No sex, no religion and please brush your teeth!

Belinda Goldsmith
August 6, 2008 - 1:20PM

Smiling and friendly, Beijing's shop assistants, taxi drivers, doormen, restaurant staff and even the police are falling over themselves to be polite and make a good impression on foreign visitors -- on official orders.

The government issued booklets in the lead-up to the Games, which open on Friday, drilling people on how to improve customer service, smarten their appearance, and learn some English to ensure foreign visitors leave Beijing with a good impression.

Taxi drivers were told to brush their teeth more often and not to snack or sleep in the cab, especially when on duty.

Police were told not to smoke, chew, or use "chilly words" in front of the public while other campaigns have urged Beijing's 17 million residents not to queue-jump, spit, or ask tourists about their age, wage, or talk about sex or religion.

The government has told people how to dress, warning against wearing white socks with black shoes or pyjamas in public, and telling women with thick ankles to wear dark stockings to hide their imperfections, according to international media reports.

It seems the advice has been taken to heart with Beijing workers pulling out all the stops for the 500,000 overseas visitors expected in Beijing for the Games, nodding and smiling if they know the answer or not.

"People are really trying hard and will speak English to you which is something they didn't do on my last visit here a few months ago," said Isabella Steinhuber, 27, a tourist from Wels, Austria, shopping in the bustling Wangfujing mall.

Most Chinese people working in service industries have adopted English names to make it easier for Westerners.

"We try to choose names that are simple so that people will remember us," said Liao Shi Jun, aka Ivan, who works in a store in a new shopping centre in the expatriate popular Sanlitun area.

Even soldiers standing to attention in the stifling heat under large umbrellas at the hundreds of security points across the city manage the occasional smile for visitors.

One colleague who got lost in a taxi one evening was amazed when the taxi driver stopped to ask directions and a woman jumped in the front seat and showed him the way, smiling all the time.

"People's manners and the organisation of the subway and buses is perfect but it's so sad to see they have demolished so many old parts of the city, people's homes, for the Olympics," said tourist Agnes Wintersberger from Cologne, Germany.

But despite all the advice, it has been impossible for the government to cover all cultural etiquette -- much to the amusement of some visitors, like me, an average sized woman with one eye always on the weighing scales.

"You X-large lady. Oh yes, definitely X-large," said a smiling stallholder at the Yashow Market in the Chaoyang District.