Britain's national tourism agency has released an etiquette guide designed to help Brits create a warm atmosphere for visitors at the 2012 Olympics. The goal of the guide is to help citizens become sensitive to the delicate cultural sensibilities of guests from over 200 countries.
Basically, the guide is a rundown of stereotypes and social mores, some of which you're probably already familiar with (the French tend to be picky) and others that you may be learning for the first time (don't wink at somebody from Hong Kong). How you're supposed to differentiate who's from which country is left unanswered. Maybe everyone wears nametags or something.
The guide is well-intentioned, but probably is more offensive than the behavior it seeks to avoid. Instead of listing a country-by-country breakdown of actions to avoid, the guide should say to be respectful of everyone and recommend that visitors attending the Olympics keep an open mind during the fortnight. If snapping offends you (like it apparently does to Belgians), maybe let it go if "Beat It" comes on in a bar and a dude from Chicago goes into his Michael Jackson impersonation. And if you're from China and if an Italian says "grazie" after a compliment, feel good about it. That's their cultural more. And isn't joining cultures what the Olympics is about?
Here are some of the most notable tips. They were written by agency staff about their own countries. Let me stress, these are all real:
1. Do not be alarmed if South Africans say they were held up by robots, which is their term for traffic lights. But if a South African isn't talking about traffic lights, this has the potential for a disastrous real-life "boy who cried wolf" moment.
2. Indians may be suspicious about the quality of British food. That's only an Indian concern? (And, come on, I'm sure Indians have a little bigger problem with Britain than that.)
3. A smiling Japanese person is not necessarily happy. (They tend to smile when angry, embarrassed, sad, or disappointed.) I'm hoping this leads to a British official consoling a joyous, gold medal-winning Japanese athlete.
4. Pouring wine backwards into a glass indicates hostility to an Argentinian. Also, don't be offended by Argentinian humor, which may mildly attack your clothing or weight. But what if you're someone who gets offended by jokes about your clothing or weight? Are you just supposed to let Diego Maradona get away with that?
5. Never imply that people from Poland drink excessively. Despite stereotypes, Poles are not large consumers of alcohol and excessive drinking is frowned upon. Is that even a stereotype? I can think of about a dozen stereotypes of Polish people and being heavy drinkers isn't one of them. An affinity for putting screen doors on submarines, yes.
6. When meeting Mexicans, it is best not to discuss poverty, illegal aliens, earthquakes, or their 1845-46 war with America. Also, the Phoenician delegation will still be salty about getting conquered by Alexander the Great in 332 BCE.
7. Avoid discussing linguistic and political divisions within Belgium between Dutch and French speakers. There goes 70 percent of my usual conversation.
8. The French are notoriously picky in restaurants. Yes, just in restaurants.
9. Chinese visitors may be unimpressed by landmarks just a few hundred years old. The uncensored internet connection should make up for that.
10. Never call a Canadian an American. Some Canadians take offense at being mistaken for U.S. citizens. One, Canadians never take offense to anything except switching the channel off Hockey Night in Canada. Two, that's a two-way street, Britain. Next time I hear someone say Justin Bieber is an American sensation, I'm going to show my anger by smiling broadly.