Brits behaving badly…

The news these days seems to be full of British people misbehaving abroad. Sure, you don’t expect the headlines to be full of stuff about people quietly going about their business – and the press do like to sensationalise things – but a fair few Brits do seem to get into trouble when they venture overseas.

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office have just issued its third British Behaviour Abroad annual report, covering the period from April 2006 to March 2007. There seems to have been a slight rise in the number of Britons abroad needing serious consular assistance (arrests, hospitalisations, deaths and reported rapes) compared to the previous 12 months.

In Spain, the biggest destination for travelling Brits (17 million of them during the period) and also the country with the second highest number of British residents, the number of arrests was up by one-third, at 2,032. This compares with France, the No.2 destination for travellers, where the number of arrests was just 153 (although the increase was larger, at 42%). Presumably it’s a different kind of traveller heading to France – many of them, perhaps, on day trips across the Channel to stock up on cheap fags and booze.

So what underlies the trouble? In many cases, it seems, it’s alcohol-induced. Certainly it seems to be the “club” destinations that throw up the highest proportion of arrests. Although Spain has the highest number of arrests for the period, Cyprus has the highest proportion of arrests per thousand visits. Compare them with, for instance, Italy – roughly 20% of the number of visits that Spain attracted, but only 1.5% of the arrests!

What many of these party animals may not realise is that if they have an accident while they’re drunk, it could cost them dear. Many travel insurance policies specifically exclude accidents which happen while the policyholder’s drunk. Overdrinking could cost them dear in other ways, too. For all the publicity that Rohypnol gets, the most widely used drug in drug-and-rape cases is still alcohol. And the top three countries for cases of rape of a British citizen abroad are Spain, Greece and Turkey.

The FCO figures don’t distinguish between Britons living overseas and those merely travelling abroad, so it’s hard to tell how many arrests are of expats. But inevitably there are a few among them; not just young people, either. Gary Glitter’s imprisonment in Vietnam, and his release and deportation this week at the end of his sentence, have been headline news, and we’ve covered the issue of child sex tourism in a previous article. But, also within the last week, the UK press has reported two cases where British husbands have been charged with murdering or attempting to murder their wives (also British) on the Spanish Costas. In both cases, the married expat couple were aged around 60.

These were particularly grisly cases. But a more publicised case of Brits behaving badly overseas happened recently in Dubai, where a couple of unmarried British were charged last month with indecency in a public place, consuming alcohol and having an illicit affair. Both face prison sentences. While the British press were all over the case, the local expat community seem to be largely blasé about it. Many of those interviewed by the media took the attitude that the two were stupid to flout the local laws so publicly and should hardly be surprised if they were dealt with severely. (Apparently the couple had been given a discreet warning by police first, but disregarded it.)

Still, it’s not all bad news, despite the inevitable “Britain’s going to the dogs” stories in the press. None of the newspapers seems to have picked up on the surprising, if welcome, fact that the number of arrests in Germany actually went down compared to the previous year – despite the 2006 World Cup being staged in Germany during that period. Evidence, perhaps, that close liaison between British and German police before and during the World Cup helped prevent hooligans wrecking the event and avoided overly heavy-handed policing of the merely high-spirited. Let’s hope so, anyway.

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About Dave

Dave was bitten by the expat bug at the age of 13 when he went to live in Germany. Since leaving school at the age of 30 (with a doctorate in something so obscure even he can't remember what it's about) he's also lived in Bangladesh, India and Thailand, and travelled to most European countries (including several that don't exist any more, though he denies responsibility), as well as Barbados, South Korea, St Vincent, UAE, Laos, and many more.

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