Last month a group of 30 Britons were enjoying a game of bingo in the Yorkshire Tavern in Albufeira, Portugal when an undercover police unit burst in and arrested them all for gambling without a gaming license. They were only playing for biscuit and chocolate prizes but that cut no ice with officers who even arrested the hapless observers.
Guffaws aside, it’s actually quite easy for tourists to break the law unwittingly according to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). In a recent report, it cited that 27 per cent of its cases requiring consular assistance were for arrests and detentions, often because holidaymakers simply didn’t check out the lie of the land before arriving in a foreign country. Its advice is to ‘know before you go’ by checking out the FCO website in advance so that local customs and laws are not inadvertently flouted.
The FCO points out that in Venice for example, it is an offence to feed pigeons while in Singapore chewing gum is prohibited while travelling on the Mass Rapid Transit system. My own experience of breaking the law was when as teenagers my sister and I backpacked behind the Iron Curtain and arrived in Romania while under the Communist leadership of Nicolae Ceausescu. At Bucharest station we were followed by secret police and pounced upon when we photographed what we assumed to be historical sites. It transpired that they were government buildings so our films were ripped from our cameras and dire warnings of arrest and incarceration were issued. We couldn’t wait to hotfoot it to Bulgaria.
Here in Spain certain rules apply, some of which vary according to region. In Majorca, imbibing in public is an offence and strict laws will soon apply regarding drinking alcohol on beaches. In Barcelona going bare-chested or sporting swimwear is only permitted on the beachfront, a rule that might soon apply in Palma de Mallorca. Across Spain, honking horns in villages at night is not allowed, neither apparently is letting a child under the age of seven travel as a passenger on a motorbike although I’d like to see that one enforced here in Majorca.
All drivers in Spain must carry two EU red warning triangles in their cars along with vehicle documents, reflective jackets for all occupants, bulbs and if the driver wears spectacles, a spare set. And while we’re discussing local laws, it’s also worth remembering that although prostitution isn’t illegal in Spain, pimping is!
Some holidaymakers might consider the law an ass in a foreign country but rather than come a cropper it’s probably wisest to play the game as long as it’s not bingo, of course.
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