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  • International Travel & Health Insurance Journal

No laughing matter

Ignorance is no defence for travellers who fall foul of local customs and laws against behaviour that they may assume is as acceptable abroad as it is in their home country, as Robin Gauldie (politely) reports

What may be seen as a merry prank in one country may cause grievous offence in another. For example, in 2009 when a British holidaymaker in Marmaris dropped his pants in front of a statue of Kemal Ataturk, he may have expected, at worst, a stern warning if caught. In actual fact, he was jailed, deported and banned from returning to Turkey – a verdict that some Turks felt was too lenient. “He's lucky it was the police that took him,” one Marmaris resident told a British newspaper. “The local boys wanted to kill him for being so insulting.”

More recently, a misjudged jape last year resulted in the jailing and fining of four young visitors (one Dutch, one English and two Canadian) to Malaysia, who stripped off for selfies atop Mount Kinabalu, a mountain considered sacred by many Malaysians. Actions such as these – seemingly innocent to those taking part in them – occur the world over on a regular basis, landing travellers in need of legal representation and assistance from their insurer.

Putting one’s foot in it

Ironically, travellers are at most risk of offending in destinations that appear superficially sophisticated and hedonistic. Few visitors to Iran or Saudi Arabia, for example, can be unaware of their strict laws, but in some seemingly easy-going destinations it’s alarmingly easy to break the law without even trying. Penalties can seem disproportionately harsh, and it can be difficult for first-time visitors to distinguish acceptable behaviour from acts that will cause offence.

some seemingly easy-going destinations it’s alarmingly easy to break the law without