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The strange consular requests of Brits abroad

Jessica Jones · 27 Feb 2015, 13:55

Published: 27 Feb 2015 13:55 GMT+01:00

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Over 14 million British tourists holidayed in Spain in 2014, so it’s no surprise some of them needed some consular assistance during their stay.

But not all requests made to the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) involved lost passports and unexpected injuries. 

The FCO is launching a new awareness campaign to encourage people to think twice before calling for consular assistance and has released some of the strangest cries for help they received in 2014.

Last year, the FCO received 365,000 phone calls and while the majority were genuine calls for assistance, thousands related to issues the FCO could not assist with - many of them just downright bizarre.

Some of the most unusual calls included a British woman asking the consulate in Albania how to find out if her son’s fiancée was already married and a another caller asking for advice on how to treat a cat’s infected paw.

There was also the man who called the Embassy in Mexico City and insisted that they drive out to the airport to check whether he had left his mobile phone on the plane.

"It is important for our FCO consular staff to be able to focus on our most vulnerable customers, such as victims of crime," said FCO minister, David Lidington, in a statement.

"We will always try to help where we can but there are limits to what we can do, so it’s important for people to be aware of how we can help."

Perhaps the caller in Brussels who asked for the name of a Scottish chef who could make haggis for a Burns Night event should have thought twice and consulted a catering company instead.

And the woman in Italy who called to enquire how she could synchronize her TV antenna to receive English channels might have been better off calling someone more technical.

"The role of the FCO Contact Centres is to help enable consular staff to focus on what is important and to concentrate on those in need, but we continue to receive misdirected enquiries from British nationals," said Head of the FCO’s Global Contact Centres, Meg Williams.

"In 2014, 38 percent of calls we received were not related to consular support at all, for example one man asked us to help find his son’s missing suitcase, which had been lost by a British airliner," she added.

Recent research  revealed that the number of people who have knowledge of what embassies and consulates do has dropped to the lowest in three years among young people (aged 16-24), from 62 percent in 2011 to 55 percent in 2014.

Story continues below…

So next time the caller wants help setting up 'British-style' hanging baskets at a trade show because the professional gardener hired for the purpose has stage fright, she might want to think about calling someone other than the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

"Spain has one of the largest consular networks in the world with consulates in Alicante, Barcelona, Ibiza, Las Palmas, Málaga, Palma de Mallorca and Tenerife. These offices deal with a wide range of issues in a country that receives around 13 million British visitors a year and where an estimated 800,000 Britons live for all or part of the year," says the website of the British Embassy in Madrid.

A total of 84,000 British citizens required genuine assistance from British Consulates last year around the world, ranging from medical and illness assistance, to help with arrests and lost property. 

Spanish city Malaga topped the pile on the highest number of Britons requiring assistance with drug-related offences, with around 50 cases recorded.

Malaga, Tenerife, Palma and Alicante were all in the top five consulates on the list of where hospital treatment was needed, behind only Bangkok.
Strangests requests received by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 2014
A caller asking for help with setting up ‘British-style’ hanging baskets at a trade show because the professional gardener hired for the purpose had stage fright.
A British woman asking the consulate in Albania how to find out if her son’s fiancée was already married.
A caller asking for advice on how to treat a cat’s infected paw. 
A man called requesting that staff at the Embassy in Mexico City go to the airport to check whether he had left his mobile phone on a plane.
A woman in Italy calling to enquire how she could synchronise her TV antenna to receive English channels.
An event coordinator in Brussels asking for the name of a Scottish chef based in the country who could make Haggis for a Burns Night event. 

For more news from Spain, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Jessica Jones (jessica.jones@thelocal.com)

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