The ignorance of the Great British tourist

Martin Belam  by Martin Belam, 19 January 2005

Experience has taught me never to under-estimate the ignorance of the British abroad, but this hit new heights on my flight over to Cyprus last week. Whilst we were busy flying over a mountainous chunk of central Europe, the otherwise sane-looking twentysomething bloke behind me turned to his partner and uttered the immortal line:

"Is that the Grand Canyon?"

*sigh*

Still people can only absorb the information available to them. We had squeezed at the last minute onto some spare capacity on a Thomas Cook charter flight, and witnessed a great example of our celebrity driven British culture at work. Most airlines now carry safety instructions and advice on how to avoid DVT, but only on this flight have I experienced the concept that to get anyone to notice it, it has to feature the Doctor from ITV's This Morning and be sponsored by The Sun.

That was only mildly irritating compared to the film shown as you descend to land - which was sort of a beginners-guide-to-being-British-abroad. It mixed sensible advice - "Swimming & Alcohol Don't Mix" - with the cautious - "Don't drink the water", "Don't hire mopeds" - and the ridiculous "If you don't like spicy food at home, you are unlikely to enjoy the local delicacies. Stick to foods you know and trust". I half-expected Harry Enfield's Chomondley-Warner creation to appear and end the film with the advice that "Johnny Foreigner can be a cunning fellow. Keep your hands on your wallet, and your wife".

It is also amazing how a telling use of language can give away so much about a corporate attitude. On both the outbound and inbound legs of my journey the cabin crew read out a prepared statement as they held a charitable collection for victims of the tsunami in Asia. It included the line:

"Any foreign currency you give will be turned into real money"

...because, of course, Pounds Sterling is the only real money.

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