UK Foreign Office’s Top 10 Weirdest Consular Calls — Bacon, Butlers and Spanish Nudists

Posted: 1:48 am ET
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We are a huge fan of the UKFCO’s annual report on consular requests from British citizens overseas.   We kept waiting for the State Department to release it own report.  (See UKFCO: Straight Talk on Consular Work, and Consuls Don’t Do Chicken Coops, All right? and British Foreign Service Tackles Bizarre Requests: Monkey, Tattoo, Online Love and More).

On April 7, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office released the top ten weirdest consular calls it received this past year.  Not quite as memorable as the listicle that the former Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs once cited when he gave a speech on the role of the British consular service:

I have to say that we are not the people to turn to:

  • if you can’t find your false teeth, 
  • if your sat nav is broken and you need directions, 
  • if you are unhappy with your plastic surgery
  • if your jam won’t set, if you are looking for a dog-minder while you are on holiday, 
  • if your livestock need checking on, 
  • if you would like advice about the weather, 
  • or if you want someone to throw a coin into the Trevi fountain for you because you forgot while you were on holiday and you want your marriage to succeed.
  • And our commitment to good relations with our neighbours does not, I am afraid, extend to translating ‘I love you’ into Hungarian, as we were asked to do by one love-struck British tourist. There are easier ways to find a translation.

The list below seems pretty tame:

UK Foreign Office’s Top 10 Weirdest Consular Calls — Bacon, Butlers and Spanish Nudists via fco.gov.uk.

Confused callers looked to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) for advice on bizarre issues ranging from where to buy English bacon in Europe, how to recruit a butler in Lebanon and how to avoid nudists in southern Spain, it has been revealed.

The FCO has released details of the ten weirdest consular calls it has received in the past year, as a reminder to the public that they should only look to use its services for genuine emergencies.

The calls included:

  • a man planning to move to Spain who was worried he would encounter nudists walking through the streets
  • a homesick expat asking where he could buy English bacon
  • a lady in Lebanon looking for help to recruit an English butler
  • a holidaymaker trying to find Travel Advice for a visit to Coventry
  • a European filmmaker looking for an English pensioner to play a part in his new film
  • a woman who was disappointed the British Embassy has not sent someone to give her a tour of St. Petersburg on her arrival in Russia
  • a British man asking for assistance to get illegal employment in Singapore
  • a mother asked for the contact details of a young British YouTuber, as her son was a fan of his Minecraft videos
  • a confused businessman looking for information on the construction of plug sockets
  • a man in South Korea asking what he could do with his old pound notes

Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister James Duddridge said:

Our consular staff are a helpful bunch and do an amazing job helping out Brits in trouble around the world – but it is important that people remember they are there to help with genuine emergencies and not as an alternative to directory enquiries.

Every minute they spend handling a call requesting advice on butlers or nudists is time taken away from dealing with life and death cases, so I urge the public to think before picking up the phone.

Latest FCO figures show that over the last year almost half a million calls were made to its consular service –which provides emergency help to Britons in trouble overseas.

The vast majority were from people with genuine requests and the FCO assisted with numerous cases, helping 3,250 Brits who were hospitalised, 4,770 who were arrested, and the families of 3,670 who died overseas. Almost 38,000 replacement travel documents were issued.

FCO staff are able to support Brits abroad in many ways – including arranging to visit Brits in hospital or in prison, advising on how to transfer money and helping those caught up in crisis situations. However, recent research* revealed that almost three quarters of Brits (74%) thought the FCO could get them out of jail if they were arrested, almost a quarter (22%) thought the FCO could arrange for them to get home if they lost their ticket and 15% presumed the FCO would lend them money if theirs was lost or stolen.

 

Related post:

How many spring breakers drink too much and fall off hotel balconies? #SpringBreakingBadly (April 1, 2016)

 

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British Foreign Service Tackles Bizarre Requests: Monkey, Tattoo, Online Love and More

In 2012, Brits overseas asked their Foreign Office help in erecting a new chicken coop at a garden in Greece, help in finding false teeth, where to look for a dog-minder, help checking on livestock, help with plastic surgery unhappiness, and so on and so forth.

