Headhunter Questions Hong Kong Visitor’s Logic on Rudeness

My post on 22 July 2011 about a visitor from Australia that wrote a letter to the South China Morning Post criticizing the lack of manners in Hong Kong struck quite a chord.

(To read this post, please click on the following link: Aussie Tourist Blasts Hong Kong Manners, Says, ‘I Shall Not Return!’). I have received many insightful and interesting comments from readers all over the world. The first was from James Long in Hong Kong. James is Managing Director of Ellicott Long, which recruits professionals for the property and construction industries in Asia.

I read your post on Hong Kong manners and have to say, Steve is not taking into account that he’s talking about people who are from a very different culture to that in the West.

I live in Hong Kong as a Westerner and have done for 3 1/2 years, and whilst the things he describes do happen, it isn’t because people are being rude.

A great example is when you look at the queuing mentality in Hong Kong. It is often a fight, and queues are often skipped, which can infuriate people.

Queuing Is a New Concept

But we have to remember that the concept of queuing is relatively new to Hong Kong and was actually brought to the region by McDonald’s of all companies. They apparently had to devise a system to stop people all rushing to the counters at once!

To say people don’t hold open doors is true, but only because they are not taught that it is the polite thing to do. If they don’t know, they cannot be rude!

Same goes for not standing for elderly or pregnant people on buses. It is absolutely the right thing to do, but don’t forget that if someone had not told us this as we grew up in the West, we may take the same approach.

Locals Are Actually Quite Friendly

I find that Hong Kong people are incredibly friendly and love speaking to foreigners. Some are very shy and don’t like to speak English for fear of not being seen as not good at it.

Others, for example some taxi drivers, practise their English passionately. In shops and restaurants, the service is usually better than in the West. I find that the only thing I do get frustrated by is when people poke me in the eye with their umbrellas during rainy season. But this is because I’m 6’3″ and perfect umbrella poking height!

I do think the rash generalization that Steve has made is dangerous and does not take into account the reasons for the behavior. When you go to experience a new culture and country, you can’t expect people to behave in the same way that they do back home.

Pot Calling the Kettle Black?

If I go overseas, I don’t want to find everything Westernized and like it is at home. If I find something strange when I’m traveling, I tend to try to find out why it is different.

If service is bad, then make a complaint, but if you are simply not happy with something that is culturally different, then I think it signifies that the person complaining probably has the bigger issue! i.e. a lack of open mindedness.

You may want to check out my company blog page where we published an article on Cultural Differences, which I think highlights a few key things.

Hope this is helpful!

James Long in Hong Kong via email. James is Managing Director Ellicott Long, which recruits professionals for the property and construction industries in Asia.

Accidental Travel Writer Responds

Thanks, James, for your very insightful comments.

I was in Hong Kong in the 1970s, and there was no queue jumping then. Why? There weren’t any queues!

And you’re right. It WAS McDonald’s that introduced the rather alien concept of queuing to Hong Kong and other societies in the region.

In addition to rudeness, there is another issue at play here: intolerance. Concepts of politeness are NOT universal. Norms vary greatly from society to society. What is conisidered acceptable – or even laudable – in one, might be considred rude in another.

As Westerners, we undoubtedly do things that the Chinese think rude – without even knowing it!


2 Replies to “Headhunter Questions Hong Kong Visitor’s Logic on Rudeness”

  1. All of the above is pathetic apologizing. You do not need a six thousand years of culture to know give your seat to someone in need.It is sad but true many people in HK Society do not care for any one but themselves more so across the boarder. And people in this society should be pulled up on it. And to forestall other comments I have spend most of my life in HK & know the society very well.

  2. I like HK people because they are actually very kind and welcoming once you know them. Even some shop keepers, their interface may be rude but often kind if you talk to them nicely. On the other hand, I found it completely opposite in some western countries.

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