Modern Etiquette: Best of Britain for Olympic visitors

Mon Jul 16, 2012 10:35am EDT
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(Jo Bryant is an etiquette advisor and editor at Debrett's, the UK authority on etiquette and modern manners ( Any opinions expressed are her own. Debrett's has a publishing heritage dating back over two centuries with a contemporary range of publications including "A-Z of Modern Manners", "Etiquette for Girls" and "Guide for the Modern Gentleman".)

By Jo Bryant

LONDON (Reuters) - With the Olympics just days away, London is braced for extreme excitement, drama and unprecedented numbers of tourists. Aside from the sporting spectacle, visitors experience will be enhanced if they embrace all the customs, quirks and idiosyncrasies that define the British way of life. Here's a selection of the best of Britishness: 1. Greetings

Britain is still a comparatively non-tactile society and, like much of the world, a firm handshake, using the right hand, is the common form of face-to-face greeting for most social situations. Handshakes are brief, lasting just a few seconds, and should be accompanied with direct eye contact. Do not complicate the greeting with other forms of touching - hands on the back, double-handed handshakes etc.

Social kissing is, however, becoming increasingly popular in Britain, but it is by no means an accepted norm. As a general rule, don't kiss colleagues or people you don't know. Do kiss close friends. Usually it's right cheek first, but prepare to change direction at the last minute, and generally opt for just one kiss. Just holding cheek against cheek feels insincere, but there is a fine line between an acceptable peck and an overly affectionate smacker. 2. Introductions

The traditional British greeting on introduction is 'How do you do?'. The appropriate response - however strange it may seem - is to reiterate the phrase 'How do you do?'. In situations where this exchange may seem too formal, a friendly 'Hello' will usually do. At an even more informal level, if someone says 'Hi, how are you?' the response should be positive and upbeat: 'Fine thanks, and you?'.

If you are introducing other people, there are a few rules to be observed. Men should be introduced to women, juniors to elders. Introduce individuals to the group first and then the group to the individual. Unless the occasion is formal there's no need to mention surnames. 3. Pubs

No visit would be complete without having a drink at a traditional British boozer. Drinks are bought directly from the bar - there is never table service unless you are eating - and tipping is not necessary. Don't hog a space at the bar, blocking the way for other punters. If a group of you are drinking together it is usual for people to take it in turns to buy a round. Don't opt out of rounds, or hang back; you shouldn't have to be asked. 4. Queuing

Where other nationalities mass frenziedly, the British queue. In fact, grumbling in a queue is one of the great British joys and queue-barging is the worst solecism a foreigner can commit; even the reticent English will feel justified in sharply pointing out the back of the line to any errant queue-jumpers. If in doubt, it's always a good idea to ask "is this the back of the queue?" and avoid giving offence. 5. Saying Sorry   Continued...