- Singapore's foreign minister posts odd consular requests on Facebook
- Cases include a man who alleged racial discrimination over size of fried chicken
- K Shanmugam: "We have to draw a line between what is personal responsibility and what's not"
- Other foreign offices complain of misguided requests, outlandish queries
A foreign minister clearly frustrated with some of his own countrymen has taken to Facebook to expose some of the stranger requests received by consular staff.
"Can the government get involved if a Singaporean gets illegal sexual services overseas, but is not satisfied and wants a refund? The answer seems obvious," writes K. Shanmugam, the country's minster for foreign affairs, with an almost audible sigh.
The exasperated minister went on to list other examples with the plea: "We have to draw the line between what is personal responsibility and what's not."
Where to draw the line?
Personal responsibility could include the lovelorn citizen who asked the foreign office to convince his girlfriend to marry him.
And then there was the KFC customer who alleged racial discrimination over the size of his fried chicken. "He wanted MFA to investigate this instance and seek justice in that foreign country for the unfair treatment he claimed to have received. We told him we could not do that," the minister writes.
Nor could the country help the Singaporean living in Indonesia who requested the foreign office help ship a computer ordered online from the United States.
Singapore's consular officials handled 3,000 cases last year, filed by Singaporeans who made some seven million trips abroad.
That number is dwarfed by the volume of requests received by larger countries including the United Kingdom, whose Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) handled more than 52,000 cases the same year.
It's not just Singaporeans
In what seems to have become an annual warning to potential time-wasters, the FCO released a list last May of some of its most misdirected queries.
They include the man who asked consular staff in Rome to translate a phrase for his new tattoo, and a woman who complained about the poor quality of football boots "made in China."
So bizarre were some of the requests made to the foreign office in Australia that it was suggested the country consider charging a fee for consular assistance.
In a policy brief, "Consular Conundrum," published in March 2013, author Alex Oliver lays out the case for a charge, nothing that "expectations of what our diplomats can or should do for distressed travelers overseas are climbing, and in some cases becoming more unrealistic."
According to the report, some of the stranger requests to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) include: "Will the sand in Egypt upset my asthma?" and "Could DFAT feed my dogs while I'm away?"
In the past, Canadian officials have also found the need to remind travelers of what they can and cannot do.
In 2011, the then minister of foreign affairs Diana Ablonczy spelled it out in a press release:
"Consular officials CANNOT (her capitals): ask your mother-in-law to leave your house, purchase tickets for a musical or entertainment event, settle disputes between you and your partner (and), pickup your dog at the airport."
You've been warned.