Philip Hensher: Med losing the war against drunken Brits

The English go abroad to drink, often to take drugs, and to have as much sex as possible
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The Independent Online

Last year, 17 British amateur footballers were on holiday in Crete. On a tour of the bars of Malia, near Heraklion, they decided to dress up as nuns in mini-skirts. Others in the group wore women's underwear; others, the Cretan authorities claimed, wore no underwear and exposed themselves in a bar. This was the footballers' regular habit when overseas; on previous holidays, they had dressed as schoolgirls and as babies on their nights out. This was just a bit of fun.

The Cretan authorities didn't see it like that, and arrested the 17 men for causing a public scandal. They were placed in prison overnight, and appeared in court the next day, still in their abbreviated nuns' outfits. The charge, in the end, was dropped for the lack of a witness prepared to say they were offended, and the men headed back to England complaining that the Greeks had overreacted, and, in fact, they hadn't even had time to get drunk.

Mutual misunderstanding between holidaymakers and residents is increasing, and turning into hostility all over the Mediterranean. The English go abroad to drink, often to take drugs, and to have as much sex as possible. Presented with this eager market, the locals of Magaluf, Malia, Faliraki and Ibiza can hardly be blamed for supplying a need. The consequences, round the edges, are messy. Though no doubt many people go to these places, enjoy themselves and get home without any problems, there are, every year, many cases of rape, violence, and obscene displays – the magistrates and medics of these places lead wearily routine lives.

Faced with these problems, the Government has decided to take action, warning holidaymakers that "rape happens on holiday too", with an image of a girl drinking on one side of a beermat, and sunk weeping in a corner on the other. They are warned about the dangers of drink-spiking, though, it must be said, with some of the multiple-spirit cocktails apparently sold in goldfish-bowl-sized glasses in Malia, the drink would hardly need to be spiked.

Really, though, the problem is sheer ignorance on the part of young holidaymakers. Few of them have the slightest idea that the place they are going has any culture of its own. It just seems like Holidaystan, whether they are on a beach in Greece, Turkey or Egypt. When that kind of ignorance meets the ignorance of a respectable nation, which honestly cannot see that people exposing their private parts in the street may not be inviting sexual approaches, the results are not very pretty.

The people of Malia, two years ago, mounted a march in protest at the behaviour of some tourists. It was brave of them, but probably not very effective; I doubt that most of their tourists that summer even heard of their protests. The sad fact is that these places have no real future, other than as blasted wildernesses where the young of other nations can get drunk. Nothing would be lost if a concrete island were constructed in the middle of the Mediterranean for this sole purpose, with a landing strip and 500 bars, to be hosed down with disinfectant on 1 September every year.

The Foreign Office recognised that the hosts are losing the battle when, this year, it started classes in spoken English for Greek police officers. If I were a Greek police officer, I would wonder why it wasn't the British Government's job to educate the young of Britain so that they might have some understanding of other people's culture. Maybe even teach them a foreign language while they were at school, rather than concentrate on the ability of foreigners to communicate in the imperial language of the age. Wouldn't that be a nice idea?

Subsidised theatre needs star writers

The wonderful Jez Butterworth has written a new play for the Royal Court, Jerusalem, to ecstatic reviews.

I would always go to see a new play by Butterworth, who has consistently knocked my socks off since his brilliant mods-and-uppers drama, Mojo. This one has provided Mark Rylance, the most charismatic stage actor of his generation, with a star role, so, on the whole, not one to be missed.

Excellent organisation though the Royal Court is, there does seem something strange in a world where so accessible and gripping a playwright as Jez Butterworth, surrounded by excitement and interest, has to have his work premiered in conditions of public subsidy. And there are even more striking examples. Alan Bennett's new play, about Auden and Britten, is being premiered at the National Theatre in November.

In the past, playwrights of this standing and reputation were courted by West End managers, and their new plays stood or fell on ticket sales. Can anyone think that a play by Alan Bennett on such an evidently interesting subject would be so much of a commercial punt? The truth is that nowadays, the subsidised theatre's success is measured not in terms of its artistic boldness, but in terms of ticket sales. They need a Butterworth to stick with them.

When long-term commitment comes easily

An unusual conversation with my bank the other day revealed that I was phoning them on the 18th anniversary of the opening of my account. They congratulated me, though I don't know what for.

I'd always thought of myself as being quite a daring fellow for having moved my banking business once since I was 17, but now I realise what a stick-in-the-mud I am. I've had the same dentist and doctor for at least 18 years; when I changed the chap who cuts my hair four years ago it was a truly major upset in my life (and the one before had been there for nearly 15 years); and it would honestly never occur to me to go to a different bookshop or butcher. Depressingly, it occurs to me that many people are probably much less likely to change their bank, their gas or electric supplier, their dentist, hairdresser, doctor or habitual supermarket than they are to change their romantic partner. You could dump your boyfriend by text message, but to change your bank, you have to fill in a form.

In some cases, it must be said, it's the result of a strong belief that you aren't going to find a better alternative in the doctoring or butchering line. In other areas – I'm afraid banking is very much one of these – you know that they're all probably pretty well as bad as each other. It's important not to confuse loyalty with slack inertia.