Consular work overseas and what it tells us about ourselves
Hat-tip to Lorna Lloyd of Keele University for drawing attention to some remarkable statistics of work done by British consuls overseas in various countries on a scale I wouldn't have thought possible: full facts and figures, issued by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, here.
Several remarkable facts and figures jump out at you. To quote the FCO website,
According to the most accurate figures available, the period April 2005 – March 2006 saw 1,368 Britons arrested in the USA; 955 hospitalised in Greece; 376 British citizens die in France and 6,078 lose their passports in Spain.
The figures are astonishing, and shaming. Quite apart from the huge numbers of arrests, hospitalisations, etc., of British citizens overseas, there are some amazing differences between countries visited — e.g. 1,549 arrests in Spain in the last financial year, out of nearly 14 million British visitors (14 million!), or 0.0111 per cent, compared with just 108 arrests in France out of nearly 11 million British visitors in the same period (0.00098 per cent). The figure for US arrests is even more extraordinary: out of only just over 3 million visitors, 1,368 were arrested, a whopping 0.0456 per cent. Moral: don't make jokes about Dubbya or the "war on terror" while you wait in the queue for immigration at JFK.
Various explanations for the high number of Britons dying in Spain – 1,325 out of nearly 14 million – spring to mind, especially if you have ever watched the television programme about "Club 18-30" behaviour by Brits in Spanish sea-side resorts dedicated to oceanic quantities of strong booze, mountains of fish and chips and chicken tikka massala, and (apparently) lavish amounts of sex, all for youngish visitors from the UK.
I'm bewildered, though, by the astronomical numbers of British people who lose their passports while abroad: in the relevant year (FY 2005-06), lost British passports numbered 6,078 in Spain, 3,064 in the USA, 1,236 in Germany and 2,023 in Australia. Surely these can't all have been sold to would-be illegal immigrants?
How and why nearly a thousand Brits got themselves sent to hospital in Greece in a single year is also a bit of a mystery. (This was long before the current plague of forest fires.) Perhaps something nasty in the moussaka ["layers of ground (minced) lamb or red meat, sliced eggplant and tomato, topped with a white sauce and baked", according to Wikipedia]? Or might it be the retsina? Best, perhaps, stick to fish and chips or chicken tikka massala washed down with Sainsburys Basic Sparkling Bottled Tap Water.
The FCO observes that –
…the Czech Republic features as one of the countries where most consular assistance is required with a disproportionate number of lost passports, arrests and hospitalisations. This is likely to be due to the massive influx of hen and stag parties to Prague.
India, Thailand and Australia also appear in the top ten countries where Britons required consular assistance – perhaps suggesting that although Brits are getting more adventurous with their travels, they are not doing enough preparation before they go. The high figures in India might well be a result of many British Asians visiting family members and foregoing usual travel preparations such as vaccinations or travel insurance.
So it seems that as a nation we fail dismally to make proper preparations for our innumerable visits to Abroad, and we behave abysmally when we get there. Considering that we have such a long history of interaction with foreign parts, this seems rather sad.