Letter From Europe: Brits Abroad
Today’s London Times features an outraged article about Barcelona fighting back against drunken British tourists who are ruining a neighbourhood with their anti-social behaviour. They singled out a trio of naked holidaymakers who ran through a supermarket. According to the report by the Times’ stringer (in Madrid) 200 residents took to the streets in protest this week, demanding that authorities do something about the scourge of “drunken tourism”.
The piece offered a model exercise in poor reporting, and shows why a grand old paper like The Thunderer, under Rupert Murdoch, is now considered irrelevant by opinion makers.
Let’s start with the facts themselves. The number of protestors totalled (in a variety of protests) ‘up to 100’ according to eye witnesses. The naked tourists in question were Italian (you could tell that from the six-packs), not British. And the only other examples of ‘drunken Brits’ the hack could find to bolster the story were rehashed tales about other holiday destinations. So it wasn’t a matter of ‘Barcelona fights back against Britons behaving badly’ at all, as the headline stated.
Oh, and it wasn’t exactly Barcelona, either. This occurred in Barceloneta, not a ‘pretty fishing village on the outskirts of Barcelona’ – it could never have been called pretty – but a working class barrio of dark, narrow streets and washing lines close to the sea’s edge. Few tourists ever pass through it.
The real story here is that Barceloneta is fighting a losing battle for its life. Before the 1992 Olympics, the beach was a rock-strewn hangout for junkies. With the restored foreshore and the arrival of trendy restaurants, Barceloneta found itself isolated, occupying prime real estate in the centre of the shoreline. Obviously big business wants them out, but the area is still occupied with its original inhabitants who live in tiny-roomed tenements and rightly protect what’s theirs.
In order to limit tourism to hotels, the city keeps rental licenses on a tight leash. But since the arrival of online renters like AirBnB, these licenses are being ignored. That was what the protest was about, not ‘Brits behaving badly’. Barcelona is not exactly the first choice for drunken Brits – it’s a city with a reputation for the arts, after all – but as in every other holiday destination, drunken weekends are encouraged by bar-owners who offer cheap booze, and the mood changes on Saturday nights. Not in Barceloneta, though, which only has quiet local bars.
However, a story about councils using the right to rent as a gentrification lever is too boring for today’s Soaraway Times readers, so it had to be jazzed up. Unfortunately in the process something was lost – the truth.