Page last updated at 23:03 GMT, Wednesday, 12 August 2009 00:03 UK

Embassies plead 'big issues only'

British holidaymakers in Spain
Embassies do not help holidaymakers search for lost sunglasses

British embassies around the world are getting "frustrated" by travellers wanting weather reports and advice on how to deal with unruly children.

Consular staff have also been asked to help make jam, pack suitcases and find lost sunglasses.

A woman unhappy with the size of her newly-enlarged breasts and a man in search of shoes also sought help.

The Foreign Office says British embassies are there "to help Britons in real difficulty abroad".

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is highlighting some of the less serious requests to clarify the role of its 261 embassies, high commissions and other diplomatic posts.

Other inquiries include:

  • A mother asked the consulate in Florida to help her teenage son pack his case and give him a lift to the airport as he was feeling under the weather.
  • A traveller wanted the high commission in Zambia to phone his workplace to explain he would not be in because he was unable to get a flight.
  • A holidaymaker visiting Italy wondered where they could purchase a particular pair of shoes.
  • One caller asked: "I'm making jam - what ratio of fruit to sugar shall I use?".

Juliet Maric, British consul in Alicante, Spain, said people thought they were a "one-stop shop" and it could be "frustrating".

Embassies do:
Issue replacement passports
Help transfer money
Support victims of crime

Embassies do not:
Make travel arrangements
Hand out money
Get Britons out of prison

"If you have a serious problem abroad - maybe you've been involved in an accident, have lost your passport or are a victim of crime, we can help you," she said.

"But we can't tell you who is allowed to use your swimming pool, pay your taxi fares for you or do anything about the exchange rate."

Minister for consular affairs, Chris Bryant, said: "Consular staff are there to help Britons in real difficulty abroad - from victims of crime and bereaved families to those involved in accidents or who have lost their passports.

"It's important that British nationals understand what the FCO can and can't do for them so our staff can focus resources on more serious situations where people really do need our help."

FCO staff handle 2.1 million consular inquiries a year and in 2008/9, assistance was provided to almost 35,000 British nationals.

Almost 11,000 emergency passports were issued to Britons overseas last year.

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