Lai See etiquette for dummies in 300 words


Originally published in Jan 2018. Rebublished in Jan 2020

CNY is around the corner. If you are a foreigner, CNY must be synonymous with lion dance and red packets. For my maiden CNY in Hong Kong years ago, my local boss gave me my first Lai See. He explained to me the significance of the tradition as well as imparted some very valuable Lai See protocol which I remember to date and am sharing.

WHEN? Lai See packets or red pockets are normally given within the first 15 days of the start of the Lunar New Year which falls on the 5th of Feb this year (so until the 20th of Feb).

HOW? When giving or receiving a lai see, you use both your hands to show respect while wishing “Gong hei fat choy!” to say that you’re sending good fortune their way!

WHO GIVES? Understanding the protocol of who gives Lai See to whom is pretty straightforward: It is given by someone “big (societal position) to small," "old (in age) to young", and "married (considered senior in societal status) to unmarried”.

Lai See is a gesture of your appreciation and thankfulness - a little bit like thanksgiving. So, you should feel free to give them to your domestic helper or the security guard at your office.

HOW MUCH? The amount of money you put in the Lai See is secondary and depends on your wish or financial standing. Generally the range is from 20hkd to 100 hkd. To give you an idea, HK$100 is probably the most common and is given to people you meet or work with on a regularly. For example your preferred hairdresser or your junior colleagues or assistant in your office. For the nice sales lady at the regular grocery store or the guard at your building a minimum of 50 HKD could be given.

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