Great Britain - Not That Great Anymore

by Ann Samuel on Aug 15 2007 11:55 AM

Gordon Brown’s government admits that it is faced with a "culture of drunkenness that is out of control".

Higher taxes on alcohol, and a review of 24-hour pub opening, introduced just two years ago, are among the measures being considered to counter what has been described as an "alcohol epidemic".

"In our culture getting drunk is seen as an exciting and status thing to do. We need to try to get away from that," said Liam Donaldson, the government's chief medical officer.

Unlike British youngsters, who often drank even before they went out to pubs and clubs, French teenagers had told him they saw "no point in going out and getting sick", Donaldson, himself a doctor, said in a recent newspaper interview.

But if the problem is bad at home in Britain, where drunken hooligans have turned town centres into no-go areas and hospitals are overwhelmed by alcohol-related admissions, it is magnified when Britons travel abroad.

Surveys have confirmed, time after time, that Britons are the world's "worst tourists" on account of their drunkenness, loud behaviour and "cultural arrogance" when it comes to their ignorance of the host countries' local tongue.

A recent study, Britons Abroad - Great Race or Disgrace, showed that more than 90 percent of respondents believed that Britons "let themselves down as a nation" when they travel.

While drunken behaviour in the resort or on the aeroplane was the most common form of disgrace, public sexual antics, playing loud music on the beach or fighting over sun beds were also listed.

"There is a definite feeling that we let ourselves down in a holiday environment where only friends and relatives know us, acting in ways we wouldn't dream of doing back home," said Andrew Stevens, director of travel researchers Carrentals.

However, the British government, alarmed by the harm done to its reputation by the export of bad manners, has recently stepped up efforts across embassies in Europe to persuade tourists to act responsibly when abroad.

For the first time last year, the Foreign Office exposed the extent of British bad behaviour in a report released in August 2006.

It showed that between April 2004 and March 2005, a total of 1,663 Britons were arrested in Spain, 1,460 in the US and 170 in Greece.

In the period surveyed, Britons lost 4,774 passports in Spain, 1,370 in the US, 1,273 in Germany, 983 in Italy and hundreds more in other countries.

More than 60 percent of travellers had failed to take the precaution of making a photocopy of their passport before going on holiday.

The Foreign Office report said binge drinking was behind much of the trouble, and it hoped that by releasing the figures people would become "more aware of the environment around them" when on holiday.

"Many arrests are due to behaviour caused by excessive drinking. Travellers should know their limit and try not to drink more than at home," it concluded.

The report showed that 41 percent of the 3,000 Britons surveyed admitted to drinking "much more" on holiday than they would at home.

It also estimated that 70 percent of pre-wedding "hen and stag nights" were now taking place abroad, increasing the number of drunken stag-night revellers who turn to British embassies for help with replacing lost passports or tracking down missing companions.

Low-cost flights and the growing popularity of hedonistic holidays in eastern European capitals, as well as the Mediterranean, had led to a sharp increase in party-goers turning to embassies for help.

As a result, those seeking help could soon be asked to pay an hourly charge of more than 80 pounds ($160) for the use of consular services, according to Edward Leigh, a conservative member of parliament who compiled a separate report on the problem of unruly British tourists.

"Consular staff increasingly have to deal with the appalling results of British tourists carousing abroad," said Leigh.

"Where our nationals have landed themselves in trouble as a result of their own irresponsibility, the government should not hesitate to charge them for its services," he added.