See our post:  UKFCO: Straight Talk on Consular Work, and Consuls Don’t Do Chicken Coops, All right?

On May 16th, the UKFCO released some more unusual requests for 2012/2013:

Via the UKFCO:

Silencing a noisy cockerel, supplying Olympic tickets and providing contact details for Sir Paul McCartney’s wife were among the most unusual requests to British posts abroad in 2012/13, according to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). These are often good natured but can take valuable time away from helping those in genuine distress.

Over the last year, the FCO handled more than a million consular enquiries and supported some 52,135 British nationals in difficulty abroad.* However, our consular staff overseas continue to receive a number of enquiries that they simply cannot provide assistance for.
[…]
Head of the Contact Centre, Steve Jones, said:

Our aim is to help staff at posts concentrate on what is important but some of the enquiries we received from British nationals last year were bizarre to say the least – for example, one customer contacted us to ask if we could provide the name of the watch that the Royal Navy sailors wore between the years 1942-1955.

Other inquiries received by FCO staff include:

  • A man who required hospital treatment in Cambodia when a monkey dislodged a stone that hit him demanded help getting compensation and wanted assurance that it would not happen again
  • A man asked FCO staff in Rome to translate a phrase for a tattoo that he wanted
  • Consular staff in Beijing were asked to help a woman who had bought a pair of football boots that were ‘Made in China’ but were poor quality
  • A woman requested that consular staff in Tel Aviv order her husband to get fit and eat healthily so that they could have children
  • Consular staff in Kuala Lumpur were asked if the FCO could help pay to send their children to an International School
  • A man asked consular staff in Stockholm to check the credentials of a woman whom he had met online
  • A man asked the Consulate in Montreal for information to settle a £1,000 wager on the colour of the British passport
  • A number of our staff across the world have been asked for the best place to watch the football
  • A number of British Consulates have been asked to book hotels or to advise on where to watch the football

The examples listed above indicate that some people do not know how the FCO can (and cannot) help Brits abroad. Recent research shows that 78% of people wrongly think the FCO could get them out of jail if arrested, and nearly half of 16-24 year-olds do not know what an Embassy or Consulate does.

Read in full FCO: “No sir, we cannot translate your tattoo for you”.

Since we started paying attention, this is the second year that the FCO has released such a list.  The list is bizarre and funny but at least once a year, the FCO tries to educate the British public about consular work, and what the consular staff can/cannot do for its citizens overseas.   We’re still waiting for the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs to release its own list.

 

— DS

 

 

 

 

 

 

UKFCO: Straight Talk on Consular Work, and Consuls Don’t Do Chicken Coops, All right?

On April 4, 2012, William Hague, UK’s Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs gave a speech where he talked about the role of the British consular services:

Excerpts:

[…] I want to describe what we are doing in a vital area of the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but one which rarely receives so much attention: strengthening Britain’s consular diplomacy.
[…]
[L]ast year in Bangladesh, Foreign Office staff rescued four girls from forced marriage in a single day and returned them safely to Britain, including one girl who had been kept chained to her bed.

As these stories show, consular work is a very personal business.

It touches the lives of British citizens in difficult and sometimes extreme circumstances.

It is the only way most people come into contact with the Foreign Office, and it is one of our main responsibilities as a Department.
[…]
Britons make more than 55 million individual trips overseas every year, and at least 6 million of our nationals live abroad for some of or all of the time. In the space of a year, approximately 6,000 Britons get arrested, and at any one time more than 3,250 British nationals are in prison around the world. At least 10% of all the murders of Britons in the last two years took place overseas, and on average more than one hundred British nationals die abroad each week.

As you can imagine, this produces an immense demand for our services. In fact, just under two million people contact the Foreign Office for some form of consular assistance each year: that is more than 37,000 people a week.

