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08/29/2013

Foreign Office to traveling Britons: Beware. Away is NOT like home

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When in Venice, do not feed the pigeons. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Another week, another awesome news release from Britain's ever-reliable Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The headline: "Brits caught out by unusual laws and customs." Among the unusual laws and customs which have caught Brits out, according to the FCO: bingo-playing, pigeon-feeding, monument-sitting.

"These are just some of the reasons why many people have found themselves faced with hefty fines or in some cases arrested or detained abroad," the FCO release warned.

"Every year Brits are caught out by local laws and customs which are commonplace in the U.K., some of which carry serious consequences. These could easily be avoided by researching travel destinations in advance and taking note of updates and warnings issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office."

It is very good advice. But it's also another wonderful missive from the crack team at the FCO, who, earlier this month, reminded Brits not to get too loaded when on holiday - and who also put out an annual roundup of utterly mad queries their consular staff is asked by clueless travelers. 

(It's almost as if the FCO sensed I could use a midweek giggle and crafted this for my pleasure. Thank you, FCO!)

Alongside the amusing reminders not to feed pigeons in Venice (you'll get fined) or chew gum on public transportation in Singapore (also a fine) are Serious warnings: drugs are illegal in the Netherlands, despite what one might have heard, and taking pictures of military installations in Saudi Arabia is prohibited. Both could result in a hapless visitor enjoying the hospitality of a jail cell. 

"Consular staff often find that travellers are unaware that local laws apply to them and many British nationals think of their British passport as a ‘get out of jail free’ card," said Charles Hay, the FCO's director of Consular Services. "While consular staff will always try to assist British nationals who find themselves in difficulty abroad, we can’t interfere in another country’s legal processes."

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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