VisitBritain spells out stereotypes and Olympic etiquette

Don’t ask a Brasilian personal questions, be prepared to be interrupted and women dress “sexy” in all situations. These are but a few “Top tips” about Brasilians for Londoners courtesy of VistBritain, the national tourism agency, in preparation for the 2012 London Olympics in order for British businesses to provide a warm welcome to foreign visitors and avoid causing offence.

The guidelines, compiled by VisitBritain staff native to the respective countries included, set out a comprehensive code of etiquette as part of its campaign to help cultural awareness, avoid misunderstanding and boost performance in customer care. What is intended as valuable cultural insight could, however, be considered unashamed stereotyping.

For Brasil, the list of advice is extensive. The guide informs that Brasilians pride themselves on dressing well; appearance counts. Brasilian women dress “sexy” in all situations, whether business, formal or casual. It is a good idea to wait to bring up topics related to politics, poverty, religion, or the Rainforest until trust has been established. Brasilians are expressive and passionate conversationalists, so be prepared to be interrupted. And certainly don’t ask personal questions, such as questions about age, salary, or marriage.

The online compendium’s advice for other countries is no less varied in its list of “dos” and “don’ts”. Never imply poles drink excessively. A smiling Japanese person is not necessarily happy, as they tend to smile when angry, embarrassed, sad or disappointed. Never call a Canadian an American. Be careful how you pour wine for an Argentine as the process involves a number of social taboos, for example pouring wine backwards into a glass indicates hostility. And don’t mention the war! That is the 1840s U.S-Mexican war, though no reference is made of being wary of mentioning the war to German tourists.

London is already a diverse multicultural melting pot, well accustomed to receiving foreign tourists, with Britain coming 14th out of 50 in the Nation Brands Index for the quality of welcome would-be visitors believe they will get. So why does VisitBritain feel the need to tell Londoners how to behave? According to the guide, tourists believe Britons are honest and efficient- but somewhat standoffish, and some visitors would like a more exuberant welcome. Sandie Dawe, chief executive officer of the agency, perhaps provides the answer, “Giving our foreign visitors a friendly welcome is absolutely vital to our economy”.

Top 5 foreign etiquette tips from VisitBritan:

  1. Remember Arabs are not used to being told what to do. Visitors from the United Arab Emirates can take great offence if you appear bossy. They appreciate being looked after by staff that has been trained to understand Arab culture. For example, it is culturally insensitive to ask an Emirati whether they want bacon with their eggs or to include a half bottle of wine with the table d’hote menu.
  2. Avoid physical contact when first meeting someone from India. Being touched or approached too closely in initial meetings can be considered offensive, even if the intention is entirely innocent or friendly. Be tolerant if Indians at first seem impolite, noisy and impatient. This is partly the result of living in chaotic cities and environments. They usually appreciate orderliness when they see it.
  3. Avoid saying ‘’thank you’’ to a Chinese compliment. Instead, politely deny a compliment to show humility. If you compliment a Chinese person, expect a denial in reply. The Chinese are famous for communicating by “Saying it without saying it.”
  4. When accepting thanks Koreans will typically say “No,no”. The remark should be interpreted as “You are welcome”.
  5. Avoid winking at someone from Hong Kong. Winking is often considered a rude gesture. Pointing with an index finger is not advisable as this is generally used only for animals. Point with your hand open. Hong Kong Chinese are very superstitious: mentioning failure, poverty or death risks offence.


Find out more at the VisitBritain website:

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