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2012 London Olympics: UK Issues Etiquette Guidelines

DAVID STRINGER   08/11/10 11:17 AM ET   AP

2012 London Olympics Etiquette
The Olympic mascot Wenlock, left, and the Paralympic mascot Mandeville, pose for photographs with a child as they are unveiled to the media as the mascots for London 2012, at a school in London, Wednesday, May 19, 2010. The theme of the two mascots is that they were created from the last drops of steel left over from the construction of the final support girder for the Olympic Stadium. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

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 Wednesday 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. "With hundreds of thousands of people thinking of coming to Britain in the run-up to the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012, this new advice is just one of the ways that VisitBritain is helping the tourism industry care for their customers."

About 30 million people visit Britain each year, spending about 16.6 billion pounds ($26 billion). The 2012 Olympics is likely to bring in an additional 2.1 billion ($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.

U.K. 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 – not simply to show happiness.

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. "The more affluent they are, the more demanding and brusque they tend to be."

Indians also don't like being touched by strangers and may be suspicious about the quality of British food, the guide said, without noting the latter might be a common concern.

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 – who prefer to chat about history and art.

Canadian tourists are likely to be quite annoyed about being mistaken for Americans, the guide suggests – urging workers to keep an eye out for maple leaf pins or badges on tourists' clothing.

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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Filed by Adam J. Rose  |