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UK issues Olympics etiquette primer

Details cultural particularities

By David Stringer
Associated Press / August 12, 2010

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LONDON — Hold off from hugging an Indian, don’t be alarmed if the French are rude, and never mistake a Canadian for an American.

Britain’s national tourism agency issued guidelines yesterday on the etiquette of dealing with the hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors who will be coming to London for the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Seeking to help the country’s sometimes snarky citizens offer a warmer welcome, VisitBritain has updated its advice for anyone likely to work with travelers arriving from overseas — from hotel staff to taxi drivers.

Other tips: Don’t go around asking Brazilians personal questions and never be bossy with visitors from the Middle East.

“Giving our foreign visitors a friendly welcome is absolutely vital to our economy,’’ said Sandie Dawe, chief executive officer of the agency.

About 30 million people visit Britain each year, spending about $26 billion. The 2012 Olympics is likely to bring in an additional $3.3 billion in tourism revenue, according to a government estimate, and about 320,000 extra visitors from overseas during the games in July and August 2012.

VisitBritain said research it had conducted found tourists believe Britons are honest and efficient — but not the most pleasant. Britain is ranked 14th out of 50 in the Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands Index on the quality of welcome offered to visitors, the tourism agency said.

The frank etiquette tips were written by agency staff about their own native countries.

Polish tourists are likely to be hurt by stereotypes that imply they drink excessively, while the French are notoriously picky in restaurants, the guidelines claim.

British workers are told to brush off common Argentine jokes about a person’s clothing or weight. Belgians take offense at people snapping their fingers while Australians are fond of coarse language. Japanese people consider prolonged eye contact impolite and smile to express a range of emotions.

Tourism workers are advised to show extra patience when dealing with guests from India or the United Arab Emirates.

“Indians are, in general, an impatient lot, and like to be quickly attended to,’’ the guidelines claim.

Travelers from the Middle East are likely to be demanding with staff and “are not used to being told what they can’t do,’’ the guide warns.

Guests from China and Hong Kong may find winking or pointing with an index finger rude, while “mentioning failure, poverty, or death risks offense,’’ the advice claims. Chinese visitors may be unimpressed by landmarks just a few hundred years old, tourism staff are told.

Workers are advised against discussing poverty, immigration, earthquakes, or the Mexican-American war with visitors from Mexico. Instead, chat about history and art.

Canadian tourists are likely to be annoyed about being mistaken for Americans, the guide suggests.

And Americans? They can appear “informal to the point of being very direct or even rude’’ and won’t ever hesitate about complaining, the guide says.

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