WHEN it comes to dealing with cultural differences most people are all too aware of the obvious – don’t mention the war.
But while Basil Fawlty may act as a reminder of this most famous faux pas, in an ever more mutlicutural world there are a lot more pitfalls to be aware of.
Praising people from Russia is frowned upon, pointing the bottom of your shoes at Chinese visitors is bad luck and giving Arab customers change with the left hand is downright offensive.
Stevenson College has teamed up with Harvey Nichols to deliver lessons in Russian, Chinese and Arabic culture in a bid to make the increasing number of international visitors feel more at home in Edinburgh.
The course is aimed at those in the retail, tourism and hospitality industries, who will get the chance to learn basic phrases as well as gain insight into humour and acceptable body language.
Staff from Harvey Nichols and Edinburgh jeweller Hamilton & Inches will take part in the sessions, the first of which begins on May 15.
Sarah Donno, senior specialist English lecturer at Stevenson, will be running the eight-week programme.
She said: “With events such as the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup taking place in Scotland in 2014, we are going to see even more tourists flocking to the Capital. It’s therefore vital that those working in customer-facing businesses know appropriate customs and traditions from countries around the globe.
“The sessions will cover how to use gesture and body language in the right way.”
The sessions will include visits from Chinese, Russian and Arabic specialists, as well as videos featuring overseas visitors giving their views on service in the city.
Recent Visit Scotland figures show overseas visitors make around 1.34 million trips to Edinburgh each year and spend £538 million.
Visits to the UK from the United Arab Emirates increased by 68 per cent in the five years to 2009 and are continuing to grow. Russian outbound travel is also one of the fastest growing markets in the world, with Visit Britain predicting trips to the UK will rise by 24 per cent by 2014. And China has become the fifth largest market in the world in terms of money spent on international travel.
Debbie McKernan, jewellery manager and buyer at Hamilton & Inches, and one of three employees from the company set to take part in the sessions, said it was important to be aware of tourists’ cultural differences.
She said: “We are getting a huge amount of foreign people coming through the door, and one has to be aware of how to treat each client differently.”
Cultural dos and don’ts
China: Traditionally Chinese people prefer to have items presented to them with both hands – it shows that you are genuine. Don’t point the bottom of your shoes/feet at someone – it’s considered bad luck.
Russia: Do shake hands firmly when greeting people from Russia and making direct eye contact will go down well. Don’t praise or reward anyone in public as it may be viewed with suspicion.
Arab nations: For some Arab nations, it is not appropriate to look women in the eye. Do give change back with the right hand, not the left.