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UK embassies: We can't help you buy shoes

  • Story Highlights
  • UK Foreign and Commenwealth Office says embassies bombarded by inane calls
  • Anecdotes from embassy staff reveal bizarre nature of many requests
  • One woman called for embassy invervention after disappointing breast surgery
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- And now a public service announcement from the British foreign office:

While it will happily get you out of a jam if you, say, lose your passport, it can't help you actually make jam.

Britons around the world have inundated the country's 261 far-flung consulates with so many inane calls with such frequency that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has had to put up a statement on its Web site clarifying what situations constitute an actual emergency -- by highlighting what doesn't.

"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," said Juliet Marci, the consul in Alicante, Spain.

"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."

The consulates also can't tell you how to get your unruly child to behave, pay your maxed-out credit card bills or help you figure out what ratio of fruit-to-sugar to use while making jam. All of them actual calls that consulate staffers fielded in recent years.

The foreign office collectively handles 2.1 million consular inquiries a year, and helped 35,000 British nationals abroad last year. When it asked its staff about anecdotes some of the more jaw-dropping queries, the anecdotes poured in:

-- A Briton, on vacation in Italy, called to inquire where he can find a particular brand of shoes.

-- A mother asked the consulate in Florida to help her son pack his suitcase and give him a ride to the airport because he wasn't feeling well.

-- And a British woman in a foreign country wanted the embassy to step in because she was unhappy with her breast enlargement surgery.

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