French nickers cause a stink down under

Quelle horreur: the French consulate in Sydney has pleaded for better behaviour from French backpackers.
Quelle horreur: the French consulate in Sydney has pleaded for better behaviour from French backpackers. 

Badly behaved French backpackers in Australia, who have been accused of shoplifting, getting drunk and showing disrespect for authority, have French officials worried about their country's reputation.

The consul-general of France in Sydney, Eric Berti, has written an open letter to French citizens in Australia and has asked them to set the backpackers straight.

"Do not hesitate to sensibilise young French people around you to the behaviour which is expected from them, in a country where honesty, respect of the values and the authorities is of prime importance," the letter pleads.

The outpouring from the consul-general follows an incident earlier this year in which a Frenchman was charged with damaging the cenotaph at Sydney's Martin Place.

Police described the man as a "disrespectful knucklehead".

French backpackers have also been accused of shoplifting in tourist areas, including the Western Australian towns of Exmouth and Carnarvon, where the problem stretches back to 2011 when 20 were arrested in just two months for stealing, mainly from supermarkets.

Western Australian police this week could not provide specific figures on recent French arrests.

"We do not keep any information regarding the nationality of the person committing a crime," a police spokesman said.

But anecdotally, behaviour problems persist.

The French online newspaper "Le Petit Journal" recently speculated that young French people come here ill-prepared to deal with the Australian reality.

It said they are hit by high costs of "life and lodging" and some find it tough to get a job with their working holiday visa because of a lot of competition among backpackers.

"There is the handicap of language, and it is easy to lose grip if you are not street smart or cluey," the Mebourne-edition of the paper said on May 14.

"Luckily this problem is not as widespread as it seems, the cases mentioned in the media are isolated unfortunate events," a consul spokeswoman said.

She said Mr Berti's letter was written as a "reminder" to young people to behave appropriately.

"It is not something isolated to the French. The same may happen with young Australians in Bali or the Chinese (recently criticised by a top Chinese official for talking too loudly in public places, jaywalking and spitting while travelling).

"Sometimes young people don't behave well when suddenly they have freedom and are away from their family," the consul spokeswoman said.

This is a translated excerpt of the letter posted by Mr Berti earlier this month:

"The general consul's attention has been drawn to the bad reputation of French youth in some touristic areas of Australia, linked to the incivilities of some French backpackers (noisy behaviour, alcoholism, disrespect for the police and authorities) and to shoplifting in stores, frequently referred to as 'French shopping'.

"Even if they remain sparse, these behaviours can affect the whole French community in Australia. They can also hamper young working holiday visa holders in their job search."

Tourism Australia says the youth market represents 26 per cent (1.6 million) of all international visitors to Australia, with many arriving with working holiday visas.

France is fifth for working holiday visa, only behind the UK, Taiwan, South Korea and Germany.

The consul reports that there are currently 22,000 French youngsters in the country on working holiday visas.

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