When quirky Brits abroad stump their diplomats

A customer calling from Nigeria wanted to speak to the rapper 50 Cent and asked the British consulate to share his phone number.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, U.K(Bloomberg)
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, U.K(Bloomberg)
Updated on Dec 29, 2019 01:43 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, London | By

Diplomacy is supposed to be the art of the possible, but there are times when members of the British diplomatic service are stumped by their countryfolk abroad, asking less-than-amusing questions: their missions fielded over 20,000 odd queries in 2019.

Since it is the time of the year when lists are compiled and the year is reviewed, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) on Saturday released its catalogue of ten of the more unusual questions they were asked.

The British high commission in New Delhi figured high in the list in 2018: a Briton had called to ask when will the counter open so that the foodie could come into Chanakyapuri and buy ‘vegetarian sausage’. The mission was ostensibly spared such queries in 2019.

But other missions fielded novel ones: A caller wanted to ask about getting British nationality for his son, who had recently been born overseas. He hoped the child would qualify for citizenship on the basis his parents were certain he’d been conceived in the UK.

Britons have passionate views on whether their missions abroad are helpful or not. In another instance, a couple in China who had engaged the services of a sperm donor wanted to know if the FCO staff could verify the nationality of the sperm as British.

The FCO said that its missions fielded 330,000 questions during the year, but ‘sadly’ more than 20,000 calls were from people ringing to intentionally waste time or be abusive to staff members.

A Foreign Office spokesperson took time off year-end revelries to say: “While we can’t hand out famous rappers’ phone numbers, collect your lost property or advise on Windsor Castle’s dress code, our dedicated consular staff are there to help Brits who run into trouble when they’re abroad”.

Among the ‘oddest inquiries’ Britons asked their missions were:

• A man rang to complain about the aeroplane food on the way to his holiday destination, asking to change him to a different airline for the return journey.

• A customer calling from Nigeria wanted to speak to the rapper 50 Cent and asked the British consulate to share his phone number.

• A woman emailed to ask if she could buy 30 sheets of A4 paper from the British consulate, as she couldn’t find any where she was in Texas.

• A caller rang to say they had left their headphones in their hotel room in France and asked if embassy staff could pop round and see if they were still there.

• A couple thinking of moving to Portugal contacted the British embassy to ask how removal companies got large items of furniture into small flats in Lisbon.

• A man rang to ask to provide a television for his friend who had been hospitalised in Australia because the one in his ward was broken.

• A woman rang from Qatar to ask how the mission staff could help deal with a make-up artist for her wedding as she wasn’t happy with the service she’d received.

• A woman calling from Sweden had been invited to an event at Windsor Castle and wanted advice on what to wear for it.


    Prasun Sonwalkar was Editor (UK & Europe), Hindustan Times. During more than three decades, he held senior positions on the Desk, besides reporting from India’s north-east and other states, including a decade covering politics from New Delhi. He has been reporting from UK and Europe since 1999.

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