Hong Kong is a multi-cultural city.

As a foreign domestic worker, your employer may be Chinese, Australian, German, British or one of many other nationalities.  However, the majority of employers in Hong Kong are Chinese. Therefore, it is important for foreign domestic workers to know some aspects of Chinese culture. Not every Chinese household follows all traditions or believes every superstition. But knowing specifics of Chinese culture, traditions, taboos, and even superstitions may help you to avoid unnecessary misunderstandings and conflicts with your Chinese employer.

Chinese New Years Traditions

  • Before Chinese New Year’s Day, the entire house is cleaned, and then all brooms, brushes, dusters, dust pans and other cleaning equipment are put away.  Sweeping or dusting should not be done on New Year’s Day for fear that good fortune will be swept away.
  • After New Year’s Day the floors may be swept, but the rubbish is swept into the corners and not taken out until the fifth day.  There is a superstition that if you sweep the dirt out over the threshold, you will sweep one of the family members away.
  • To sweep the dust and dirt out of your house by the front entrance is to sweep away the good fortune of the family.  It must always be swept inwards and then carried out, only through the back door, then no harm will follow.
  • During the New Year’s holidays, everyone should refrain from using foul language and bad or unlucky words.  Death and dying are not mentioned.  Ghost stories are also taboo.
  • Chinese tradition holds that, if you cry on New Year’s Day, you will cry all through the year.  Therefore, children are tolerated, even though they misbehave.
  • Washing hair is not done on New Year’s Day because it would mean that we would have washed away good luck for the New Year.
  • Books and shoes are not bought over the holiday period (in some families, during the whole of the first lunar month), because the Cantonese word for “book” sounds like the word for “lose” and the word for “shoes” sounds like the word for “rough” or “sigh”.
  • Opening the windows is thought to let in good luck.
  • Sharp and pointed objects are put away because they cut off good luck.  Hair cutting is not done during the New Year’s holidays.
  • The Chinese believe that if you start the New Year in the debt, they will finish the year in the same way. For good luck, they pay people they owe before the New Year.

Everyday Beliefs and Household Culture

  • Many Chinese employers do not like to see their domestic worker cry or wear a “long face”. For them this brings bad luck.
  • Color is important in Chinese tradition.  Red is a bright and happy color, bringing a sunny and bright future.  White, blue, and black are associated with death, and are avoided.
  • Some numbers are lucky and some are unlucky.  The number eight is very lucky since the Chinese word for eight sounds very close to the Chinese word for prosperity.  “Four” is an unlucky number since the Chinese pronunciation sounds like the word for “death.”
  • Gifts are not opened when received.
  • Strands of noodles signify long life.  Cutting the noodles means you are snipping your life short.
  • Proper arrangement of furniture is done to get good “Feng Shui,” which will have a positive effect on health, wealth, and personal relationships.

Relationship Customs

  • Chinese conversations in public tend to be loud and you might think that the people talking are arguing.  But arguments usually do not result in especially loud speech.  Arguments usually involve the use of curses and swear words.
  • The concept of “saving face” is very important in Chinese culture.  Chinese avoid being made to look foolish, stupid, embarrassed, having to back down or admit fault.  They sometimes act to  “save face.”
  • To the Chinese it is improper to lose your temper.  Being firm is acceptable, as long as you remain polite.

As you interact with your employer, having an understanding of the Chinese ways of thinking may help you communicate with more success and harmony.

Additional Resources for Domestic Workers

Understanding Your Contract