the open and close buttons. “Why wouldn’t the doors close… Dammit I have been holding it open for the whole time!” 

After all, most Hongkongers are extremely busy! It is considered rude here if you get in the elevator and don’t immediately close the door. If you get in others’ way, you probably wouldn’t have survived the piercing death glares from people around you (accompanied by our patented Tsk™ sound)… How did Hong Kongers get so busy? We can share some insights with you in our informative, fun, and anecdotes-filled Money World – How Did Hong Kong Get So Rich? Tour!

2. We go the extra mile(s) to work 

In 2016, Swiss Bank UBS released a survey revealing Hong Kong employees have the longest working week out of 71 cities around the world, with an average of 50.1 weekly working hours. It is without doubt that many Hongkongers have a stressful work life. Last year, Super Typhoon Mangkhut almost wrecked our City (we are thankful that there were no casualties). Despite hazards such as fallen trees (over 60,000, the highest number on record) and broken glass, thousands of Hongkongers left their homes in impeccable office wear, arriving at their offices on-time the next morning; some even climbed past fallen trees and walked for hours to their workplace since public transport was down. Some witty and creative netizens even created superhero movie-style posters for them!

3. What could possibly rival 7-11 in numbers and geographical reach?

Broadband promotion booths. We kid you not – one of our most frequently asked questions is “Do you Hong Kongers always need new broadband services?” You often see various sales booths promoting broadband service appearing outta nowhere — outside MTR stations, on footbridges, behind staircases, next to lamp posts… You name it. But 90% of the time there aren’t any customers. So why do these booths exist in such great quantity? If you would like to see where these booths flourish the most, Sham Shui Po is a place you absolutely cannot miss. Known as Akihabara of Hong Kong, Sham Shui Po is a treasure trove for those looking for computer gadgets, electronics and phone accessories! Join us on our Sham Shui Po – A Story of Grassroots Hong Kong tour and we will show you around this labyrinthian neighbourhood!

4. The Politics of the Priority Seat

Fighting for the Iron Throne is hard, but fighting for a seat in a 6-pm-Island-line-MTR carriage is an even tougher one. There are, however, particular seats that Hongkongers would never occupy. Well, we can most certainly confirm that these are Priority Seats, or more infamously known as Public Shaming Seats. There has been heated debate regarding Priority Seats in recent years — although it is meant for anybody in need, some people would judge whether one is ‘qualified’ to take this seat based on their physical built, age, outfit etc. Whenever younger folks sit down, they would have to face the horror of being posted on social media and told off by the Internet. 

5. The Economics of a Buffet Experience

No matter how cheap or how expensive, Hongkongers love an all-you-can-eat experience. From lobsters to wagyu beef, gourmet food that you are too stingy to order at restaurants fearing that they might break the bank are there for you to enjoy. But when it comes to buffet tactics, which is no laughing matter, Hongkongers absolutely detest rice — a hearty staple food that we eat daily. Some parents would forbid their children, who are often already adults, from eating carbs (except macarons) because having anything cheap and filling means that you are not getting what you paid for. Some people might even go as far as starving themselves the day before the buffet, which we absolutely do not recommend! 

6. Remarkable yet questionable English names

Unlike folks from other Asian cities, it is more common to address a Hongkonger by his or her English rather than Chinese name. The practice of having an English name can be traced back to the Colonial times, when such practice was considered prestigious — symbolising that one had ties with high society. Today, some Hongkongers’ are no longer satisfied with conventional names and would resort to unique names like Leggings, Tissue or even Abcde (pronounced ab-si-dee), hoping to stand out from the crowd, making themselves more memorable to others. 

7. Mad Max Fury Road Hong Kong edition

You might have seen minibuses with a red roof or a green roof on the streets, but do you know what their difference is? The red minibus is an adventure even for locals, for it has no fixed stops, but will stop wherever you please as long as you yell out yau-lok (I’m getting off). If you are an avid roller-coaster lover and decide to make this your mode of transportation, be sure to bring coins because some of them don’t accept Octopus cards. If you would like to experience Hong Kong’s fast and furious, join our Story of Kowloon in 6 Tasty Dishes tour to see these in action!

8. A masochist dining experience

A true local will know where this is without having to disclose its name – this (in)famous breakfast restaurant in Jordan is known for its quick-paced, gruff waiters. Everyday, there is a long line of people waiting to get a taste of impoliteness. After sitting down, you have exactly two seconds to decide what to eat and three minutes to devour your meal. When the waiter throws you the bill, you will need to leave immediately as the saying goes — 阻人搵食猶如殺人父母 — or interfering with one’s business is nothing better than killing one’s family!

9. 160 square feet European villas (with Corinthian orders)

Not only do Hongkongers love travelling to Europe or shop for European brands, we are taking this obsession to a whole new level by living in Pseudo-Europe. Quite often our apartment complexes are either designed like Neo-Classical European villas or palaces, or (at least) have French, Italian or Spanish-inspired names. Cringeworthy? Undoubtedly. But many people thoroughly enjoy this false sense of foreignness, despite the size of these homes being only a fraction of those in Europe…

10. We wash our cutleries like there’s no tomorrow

When eating at a dai-pai-dong (open-air food stall) or dim sum parlour, the waiter will bring you a big bowl and a boiling pot of tea for you to wash your bowl, chopsticks, and spoons at the table. This is a Hong Kong tradition carried over from years ago when restaurant hygiene was more dubious. If you have never experienced the chaotic yet mesmerising beauty that is dai-pai-dong, be sure to join our Good Evening Kowloon tour so that our friendly and knowledgeable local guide can demonstrate to you how to properly rinse your utensils!

If you think this is the end of this article, you, my friend, are too simple, sometimes naive. In fact, there are so many more of these unspoken rules that we will need a little time handpicking the best ones that truly capture the spirit of Hong Kong. Of course, if there is anything that you feel that we have missed and should find out, we are happy to do that just for you — leave us a comment and we will try our absolute best to answer your questions. So stay tuned!

1 thought on “10 unspoken rules in Hong Kong that would utterly confuse foreigners… And even locals!”

  1. If you stand in an elevator and say good morning to someone unknown, they look at you, as if you were a serial killer.

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