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08/15/2013

Foreign Office to British travelers: Uh, haven't you had enough?

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Choose your poison - wisely, says Britain's Foreign Office. (Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star)

British diplomats are really among the best in the world. They are - the ones I've met, anyway, and I've met more than a few - entertaining, gracious and very skilled, as Winston Churchill once said, in the art of telling you to go to hell in such a way that you want to ask for directions.

And the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is also top notch when it comes to keeping the Great British Public (and global media) informed about what their diplomats deal with on a day-to-day basis. 

On just one day this week, I received news releases on Gaza, Egypt, Mali, Nigeria and India. They were all Very Serious.

And then this arrived: "FCO reveals consequences of overindulging on holiday." I was delighted. One of my favourite missives is the Foreign Office's annual ridiculous-questions-we-get-asked-by-ridiculous-people ("Can you translate my tattoo?") and I hoped this was going to be more of the same.

Alas, no. The consequences, according to the FCO, are also Quite Serious: hospitalization, arrest, detention. Bummer!

"We're not telling people not to drink, but we do want people to be aware of the consequences of drinking to excess," Gavin Cook, the FCO's deputy head of consular assistance, said in the release. "Our message is have fun in the sun, but drink responsibly so you don't put yourself at risk."

Okey doke. If there's one thing British 16- to 24-year-olds on holiday abroad are known for, it's drinking responsibly.

According to the FCO's research - they surveyed over 500 young people - more than half of those who head abroad on vacation plan to have a drink or two, mainly because booze is cheaper away than it is on the Sceptred Isle. 

But the research also revealed that more than a quarter said they had done something they were ashamed of while drunk; 23 per cent had gone for a swim while intoxicated; and 11 per cent had put themselves in a vulnerable position with a stranger due to drink.

So, not funny. But it was a good reminder that diplomacy isn't simply protecting your country's interests abroad - it's also protecting your country's citizens when they travel abroad. And sometimes, it's from themselves.

Jennifer Quinn is a foreign affairs and investigative reporter at the Star. As a journalist with the Associated Press, based in London, she wrote extensively about British politics. Follow her on Twitter @JQStar.

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