Sunday, 6 September 2009

An Englishman On Holiday

I am a proud Englishman and I am a proud Briton. I love my country and I love my island. I love the Welsh and Scots who share the island with me and I love the Irish who live on the neighbouring island.

However, there are times when I try my best to avoid other British people, something you may think is difficult considering the fact that there are 60 million of us crammed into an area of roughly 81,000 square miles (that’s 750 people per square mile).

It’s not the British people on the island that I worry about; it is a minority of my fellow countrymen who travel abroad.

A lot of Brits are perfectly sane people until they arrive at the airport to go abroad. Once they pass through customs and find themselves airside, a switch flips inside the brains of a few and they mutate into something that can be quite embarrassing - the British tourist.

Most people in the world let their hair down a little bit when they go on holiday (I have been known to once or twice). The only problem is that there are a few British people do so with added gusto. Of the remaining sensible British tourists, there is another bunch that are either naïve or live in a bubble of Britishness, making them behave like obnoxious arses.

For some people, common sense is tossed aside; our normal reserved nature is discarded in favour of a rampant drunken beast. Others simply forget that there is a massive difference between Britain and the rest of the world and approach other cultures in the same way as Godzilla would approach a city on a day he was feeling particularly destructive. To them, the rest of the world should be like Britain.

I have travelled to many countries and I am humbled by the differences between cultures. I embrace them and I respect them. I try to become part of them. If I travel to France, I try to speak French; if I travel to a European country where I do not speak their language, I use a phrase book to get my message across. I have travelled to many diverse countries, including many European countries, Thailand, Russia, Australia, South Africa, Canada, United States and China. In each country I have welcomed our cultural differences and tried my best to be an ambassador for my country.

Sadly, a few of my fellow countrymen are not willing to try to blend in and, worse, others contribute to the ever increasing bad reputation of “Brits abroad”.

The worst offenders I have seen have typically been in Europe. Great Britain is part of Europe, whether we like it or not (personally I love it) and in my humble opinion we should be thankful that we can pop over the sea and find ourselves in fabulous countries like France, Belgium, Holland, Spain, Portugal, Sweden and Norway. Travel a little further and we can enjoy Greece, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark and many others. They are quite literally on our doorstep.

So why do we have such a problem? Let me give you one or two examples of what I’ve seen and perhaps all will become clear.

I travelled with a group of friends to Palma on the beautiful island of Majorca, in order to celebrate a friend’s 40th birthday. We had a few beers, we had a few meals and we visited some of the lovely places in and around the capital city. One day, we opted to go to Magaluf, mainly out of morbid curiosity. For those who have never heard of Magaluf, it is a seaside resort in Majorca that basically becomes little Britain during the summer months. Throughout that period, fleets of charter flights full of young nutters descend on this small resort with one aim: to drink as much alcohol as they can for as long as they can and cop off with as many members of the opposite sex as they can.. Young men and women mutate into the worst kind of party animals and turn the place into a throbbing drunken cesspit of debauchery. Those who avoid the place call it Shagaluf.

Our party took a couple of cabs to Magaluf after breakfast at the hotel and as we approached I was horrified to see a fish and chip shop with the bold claim “Fish imported from Britain”. I was stunned and remarked on this to one of my friends. The cab driver, with a look of sadness on his face, said “Magaluf is an English colony in Majorca. It is horrible.”

I was disturbed by this. We arrived there and found the place almost deserted, which amazed me. It was 11 o’clock and there were only a few people around. “Where is everybody?” I asked. And then it became clear; if you had been up all night partying then you would be in bed. Fair enough, I thought. You can lie in on holiday. But then I noticed the number of clubs and bars; and they weren’t Spanish bars – they were pubs – English and Irish pubs.

And even worse there were pubs boasting that people could watch their favourite soap operas there, beamed in on satellite dishes especially for those who have no desire to become part of a foreign culture, preferring instead to create a pocket of Britain.

