Chinese students balance books on their heads during an etiquette training class
Etiquette experts have long advised hosts to avoid discussing politics and religion. But salaries, love lives and health are also off limits during the Olympics, as Beijing's courtesy campaign reaches its final stages.
For three years or more, officials have been training residents to be on their best behaviour, launching drives against spitting, smoking and swearing and encouraging locals to form orderly queues.
The latest set of instructions is displayed on "Eight don't asks" posters in Dongcheng, a central district of Beijing. They urge residents who meet foreigners to avoid questions on their age, salary, love life, health, income, political views, religious beliefs or personal experiences.
"It is normal for Chinese to ask people they just met such questions, but foreigners respond negatively," said Wang Zhaoqian, a spokeswoman for the Beijing municipal government.
"By educating locals, we hope that they will become more socially sensitive when communicating with visitors."
Another poster warns against using phrases such as "it's up there" when talking to anyone visually impaired, or "it's behind you" to disabled athletes. It recommends comments such as: "You are really great."
Deference to foreign sensitivities is such that volunteers have even been warned against using rap music as the ringtone on their mobile phones lest they offend visitors, China Daily reported.
Officials also warned today that they would not tolerate "obscene, sexual, superstitious or base" adverts over the Olympic period, saying they could affect the national image. Adverts for cigarettes and products that claim to improve sexual performance are off limits.
The etiquette campaign appears to have had some success: a "civic index" created by Renmin University, which measures the manners, goodwill and friendliness of residents, rose from 65.21 in 2005 to 73.4 last year. The target for the games is 80.
Beijingers have also been encouraged to make foreigners feel at home by learning 1,000 English phrases printed in the daily paper. With 16 days to go, this morning's offering, the 984th, read: "Tonight I think I'd like Sichuan food. I prefer the taste."
With such attention to detail, it is perhaps unsurprising that 96% of the Chinese expect the games to be a success, according to a survey published by the Pew Global Attitudes Project this week. Almost as many - 93% - thought they would improve the country's image worldwide, while 90% of Beijingers said the games were important to them.
But Olympics fatigue appeared to be creeping in, with 46% of the city's residents saying the event was receiving more attention than it should. Reuters reported that new slang has emerged to describe such weariness. "Biyun" usually means contraception, or avoiding pregnancy, but the same pronunciation is now being used to mean avoiding the games, as "aoyun" means "Olympics".
NVDL: The Koreans are similar, asking you straight off the bat whether you are single or not, how many children you have, and assessing your financial prospects. They are also very quick to tell you whether they find you attractive.