When you speak to locals, a majority of the time they will tell you that they are very busy. Sure, Hong Kong is a work-obsessed society and I understand many people work in companies where the culture is to work overtime, but a lot of cases, people who are not actually very busy will still try to give the impression to others that they are. This, to me, is quite annoying.
I use to have a colleague who sits in the cubicle next to me and all day I would hear him telling others how busy he is. Other colleagues call him on the internal line and he tells them how busy he is today and he’ll get to the matter when he has time. His girlfriend calls his mobile and he tells her how hectic his day is. Each day around 2:05pm right after lunch, he will declare how busy his afternoon is going to be. When I look over, he’s usually just playing with his smartphone.
My wife has a friend who is like this as well. When we bump into her in the streets, the first thing she says is not “how are you?” or “where are you heading off to?” The first thing you hear from her is how busy she is and then she goes off to tell you where she’s been, what she’s going to do, and what she hasn’t done yet. She was recently unemployed, yet her first comment after this revelation is how it’s the first time in 15 years she can rest… she does not have children and her previous job is at the post office...
I am not saying people without children and who work at the post office are not busy, but listening to her, I got the impression that she felt insecure about being unemployed and she wanted to reinforce to us that it was by choice. Afterwards, she found another job and she was back to her same busy self. Whenever my wife calls her, she would say how busy she was and that she will call her back later.
At first, I never really took notice of this behavior. I would just view it at face value remarking to myself that this person is probably quite busy. But when nine out of ten people do this, I start wondering. I have a full time job; I have responsibilities too, but I always have time to speak on the phone when someone calls me. How come I am never as busy as these people?
After pondering this for a while, I realize it probably isn’t about me, but it’s about them and Hong Kong culture in general. You see to them, being busy equates to being important. If you are busy at work, it means that the company values you. If you have spare time at work, it can mean two things. One, you do not have many responsibilities at the company and therefore can be made redundant; two, there is a chance your boss will give you some work to fill out the time. You do not want either one.
So instead, why not just let people know you are busy. Hell, let the whole world know! This means you are an important person at the company and you will not get extra work. Perfect!
This response has become embedded into Hong Kongers’ daily dialogue. It is so natural that Hong Kongers say it without giving it a second thought. Like everything in Hong Kong, it is about money. A perception of importance means job security. Job security means the paychecks keep coming.
I’m busy. Gotta go…