“Don’t miss Eastenders or Coronation Street”, it claimed and there were people there watching TV. There was another bar that beamed episodes of “Only Fools And Horses” on an endless loop. People were actually sitting in there laughing at a British comedy show in a bar on a Spanish island.

At lunchtime, we decided to have a beer; we searched around the place for an authentic Spanish bar; we failed and opted to pop into a pub. I marched up to the bar and was greeted by a dark haired tanned barmaid, who I assumed was Spanish. The beers in front of me were all British. I scanned the taps and discovered a Spanish one.

“Cinco cervezas y una coke, por favour” I said in very bad Spanish.

“Which beer do you want?” came the reply is a Cockney accent. I pointed to the Spanish beer, disappointed that I hadn’t had the chance to converse with a Spaniard. The pub was owned and run by British people.

After beer and food we wandered around Magaluf and I saw very few Spaniards. All we saw were British people; if it wasn’t for the sun I would have sworn that we were in Brighton or Margate. I saw cafes and restaurants serving English food; fish and chips were everywhere and people were sitting in pubs watching their favourite TV programmes beamed in from Britain.

The plan had been to spend the day in Magaluf and visit a couple of bars in the evening. By 5 o’clock the party animals had risen and were preparing for another night out. We had had enough so we caught cabs back to Palma to seek out Spanish bars and restaurants ans immerse ourselves in Spanish culture once more.

As we travelled back I thought to myself; if you are going to come to Spain why the hell would you eat fish and chips? Can’t you live without crap TV for a week? What is the point of coming to Spain and demanding all the comforts of home? Why bother travelling all the way to Majorca just to sit in an English pub all day watching endless repeats of a British comedy show? You could stay at home and do that and it would cost you absolutely nothing.

On another occasion, I was working in Amsterdam with a Belgian colleague called Eric. We had selected a traditional Dutch restaurant for our evening meal and sat down prepared to enjoy some Dutch cuisine. As I read the menu and chatted with my Belgian friend, I heard a loud English voice from the other side of the restaurant and cringed.

“Excuse me! EXCUSE ME! Do you have any Worcester Sauce?”

My Belgian friend stared at me in shock. I shook my head in shame. The loudmouth hadn’t finished.

The restaurant was packed and we had been lucky to get a seat. Consequently the waitresses were very busy and couldn’t attend people as quickly as they wanted. However, this vociferous English goon continued.


I looked over and saw a middle aged man, now standing up, and waving his hands in the air like a demented windmill.

“He’s English isn’t he? Are all English people like him?” remarked Eric.

I watched the reaction of the other diners; some laughed at him; others shook their head in disgust; most were shocked and appalled.

Mr Loudmouth hadn’t finished. Clearly he thought he was being ignored so he walked over to the nearest waitress and, tapping her on the shoulder, butted in as she was taking an order.

“Do you have any Worcester Sauce?” he asked rudely, ignoring the couple at the table, his voice still annoyingly loud.

I was totally embarrassed; I was sorely tempted to stand up and say:

“Sit down and have some patience you obnoxious arsehole. You’re giving British tourists a bad name.”

I resisted, mainly because it would have made me look bad and possibly made him worse.

“I’m really sorry,” I said to Eric. “We’re not all like that!”

The waitress, clearly eager to get rid of this muppet, walked over to the kitchen area and rattled a few bottles looking for Worcester Sauce. She found one and handed it to him. Mr Loudmouth must have noticed that he now had a captive audience. Instead of slinking back to his table in shame he held up the bottle of Worcester Sauce in triumph.

“Lea and Perrin’s", he shouted. “The pride of England – guaranteed to add a touch of class to any meal.”

What an utter arse! He failed to realise that most Dutch people speak perfect English and that he had insulted their cuisine by insisting that it required an English sauce to make it worthy to eat. The same waitress returned to her customers and said something in Dutch; the people laughed and stared at the goon.

She then wondered over to our table. Mr Loudmouth had made me so ashamed that I was barely able to place my order for fear of being associated with the obnoxious idiot. I spoke very quietly and then added: “We’re not all like that you know!”

