Arriving in London: How can we make visitors more welcome?
The mayor of London has already launched his campaign to find smiling faces to welcome the world to the 2012 Games and now VisitBritain is offering its top tips to avoid offending tourists.
The national tourism agency has developed a comprehensive online resource to guide everyone from hoteliers to cab drivers in offering the best customer service and meeting 'cultural' needs.
It offers advice ranging from how to pour wine for Argentinians to not winking at people from Hong Kong. The big no-no is asking a Canadian what part of America they come from.
VisitBritain says the UK is already rated fairly highly - 14th out of 50 - in the Nation Brands Index for the quality of the welcome would-be visitors believe they will get when they come here.
But key competitors such as Canada, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands do better.
Our great landmarks won't be enough to keep tourists happy, say VisitBritain.
The VisitBritain research shows foreign visitors often find Britain's mix of cutting-edge modernity and rich cultural heritage ''fascinating'' and ''exciting.'' They see British people as ''honest,'' ''funny,' ''kind'' and ''efficient'' but in some cases they wish we offered a more exuberant welcome.
The tips have been written by VisitBritain staff, who are natives of the countries featured, and they have a wealth of insight into the places visitors come from. Here is a sample:
· A smiling Japanese person is not necessarily happy
The Japanese tend to smile when angry, embarrassed, sad or disappointed. They may think it rude if you talk to them with your hands in your pockets.
Avoid staring, as eye contact isn't generally considered polite. While sitting, try not to show the bottom of your shoes. Avoid being late for things and blowing your nose in front of someone is also likely to be considered rude.
· Be careful how you pour wine for an Argentinian
The whole process involves a number of social taboos and unless you understand them you could insult someone. For example, pouring wine backwards into a glass indicates hostility. Don't be offended by Argentinian humour, which may mildly attack your clothing or weight.
· 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.
· 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 who have 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.
· Do not be alarmed if South Africans announce that they were held up by robots
To a South African the word robot means traffic lights. ''Takkies'' means trainers, a barbecue is a 'braai', and ''howzit'' is an informal way of saying hello. When in a social situation with a South African do not place your thumb between your forefinger and your second finger - it is an obscene gesture.
· Don't ask a Brazilian personal questions
Steer clear especially of such issues as age, salary, or marriage to someone from Brazil, Argentina's fierce rival.
· 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.
· When meeting Mexicans it is best not to discuss poverty, illegal aliens, earthquakes or their 1845-6 war with America
Polite topics of conversation would be Mexican culture, history, art and museums instead. When demonstrating the height of something, be aware that holding the palm face down is reserved for animals. Burping out loud is considered very rude.
· Never call a Canadian an American
Canadians may take offence if labelled American. Some Canadians get so annoyed about being mistaken for US citizens they identify themselves by wearing a maple leaf as pin badge or as a symbol on their clothing.
· Do not take offence if an Australian or a New Zealander makes a joke about ''Poms''
It is more of a friendly endearment than an intended insult.
· 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." You will have to learn to read between the lines. Use only black and white materials for presentations, as colours have significant meanings in Chinese culture.
· When accepting thanks Koreans will typically say "No, no "
The remark should be interpreted as "You are welcome".
· Don't snap your fingers if you are with a Belgian. It may be interpreted as impolite
And avoid discussing personal matters or linguistic and political divisions within Belgium between Dutch and French speakers.
· Never imply Poles drink excessively
Despite stereotypes, Poles are not large consumers of alcohol and excessive drinking is frowned upon.
Sandie Dawe MBE, Chief Executive Officer of VisitBritain, said: ''Overseas visitors spend more than £16 billion a year in Britain, contributing massively to our economy and supporting jobs across the country.
"So giving our foreign visitors a friendly welcome is absolutely vital to our economy. 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 - wherever they come from.''
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