When you are aware of these vast numbers, you can understand why it is that Embassies cannot pay your bills, give you money or make travel arrangements for you, and why we cannot arrange funerals or repatriate bodies. We try to look after everybody in the same way, and to be consistent in how we help people whether they are rich or poor, famous or unknown.

We also have to observe the law. That means we cannot help you enter a country if you do not have a valid passport or necessary visa. We cannot get you better treatment in hospital or prison than is given to local people, and we cannot get you out of prison. We cannot resolve your property or other legal disputes for you. We cannot override the local authorities, such as police investigating crimes. And we cannot give you legal advice: consular staff are not lawyers.

There are also cases where members of the public waste time and scarce resources with ludicrous requests.

It is not our job, for example, to book you restaurants while you are on holiday. This is obvious, you may think. But nonetheless it came as a surprise to the caller in Spain who was having difficulty finding somewhere to have Christmas lunch.

If like a man in Florida last year, you find ants in your holiday rental, we are not the people to ask for pest control advice.

If you are having difficulty erecting a new chicken coop in your garden in Greece as someone else was, I am afraid that we cannot help you.

Equally, I have to say that we are not the people to turn to

  • if you can’t find your false teeth,
  • if your sat nav is broken and you need directions,
  • if you are unhappy with your plastic surgery,
  • if your jam won’t set, if you are looking for a dog-minder while you are on holiday,
  • if your livestock need checking on,
  • if you would like advice about the weather,
  • or if you want someone to throw a coin into the Trevi fountain for you because you forgot while you were on holiday and you want your marriage to succeed.
  • And our commitment to good relations with our neighbours does not, I am afraid, extend to translating ‘I love you’ into Hungarian, as we were asked to do by one love-struck British tourist. There are easier ways to find a translation.

These are a just a few examples of bizarre demands that get put to our staff overseas.

Criticism that is sometimes levelled against us should be viewed in that light. An effective consular service does not mean a nanny state.

So we ask British nationals to be responsible, to be self-reliant and to take sensible precautions.

Bullets and italics added above for emphasis.  Read the full text here.

Sounds like a reasonable request, unless you’re the one who has to erect the chicken coop. Tee-hee!

We think Secretary Hague did a good job explaining the consular work of his FCO staff.  That’s important as it helps the public manage their expectations of the Service. We can’t ever remember a U.S. Secretary of State trying to school the American public on what the embassy can/cannot do for them overseas. No wonder, they mostly think our folks are in perpetual happy hour when in fact, a lot of our consular folks around the world do not get home at 5 o’clock. We have over 260 posts overseas, and we can assure you that somewhere in the world, at any given night, a consular officer is awake assisting an American in distress. Sometimes, like clock work, our compatriots overseas need assistance at 4:45 pm on Friday afternoons. Or a few might decide to leave abusive foreign spouses or partners at midnight on a weekend, several weekends a year. Many times, they have to hold the hands of duty officers who have never assisted an American in distress before, or get their ears burn when a duty officer give their home phone numbers to an irate American on the phone. They have to deal not just with visa applicants, but also victims of crimes, death, and notification of next of kin, morgue visit, and things like that.

We think that the consular career track is probably the most under appreciated cone in the Foreign Service.  The members of the American public who have the misfortune to need their assistance are often unhappy about what services are afforded them. “You will hear from my congressman!” is a common enough threat within embassy walls ranging in reasons from bad prison food, crowded jail cell, some gentleman’s inability to take his/her spouse back to the United States asap, etc. Those whose problems overseas are happily resolved, are too happy to leave and be back in the United States that they often times do not bother to tell their congressional representatives how our embassy helped them overseas.

Of course, we often hear high level officials talk about the protection of Americans overseas as one of the most important function of the State Department when they go before Congress for budget hearings. But when we look at the annual promotion statistics of the Foreign Service, we’re still seeing officers who do one of the most important function of the agency being beaten promotion wise and in ambassadorial appointments by the jaw-jaw guys. Which is curious and all given that it is an important function ….