Idiotic Brits abroad and their tabloid defenders

Mount Kinabalu - photo by Wikipedia user Oscark, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Mount Kinabalu

It’s infuriating that whenever a British person is charged with committing a crime abroad, the British press, particularly the tabloids, respond in such an indignant manner. “How dare a foreign country accuse a Brit of doing something wrong. They can’t possibly receive a fair trial in another country, and anyway the crime they have supposedly committed isn’t something we even consider a crime in our superior homeland.” It’s as if they think British people can’t do anything wrong, we are exempt from local laws in foreign country, and that it’s somehow a newspaper’s duty to defend our citizens, irrespective of the facts. Yet it is the very same newspapers who will write stories about crimes committed by immigrants, and complain how they are treated too softly, and how difficult it is to deport them.

A recent example is the case of Eleanor Hawkins, the British woman who was among a group who stripped off to take photos at the top of Malaysia’s Mount Kinabalu. Although there were reports of individuals in Malaysia blaming the recent earthquake on their actions, it was clear that they were simply going to face a minor charge and then be asked to leave the country, under a perfectly fair and proportionate legal system that, indeed, is still based on the system of English Common Law. Yet the tone of the reports in the British media seemed to imply that the group were being mistreated, and that we should all feel outraged that westerners should be detained in that way in a country such as Malaysia. (Reading about wealthy and spoilt Ms Hawkins, who attended an £11,000 a year private school, “waiting to pay” her £860 fine before leaving made me think of the film Quadrophenia, where Sting’s character mockingly tells the judge, “I’ll pay now”.)

The other infuriating aspect of coverage of this case is the people who have defended the actions of the group, claiming that it’s just a right of passage and that it’s the sort of thing everyone does. Again, there is an implicit superiority of western people, who are entitled to act according to their own values when they are abroad, with no need to take into account the customs or sensibilities of the locals.

There really has been a progression in the spread of British tourists ruining foreign destinations. With the emergence of the cheap package holiday in the ’70 and ’80s, the Balearic islands were transformed into a destination for people from the rest of Europe to indulge in drinking and “partying”, with any local culture squeezed out. Then in the ’90s and ’00s, the stag and hen parties discovered eastern Europe, turning picturesque capital cities of culture into riot zones every weekend. Now it seems the “gap yah” travellers are similarly afflicting south-east Asia.

Any claim that “travellers” such as there are at all interested in different cultures is clearly nonsense. Where were the Malaysian, or any Asian, members of their group? They were all from the UK, Canada, the Netherlands, etc. They stayed in a hostel frequented by western travellers, travelled with other westerners, and when their local guide told them to keep their clothes on, they ignored him. Were they interested in the unique flora and fauna, or taking in the breathtaking views from the regions highest mountain? No, they preferred to behave in a boisterous and offensive manner, just as they would on holiday in Tenerife or Tallinn, and to post photographs documenting their behaviour online. Sandi Mann, senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Central Lancashire, sums the situation up quite nicely in a BBC News article:

It means that Westerners are imposing themselves on other peoples and “trying to demonstrate to people on Facebook, Twitter and other sites that they’ve had ‘wild experiences’ rather than actually experiencing a culture, which is the whole point of travel in the first place”.

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