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“Is this the embassy? Where’s the best place to buy some new shoes?”

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Advice on where to buy a particular brand of shoes in Italy is just one of the bizarre requests British holidaymakers have recently been making to embassies across the world. Other enquiries revealed by the Foreign Office included a jam-maker asking what ratio of fruit-to-sugar he should use, and a woman seeking help after becoming unhappy at the size of her surgically-enhanced breasts.   

While these tales may make us chuckle, it is worth remembering the more serious issue that they bring to light. The Foreign Office have been prompted into reminding tourists that consular staff are emplyed only to help British citizens in time of serious difficulty – when a national has been involved in an accident, say, or when a Briton has lost his or her passport.

These reports of such unncessary requests echo previous stories of frivolous 999 calls made to police. In December last year, a woman called the emergency services to complain she was unable to get through to Strictly Come Dancing to vote for Tom Chambers in the final. Equally frustrated was a man who complained staff at a pizza shop had put mushrooms on his pizza without being asked, and a chap who dialled 999 to ask what his mobile number was. Again on a serious note, the police revealed these details in order to remind the public not to call emergency numbers for ridiculous reasons.

It’s quite unbelievable that we live in a world where we need telling such things – can the average human being now not do anything unassisted? Perhaps the advice issued by government officials last year on how to use a step ladder – mocked by so many – wasn’t actually an over-reaction, but actually sensible instructions for a very needy nation! And perhaps it is us, not the government after all, who have gone mad?

Although the advice issued in May that householders should prepare for a potential heatwave by painting the outside of their homes white (to reflect the heat) may be taking things a little too far…

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