Culture Shock! And The Sorry Complex – Hong Kong

Welcome to the new series that basically named itself! We’ve just landed in a new continent that is about to challenge us in completely new ways. Some will undoubtedly be intriguing and funny little things we’ll have to adjust to. Others will surely be frustrating or beyond comprehension. Finally, there will be cringe-worthy moments certain to have us questioning why we ever left the comforts of home in the first place.

Each article in the series is intended to be an opportunity to learn, grow and share. It is our collection of observations and information from the different cultures we visit from our subjective anthropological perspective. We never intend to shame or shed negativity on anyone else’s way of life. Wherever we can, we will do our best to understand and explain how to respect and behave in a given place. Though sometimes, we may only be able to share on what NOT to do, as we figure out life as a local through our embarrassing mistakes and faux paus moments.

Pandamonium! Arriving in Hong Kong -- Karina's Extraordinary Life

Pandamonium! Arriving in Hong Kong — Karina’s Extraordinary Life

Culture Shock! And The Sorry Complex

To kick off the series I definitely want to poke fun at one of the most famous stereotypes we deal with as Canadians. Most have heard the jokes, especially if you watch ‘How I Met Your Mother’, about how apologetic Canadian culture is. That’s saying it nicely I guess. Most jokes state that you could punch a Canadian in the face and spill their beer and said Canadian would apologize for running into your hand and offer to buy you a drink! I’d be willing to bet that has never happened, but to a certain degree, absolutely, we apologize for everything. It’s more of a reflex than a heartfelt “I’m sorry”, and most of us may not even think about it, but that absence of acknowledging that you may have possibly, in some minor way bothered, obstructed, touched or dismissed another person has become a very loud silence since we arrived in Hong Kong. Not once have I been apologized to for anything here! Not even when the airline lost my bags!

(That’s a whole other story to be tackled.)

Back in Canada, our spaces are a bit more open, correspondingly, our personal bubbles are much larger! Lake Moraine, Alberta, Canada

Back in Canada, our spaces are a bit more open, correspondingly, our personal bubbles are much larger! Lake Moraine, Alberta, Canada

My attempt at an explanation:

Canada is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world, that kind of room to roam has given way to a culture that really values personal space. Our bubbles are significantly larger than most city people around the world could ever afford. And in Hong Kong, one of the most densely packed, international cities in the world, people are accustomed to living on top of each other, literally. The high rises in the city are astronomical.  If they took the time to apologize for being in the way, or smacking you with a handbag on the train, or stepping on you while they walk with their face glued to their phone screen, or letting their air conditions continuously drip on your head…. Well, let’s just say there wouldn’t be time for anything else.

Hong Kong skyscrapers fills the skylines of the islands.

Hong Kong skyscrapers fills the skylines of the islands.

I hope you can read my sarcasm on this one. I truly don’t expect to be apologized to constantly. The culture shock is the realization that it is the country I come from is the one that does things differently, not the rest of the world. The apology is really just such a common practice for me that it feels palpably absent. It would be easy to be constantly offended if I don’t adjust my expectations, no matter where I am. And given that in general, the society here in Hong Kong is extremely cordial and respectful, I am in for a huge shock once we move into much less international, metropolitan and say, culturally similar countries.


~ An Extraordinary Story by Karina Noriega ~

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16 thoughts on “Culture Shock! And The Sorry Complex – Hong Kong

  1. Hi Karina, I like this new series of yours, I think culture shock is often underestimated… usually, when people research for an upcoming trip, they are looking for places to see and things to do, so once they land differences in habits really come as a shock! I personally lived it when I moved to Slovenia; unlike other occasions I had to live abroad in ‘similar’ countries, when in Slovenia I realized that locals have a different way to look at things… at first I was joking about it, calling them ‘without basis’ (as this is how they looked to me… lacking what I considered the ‘basic stuff’ in my personal philosophy), but of course it was just a joke and actually I learnt a lot from putting myself in a different ‘social environment’ and challenging my personal beliefs. I think that’s part of what I love about travelling: to get out from my comfort zone and experiment a new way of looking at things in life. Looking forward for your next post on this topic! 🙂


  2. I didn’t know that about Canadians…I guess we all have our own foibles (there are SO many connected with being English), but I hope you have a great time settling in and learning so much in Hong Kong. Look forward to reading about it. Thank you (maybe we say thank you a lot instead of sorry?!)


  3. As fellow Canadians, we can fully relate to the “sorry complex”. This sounds like it will be a really fun series of posts – can’t wait to read about your adventures 🙂 Just look at all those pandas!!!


  4. As a Canadian, can I say that I’m SORRY you are not being told that people are sorry for when they do rude things – like smacking you with the handbag on the train? I think us Canadians apologize too much but perhaps in some other cultures it’s too little.


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