By DAVID STRINGER, Associated Press
LONDON (AP) — Troublesome tourists bombard British embassies with bizarre requests for help — seeking assistance booking restaurants, finding directions or making romantic advances toward locals, Foreign Secretary William Hague said Wednesday.
Announcing plans to bolster the response by diplomats to emergencies in other countries, Hague disclosed details of the wild demands made to embassies by traveling Britons.
A tourist in the United States called diplomats last year after he discovered ants in his Florida rental home, while a visitor to Spain requested help finding a suitable spot for Christmas lunch.
"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 looking for a dog-minder while you are on holiday," Hague said, in a speech at Britain's Foreign Office.
He said a visitor to Greece had requested assistance erecting a chicken coop, while an anxious Briton urged consular staff in Italy to throw a coin into Rome's famous Trevi Fountain on his behalf, after forgetting to do so during a holiday.
According to tradition, tossing a coin into the waters guarantees a swift return to the Eternal City.
"Our commitment to good relations with our neighbors 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," Hague said.
He warned that some tourists risked wasting "time and scarce resources with ludicrous requests."
Hague announced plans to open a new crisis center to enable Britain's government to better handle emergencies overseas, to train more staff to respond and to set up 24-hour phone lines to offer advice to stranded British travelers and their families.
Britain faced criticism during the Libya crisis last year over its chaotic attempts to evacuate U.K. citizens.
"This will be our approach — maintaining and extending our diplomatic network so that we are in the right places to help British nationals, increasing our capacity to respond to crises and our accessibility to the public," Hague said.
Hague has announced plans to send extra diplomats to China and India, new ambassadors to Kyrgyzstan and South Sudan and to reopen posts in Madagascar, El Salvador and Somalia.
The country also plans to scale back almost all of its activities in Europe outside European capitals, meaning many staff based in cities including Munich, Milan and Barcelona will be deployed elsewhere.
"Changing customer demands and the opportunities of new technology mean we no longer need large established consulate offices in, for example, Florence and Venice," Hague said.