How one, admittedly crazy-sounding, Latvian politician saw the British after witnessing planeload after planeload of stag parties puking, pissing, and shagging their way around Riga, behaviour which has prompted the city's mayor to issue a public warning asking all-male groups from the UK to up their game a bit.
I have rather mixed feelings about this. Stag parties are not my thing, and the only one I ever went on involved a bunch of us playing pool in a cottage in Blakeney, having a kick-around, rescuing two small children from the salt marshes (long story), eating some lasagne, then heading back to Norwich full of bracing sea air. I could, I think, manage the 'rugged outdoor activities followed by one big night out in a UK city'-type affair, but the decidedly 2000s practice of decamping en masse to Central Europe, drinking Dreher or Krusovice until it comes out of one's eyeballs, then visiting extremely expensive strip & clip joints leaves me cold. Spending ten months in Budapest's District Seven, effectively the hub of the city's nightlife, has allowed me to witness a lot of these parties at first hand, and they're pretty grim. On our street there's a well-patronised, well-regarded romkert (typically, a squat-like bar set up in a disused building, decorated with furniture collected in the biannual district chuck-out) called Szimplákert. Now, Szimplákert has become, to a degree, a victim of it's own success, and even makes it onto the pages of the typically unadventurous Lonely Planet bar listings, with the result that big groups of Brits - or those smart enough to realise that they're being massively overcharged in the shiny, Square Mile-type bars on Liszt Tér - wind up there. Cue parades of middle managers in polo shirts decorated with 'hilarious', often borderline homophobic slogans ('Budapest 2009 - Gay-vin's Stag Do!' was a recent favourite), yelling at the barmaids in English, and competing with the local winos to see who can leave the biggest patch of vomit on my doorstep for me to step in come Saturday morning.
The thing is, though, that I can't help but feel that the British are scapegoated somewhat. I've seen plenty of Germans, Scandinavians, and Russians behaving identically in District Seven, the difference being that the British only seem to act up when under the influence. When sober, most English people at least demonstrate a degree of embarrassment about their unwillingness to take the plunge with Hungarian, whereas I frequently see Germans snap at shop or café workers (in English or German) then descend into fits of mirth at their addressee's inability to respond. What price a guy from Szeged or Miskolc walking into a bar in Hamburg, rattling off an order in Hungarian, and expressing complete incredulity at his failure to be understood?
I've often asked my students, and people I meet around and about, what their stereotype of an English (or Scottish - they don't often differentiate) person is. Sample answers: 'a snob'; 'an alcoholic'; 'a football hooligan'. The latter I find intriguing - I would have gone along to see Újpest or Fradi by now were their stadiums not more or less given over to Drehered-up ultra groups (witness the behaviour of Újpest's 'boys' as they host cross-border rivals Steaua Bucharest in the Europa League a few weeks back): by way of comparison, I've very rarely felt intimidated either within or en route to any English ground. I do feel that the British, and in particular the English, are frequently asked to take the rap for forms of behaviour which are endemic throughout the whole of Europe. I admit that I feel safer walking around downtown Budapest at three in the morning than I do walking through Norwich's leafy suburbs anytime after eight, but I hardly think antisocial behaviour is a problem exclusive to the UK.