Stereotype or Etiquette Guidelines?

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 [NPR].

Although, these guidelines are meant to show the country’s hospitality they may offend some tourists for being stereotyped. Instead of making a gazillion long cultural understanding etiquette guidelines why don’t we just take it easy. As an Arab I don’t feel offended if a non-Arab shows me the sole of his shoe because I know he didn’t do it on purpose to offend me. Every culture is abide by certain do and don’t rules there is no way to know every culture’s rules.

As someone from the Middle East I found the guide lines (below) regarding the Middle East to be very true. I am not sure about the one regarding UAE though since I haven’t been there before. Indeed, Arabs don’t like to be told what not to do and they like to break rules to show some masculinity. One of my friend’s explanation to this strange Arab behavior is that because of the many years of British and French colonization and forcing laws they started to break these rules to show some kind of rebellion to the colonization.

Every culture should know that it has some weird behaviors that other cultures find it funny and meaningless. I know some people are easily offended but it should be their problem. The humankind never before lived in a so rich colorful international space like today. We should look into this vibrant new life positively and value it.

By the way, according to the agency behind these guideline tips they were written by the agency staff about their own native countries:

Middle East:

  • – Never be bossy with visitors from the Middle East.
  • – Travelers from the Middle East are likely to be demanding with staff and are not used to being told what they can’t do.
  • – Tourism workers are advised to show extra patience when dealing with guests from the United Arab Emirates.


  • – Hold off from hugging an Indian.
  • – Tourism workers are advised to show extra patience when dealing with guests from India.
  • – Indians are in general, an impatient lot, and like to be quickly attended to.
  • – 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 without noting the latter might be a common concern.


  • – Don’t be alarmed if the French are rude.
  • – French are notoriously picky in restaurants.


  • – Canadian tourists are likely to be quite annoyed about being mistaken for Americans.


  • – Don’t go around asking Brazilians personal questions.


  • – Polish tourists are likely to be hurt by stereotypes that imply they drink excessively.


  • – 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.


  • – Are fond of coarse language.


  • – Consider prolonged eye contact impolite and smile to express a range of emotions – not simply to show happiness.

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.


  • – They can appear informal to the point of being very direct or even rude and won’t ever hesitate about complaining.

15 thoughts on “Stereotype or Etiquette Guidelines?

  1. Interesting. And you have to give them credit for really making an effort to make everyone’s visit as comfortable as possible.

    They’re right on about Americans too, particular about being informal. (This is always a topic that comes to mind for me during holidays in Jordan because I soooooo offend everyone in my husband’s family with my level of informality. But true American to the core, I don’t care either. Or I complain about it. 😉 )

    I also didn’t realize that I have some Australian blood in me – at least as far as this list goes. Well, then again, I didn’t start swearing like a sailor until I moved to Jordan and started driving, so it might be circumstantial.

    1. Yes, I would imagine how American informality may raise some eyebrows in a country like Jordan. You would be the person of interest for discussion during the ladies’ morning Turkish Coffee 🙂
      I don’t think any human being from any nationality or race can sustain not swearing while driving in Jordan. Driving in Jordan like a race car video game.

  2. quite interesting!
    I liked your friend’s explanation about why arabs don’t follow rules, sounds logical.
    and why americans and canadians can’t stand each other? often when I watch a movie the americans mock canadian.
    I agree that every culture has its behavior that others might find weird or funny. I remember when my cousin and his Ukrainian wife visited us for the first time, and we kept on bringing things, juice, tea, fruits, nuts, coffee and she was interested why we brought all that?
    we tried to explain that we are just trying to be polite and generous with our guests!

    1. That is funny! I can imagine how she was confused about what was going on with all that food. May be she thought you want to make her fatter 🙂

  3. It seems that you have been away for long time, any Jordanian guy will find this very offensive,regardless accepting and obeying the rules, in general they like to make a big loud objections 🙂

    I can’t deny that they should give their staff a medal or some thing, because depending on my humble knowledge of socialites … it’s all true 😀

    1. I am sure in addition to these guidelines they teach their staffs a lot about how to deal with people from different cultures. It is not easy.

  4. To be honest, I don`t think it works that way! I mean writing guidelines and getting them to be followed.

    I admire the work + logic behind it, but the way I see it is it`s all relative, probable, and hard to decide.

    If one sticks to a “rule” posted on a paper in dealings, chances that misunderstandingS r going to occur are high! Cultural differences are tricky. I`m sure that was on their mind when doing this but still if it serves as a guiding tool it might back fire.


    1. You may be right. And that is why we need to be more open to other cultures and also be more at ease when someone from a different culture does something that offend us without his knowledge.

  5. So how about this:

    – show patience when dealing with customers and tourists of all nationalities, not just Arabs or Indians.

    – Don’t boss anyone around! And don’t act hostile, you’re working in the service sector for God’s sake!

    – Avoid stereotypes, whether it’s drinking habits or anything else.

    – Avoid discussing wars, poverty, earthquakes or politics with tourists from all origins (mainly because they’re tourists and are here to enjoy their time not to discuss the end of the world.)

    – Smile to everyone, Chinese, Argentine or Norwegian! It’s not going to cost you anything.

    – Get your customers what they asked for (especially in restaurants) the French aren’t the only ones who like their meals delivered exactly how they ordered 😉

    – Don’t ask people you don’t know personal questions! Brazilian or not!

    And in general, be prepared for any exotic behavior from tourists, they’ll be gone in a few days.

    1. Learning and accommodating all these tips might be almost impossible. But the thing is what some people find rude could by acceptable by others.

  6. I actually think these tips are a good idea, and accurate for the cultures with which I am familiar. I also agree with Rand that they should be amalgated into general guidelines; and more cultural sensitivity training would be required, and is usually done in the service industry.

    It seems to me there is an attempt to share with Brits some features of other cultures relative to their own. That seems fair enough, and asking natives to self-identify is a very good methodology.

    A good example is pointing. Everyone I know from any culture has been taught as a child not to point at people. However, in Hong Kong it is also impolite to point out directions, a building, a sign etc., in case you line of pointing does or seems to include a person its path (highly likely in Hong Kong), so it is best to learn more descriptive ways of giving directions, and asking for them.

    A Canadian of Italian origin

    *the reasons that Canadians don’t want to be called American include: despite appearances, there are substantial cultural, societal and governmental differences between the 2 countries; we don’t want to be held accountable for their foreign policy; we think we are superior to them–it is one of the few things that give us pride and unity. 🙂

    1. Thanks for the new Hong Kong cultural related tip. It would be difficult for those who are weak in English or Mandarin.
      Been in the US for 8 years I became familiar with the Canadian vs. American identity 🙂

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