Eric laughed and the waitress smiled kindly.

My final example was again in Spain, this time on a trip to Madrid with Mrs PM. We were sitting at a restaurant and a man walked up and said to the waiter: “Do you sell fags?”

Now then, dear American readers, “fag” is English slang for cigarettes (I realise that it means something completely different in the States), so please don’t imagine that I am going to steer the post in a bizarre direction.

The waiter looked puzzled and said “Que?”


I stared at Mrs PM and she began to giggle. I was mortified.

“CAN I HAVE SOME FAGS?” his voice was getting louder as if the volume of his voice would somehow make the Spanish waiter somehow, miraculously, be able to speak English.

“FAGS!!!!!” he yelled, miming the act of smoking.

In the end, the waiter asked somebody who spoke English and the man walked away with a packet of cigarettes, muttering something about “bloody foreigners”.

As I said earlier, I travel to foreign places and embrace the culture; I am usually armed with a phrase book; I sample the local cuisine; I imbibe the local beer and wine; I visit places of interest and respect my foreign friends.

It’s a crying shame that a few British people adopt a superior attitude and simply refuse to mingle with interesting foreign cultures. Worse are the young thugs who go on holiday to get drunk and create mayhem.

One of my favourite bands, Thunder, wrote a song inspired by this last group called An Englishman On Holiday. I’ll leave you with the lyrics to that song, which, as funny as the lyrics are, sadly, do ring true.

Laying down in this Spanish bar; that last slammer hit me like a car
I've got the 6 a.m. Balearic blues, can't even focus on my own tattoos
I had a fight with this German guy, I saw him give my little girl the eye
While he was trying hard to be so cool, I hit him with a stool
Oh yes, alright, I'll be going all night
Gonna drink 'til they take me away, I'm an Englishman on holiday
Every year I get to do the same, I meet the boys and get on the plane
We like to sing and shout out "here we go"
'Cos they're the only words that we all know
We've got the loudest shirts you've ever seen
We're gonna take the beaches like a team
We've got so much duty free to drink, enough to float a ship
Oh yeah alright, I'll be going all night
So light the paper, get out of the way, I'm an Englishman on holiday
We never look for trouble at the start, but it always comes our way
We've got our pride and we just can't walk away
This morning I woke up inside a cell
They dragged me screaming out of my hotel
I don't remember what it was I did
But I've got this drummer banging in my head
I've got to get out 'fore I miss the plane, next summer I'll be back again
I'll be fighting for the Union Jack, if they let me back
Oh yes, alright, I'll be going all night
Gonna drink 'til they take me away,
I'm an Englishman on holiday...


Kath Lockett said...

Lordy! It makes lying on one of your grey pebbly beaches being rained on whilst wearing a knotted handkerchief on your head seem like total sophistication, doesn't it?

If it makes you feel any better, some of my fellow Australians don't exactly cover themselves in glory whilst holidaying in the Old Dart or nearby Bali.....

Plastic Mancunian said...

G'Day Kath,

Most British tourists are fine - it's the minority I'm moaning about. I've never seen a man with a knotted hanky but I swear if I did I would say "Mate - just don't!"

I know that other countries have their own equivalents - I've met American and, particularly German tourists who have given their country a bad name - a future post perhaps.



Andy Duggan said...

Hi Dave,

I could do with 'borrowing' Mr Worcester Sauce for a bit part in my next novel - do you mind?

It's set in Amsterdam, you see. It's a very dark thriller, so I could do with a few bits of light relief in it.


Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Andy,

Yeah - feel free. I'm sure a man of words like you will make him sound much more entertaining than I could.

Just don't call him "Dave".




Anonymous said...

This post is really good, and i got that you are a English man. I know that other countries have their own equivalents - I've met American and, particularly German tourists who have given their country a bad name - a future post perhaps.
cheap magaluf holidays

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Madeline and thanks.