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Hong Kong culture

Hong Kong’s ‘time is money’ culture has killed courtesy, there’s no need to take offence

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 August, 2018, 4:48pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 August, 2018, 10:33pm

I refer to the letter from Sonia Yeung regarding Hongkongers’ poor attitude towards non-Cantonese-speakers (“Poor service in Hong Kong: a fear of English or just superiority complex? Ask ‘mainlanders’”, August 9), and Niru Vishwanath’s unpleasant experience with local staff (“What’s behind poor service in Hong Kong?”, July 23).

Ironically, the complaints would certainly strike a chord with many Hongkongers. Let us be brutally honest, have we locals been treated impolitely by shop assistants, restaurant staff and nurses at clinics here in Hong Kong? I bet the answer is a resounding yes.

Ms Vishwanath can rest assured that her race did not factor into the locals’ indifferent and hostile attitude towards her. Lack of courtesy simply transcends race, language and culture in Hong Kong. Most people here attach much greater importance to making profits than anything else, since Hong Kong is an expensive city to live in.

Pressured by the need to get by, some local citizens, especially blue-collar workers, may develop a short fuse and be unwilling to lend a helping hand to strangers.

Deep down, they may not necessarily be mean-spirited; they are just hard-wired to mind their own business. Therefore, anyone who might potentially slow them down in their line of work might be perceived as an irritant or nuisance, whom they might shoo away quickly.

Of course, there is no excuse for their unhelpful ways, as everyone should be greeted with great hospitality in a city that brands itself as an inclusive, multicultural metropolis that is welcoming to tourists. The Tourism Board’s effort to promote Hong Kong worldwide will go down the drain if visitors receive substandard service. Ultimately, businesses relying on tourism will suffer, and the locals will only have themselves to blame for their loss. Profits aside, the image of Hong Kong as a tolerant society will be tarnished.

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It takes the concerted efforts of all local citizens to uphold Hong Kong’s reputation as a helpful community. Small acts of kindness like holding the door open for someone, giving up your seat on public transport, giving directions to visitors and answering queries go a long way towards that goal.

Language and culture shouldn’t be excuses for refusing to offer assistance. Gestures, together with mobile phones, could help break communication barriers under most circumstances. A willingness to help and communicate is the key. Don’t forget that when we feel helpless in a foreign country where we don’t speak the language, we desperately need someone’s help too.

Jason Tang, Tin Shui Wai