British Consulates: Stop with the dumb questions

LONDON—One British man rang his consulate after being dumped by a dominatrix abroad, while another caller asked what to do about ants in his Florida holiday villa.

It’s just some of the many bizarre requests straining the U.K.’s Foreign Office staff.

“We’re not directory inquiries,” Britain’s exasperated Foreign Office proclaimed in a statement Thursday.

Other calls included a man who asked the consulate for advice on prime fishing spots in Greece, another who asked what restaurants might not be full for the holidays and a third who wanted to know what size shoe Prince Charles wears. That caller apparently wanted to send the heir to the throne a special gift, even though Charles is known to get his shoes custom-made by John Lobb, one of the world’s most exclusive shoemakers.

Another British man rang the consulate in Sydney to find out what clothes he should pack for his holiday and a man in Dubai asked consular officials to meet his dog on arrival at customs since he was on holiday when the dog was to land.

“We wanted to draw attention to things that we actually can help with,” Charles Hay, director of consular services at the Foreign Office, told The Associated Press. “One way of doing that is to detail some of the other requests we get and discourage callers from making these types of requests.”

More than 1 million Britons live abroad and consular officials handle some 1.4 million calls each year, Hay said.

The Foreign Office had to set up a call center in the Spanish city of Malaga this year to cope with the volume of non-consular inquiries received by embassies and consulates in Spain, Portugal, Italy and Andorra. The center filters calls so consular staff can focus on important requests.

“A lot of our time was being taken up with queries that we could not assist with,” said Maria Leng, a consular official in Tenerife. “We can issue emergency travel documents or visit you in hospital but we can’t pick you up from the airport or make private arrangements.”

Like most embassies or consulates, Foreign Office staff can help issue travel documents, assist if citizens become victims of crime or give alerts about developing situations such as the nuclear disaster in Japan or the earthquake in Haiti.

But weather forecasts, translation services and other nonessential requests are out of their remit.


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