Posted on August 11, 2010

Don’t Mention the War: The 1846-48 War That Is

David Wilkes, Daily Mail (London), August 11, 2010

For Basil Fawlty, it would have been the final straw. Britain’s most hopeless hotelier, who failed so miserably to avoid mentioning the war to his German guests, would have apoplexy confronted by the latest demands of tourism chiefs.

A catalogue of obscure and demanding dos and don’ts to be observed when dealing with foreign visitors is issued to the hopitality industry today by VisitBritain, the national tourism agency.

As far as war is concerned, it’s the Mexicans that they should avoid raising the subject with–in this case, the bloody 1846-48 conflict with the U.S.

You should never pour wine back-handed for an Argentinian, the guide says, as this indicates hostility.

Similarly, people from Hong Kong often consider winking to be rude rather than friendly or flirtatious.

VisitBritain hopes workers, from cab drivers to hotel managers, will master the cultural tips in time for the 2012 Olympics to ensure overseas visitors receive the warmest possible welcome–and unfortunate misunderstandings that could cause offence are avoided.

The guide, Delivering a First Class Welcome, was written by natives of the countries featured who work for VisitBritain. But it doesn’t mention the war in its section on German tourists.

Instead, it advises that they ‘love “insider information” such as tips on events, pubs, restaurants. . . . things that aren’t necessarily found in a travel guide’.

Britain comes 14th out of 50 in the Nation Brands Index for the quality of welcome would-be visitors believe they will get.

Sandie Dawe, VisitBritain’s chief executive, said: ‘Overseas visitors spend more than £16billion 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.’

Fawlty, the Torquay hotelier played by John Cleese in Fawlty Towers, tells his staff ‘Don’t mention the war’ when a group of Germans come to stay. But he then takes their order as ‘two egg mayonnaise, a prawn Goebbels, a Hermann Goering and four Colditz salads’.


Your Checklist of Behaviour Likely to Offend a Foreigner

The advice to those in the hospitality industry includes:


It is best not to discuss poverty, illegal immigrants, earthquakes or the Mexican-American war of 1846-48. The U.S. had annexed Texas, which Mexico considered part of its territory. Mexico lost.


Avoid winking–it is often considered rude. Pointing with an index finger is not advisable as this is generally used only for animals. Point with your hand open.


Avoid physical contact when first meeting someone. Be tolerant if Indians at first seem impolite, noisy and impatient. This is partly the result of living in chaotic cities and environments.


Don’t snap your fingers as it could be interpreted as impolite.


Pouring wine backwards into a glass indicates hostility. Don’t be offended by Argentinian humour, which may mildly attack your clothing or weight.


Avoid saying ‘thank you’ to a compliment. Instead, politely deny it to show humility. If you compliment a Chinese person, expect a denial.


A smiling Japanese person is not necessarily happy. They tend to smile when angry, embarrassed, sad or disappointed.


Arabs are not used to being told what to do. Visitors from the UAE can take great offence if you appear bossy. They appreciate being looked after by staff who understand Arab culture.


Do not be alarmed if South Africans say they were held up by ‘robots’–to them it means traffic lights. Don’t place your thumb between your forefinger and second finger, as it’s seen as obscene.


Don’t ask a Brazilian personal questions, especially about age, salary or marriage. And don’t talk about Argentina–it’s Brazil’s fiercest sporting rival, especially in football.


When accepting thanks Koreans will typically say ‘No, no’. This means ‘You are welcome’.