East vs West – 7 cultural norms and differences

east vs west

Last updated on November 6th, 2016 at 04:09 pm

As a girl who was born in Hong Kong, but studied abroad for half my life in the UK, I notice that there are some (not so) subtle things that are different in Hong Kong compared to the UK. Having friends and family from either end of the spectrum, it was a curious thing for me to see the difference. Whether it’s the result of cultural norms, society’s expectations or something else, it’s something that globalisation still hasn’t wiped away.

East vs West - 7 cultural norms and difference | Laugh Travel Eat
Pin me!

Family expectations




Now this sound a bit vague, but bear with me. Most of my friends who are also from Hong Kong have their university fees paid by their parents, even I am no exception. We are expected to listen to our parent’s wishes concerning a lot of our choice, such as which degree to pick or which university to go to.

My non-international friends (okay, let’s just say none-Asians) all have student loans, and rarely any of them get monetary support from their parents. They are expected to move out and make their own way in this world. They sometimes make me feel like I am a brat, but in Hong Kong this situation is the norm.



Opposite sex affection


Let me give you an example of this: at the end of a birthday party, I bid my course mates good night and I hug them all on my way out. But when it’s my male Hong Kong friends, I don’t hug them. Because they will find it awkward this makes me feel awkward. The one time I walked arm in arm with a male friend because of my heels, a rumour that we were going out spread through the entire group – so bodily contact between the opposite sex definitely isn’t common in Hong Kong still, and I adjust accordingly.

Living at home

Hong Kong - apartments



I had touched on this briefly in point #1, young people in Hong Kong are expected, or rather, it is normal for them to live at home even after they become financially independent. If you don’t know already, housing in Hong Kong cost a small fortune, and it’s hard to reconcile your salary with living expenses if you add rent. But of course, we are not all freeloaders – most, if not all, pay a monthly contribution to the household.

Almost none of my friends who work in London live with their parents, unless those whose parents actually live in London (because rent there is expensive too!).


Work culture


In Hong Kong, the working hours is the same as UK on paper. You work 9 to 6 every weekday. However, in many companies, overtime is expected and normal; and you usually don’t get compensated for it either. While I understand that it’s important and almost natural to put in more work at the start of your career, there comes a point when too much is too much. Some of my friends work until 10 or even 11 pm, as some companies ask for their employees to work on Saturdays too.

While OT in UK is not completely unheard of, the general benefits such as flexi hours, health and dental as well as vocation days are better. And there tend to be less office politics and drama.

Shops opening hours


The biggest culture shock I had in the UK was when all the shops closed at 6pm in the town center, even inside the mall. In Hong Kong, most shops open late and close late, around 9 – 10 pm. In the UK, however, aside from big malls, most shops close quite early – though I can see it changing in London.

Second Hand

One of my favourite second hand stores in Berlin (unfortunately it has closed down)
One of my favourite second hand stores in Berlin (unfortunately it has closed down)

In Hong Kong, and China in general, second hands things, especially clothing are not something that’s considered as good karma. However, ebay had been my best friends through my university years – something that my mother doesn’t understand until she learns of the price. While second hand and vintage shops are starting to pop up in Hong Kong, they are still in the minority.

Superstition and folk saying

Inside Ma Mo Temple, with the twirling incense occupying the whole of the ceiling | Laugh Travel Eat
Man Mo Temple in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong. People pray to the Man Mo gods for exams

Although none of my family are religious, my grandmother and grandaunt still go to the temples on certain days to offer their thanks etc. to the Taoist and Buddhist gods. They also use a lot of their saying as well – for example, if my mum missed some opportunity, she’d say that it’s fate, or that it’s not meant to be. No matter how big or small the vent is, and it drives me nuts.

Most of the above phase only ever comes up when something extremely good or bad happens to my friends in the UK or extremely coincidental. After all, it is a cheesy thing to say.

East vs West - 7 cultural norms and difference | Laugh Travel Eat
Pin me!

Written by Nam Cheah

Hi, my name is Nam. I am 24 and spent half my life in Hong Kong and the other half in UK. I believe there's endless experience and beauty in the world and this is me chronicling how to experience the best at the best price.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The grand great hall of the Natural History Museum, South Kensington, London | Laugh Travel Eat

My 1 Day West London Itinerary

The Ultimate Guide to London Transport

The interior of your stereotypical London bus, London | Laugh Travel Eat