Some news organizations say drunken British tourists have become a serious problem in Krakow, but the staff of some pubs they frequent and city tourism officials say the reports are overblown. Many pub managers, waiters and waitresses contend that Brits are noisy, but that most are also friendly, funny and generous with tips. In fact, some pub workers say Poles cause more problems.
Krakow attracts a whopping 8 million tourists a year – 11 times the city’s population of 700,000. Twenty percent are from Britain. Among the reasons that Krakow has become a mecca for Brits are inexpensive flights, cultural attractions such as Wawel Castle – and cheap beer. On a recent Saturday afternoon, a stroll through the city center revealed a group of young Brits sipping beer and chatting happily at an outdoor cafe on the corner of Szewska and Rynek streets. Five minutes away, another group of British tourists were having laughs in an outdoor café in front of Pasaz Bielaka. A few hours later, in the late evening, some tipsy Irish men asked two local women who had just entered a pub if they wanted to ‘boogie’ in Szewska.
In the last two months, news organizations have drawn the public’s attention to what they described as the problem of drunken Brits in the downtown area. The newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza contended that pubs are full of Brits who yell, sing soccer songs at the top of their lungs, spill beer, vomit on tables, grope waitresses, dance naked on tables and damage furniture. The paper said a lot of the problems occur during men-only stag parties, which it contended are one of the main reasons that British men come to Krakow.
Signs that some pubs have posted suggest that the newspapers may be right about a Brit problem. A sign in Nic Nowego, for example, says ‘No stag parties’. One in Pauza says, ‘The staff has the right to refuse service to anyone.’
Gazeta Krakowska maintained that pubs welcomed Brits a few years ago because they spend a lot of money having fun. Now, the newspaper contends, most Market Square-area pubs have a negative opinion of British customers. Two such venues that are dissatisfied with the Brits are Astart and Boom Bar Rush. Astart claims that Brits harass their female dancers and Boom Bar Rush claims that Brits behave badly and try to order drinks without queuing and are impolite towards women.
And Pauza, according to news stories, has told its security guards to keep an eye on groups of British men wearing the same T-shirts – a telltale sign they are part of a stag party. Gazeta Krakowska offered what seems like a naïve idea to ease the drunken-Brit problem. It wants city fathers to come up with cultural attractions on weekends that could compete with beer for the visitors? attention. Polish news organizations are not the only ones weighing in on the drunken-Brit problem. A year ago, Jill Sherman of the Times of London reported that British Consul staff overseas “are increasingly having to bail out drunken groups on stag weekends who lose money, get arrested or are injured.” The article, however, did not focus on Poland. It dealt with the over-all problem in countries around the world. The article also quoted Edward Leigh, chairman of the Public Accounts Commitee (PAC), as saying: “Consular staff increasingly have to deal with the appalling results of British tourists carousing abroad.” He said the Foreign Office should take steps “aimed at improving the behavior of the groups who most often end up needing help, such as stag and hen parties.”
The article noted that “Britons spent £430 million last year on stag and hen trips abroad, according to the Egg online bank.”
When the BBC asked viewers to comment online about a program it had broadcast on Europe’s tourist boom, some mentioned the drunken-Brit problem – and even Krakow as one of the venues for it.
“It is very unpleasant to see 20 or so men drunk in the street from midday onwards screaming and chanting, behaving like children, harassing girls and so on,” said an email writer who identified himself only as Carl. “From my travels to Prague, Krakow and Budapest, I have seen that they have pretty much infested the region.”
“When you see these people going to such places, which have a huge cultural and historical appeal to any normal tourist, it makes you ashamed to be British,” a man named Ewan wrote. Even some of the Brits who live and work in Krakow believe drunken British tourists are a problem. Owen Braithwaite, who has taught English at a top language school (Stairway) for two years, said: “It all began with cheap flights from England to Dublin and Amsterdam” and later Prague. “The problem with many Brits is that they don’t just go out for a drink,” he said. “They go out simply to get drunk.” He added that “one group I knew spent all four days they stayed in Krakow in the same pub, drinking beer and watching football.”
Do news reports about a drunken-Brit problem, and even some expats? asserting that it exists, prove that it’s deep-seated? Not if you talk with Krakow pub owners, managers and staff.
Owners and employees at Pauza in Szewska, Respect in Florianska, Medbar in Szewska and Boom Bar Rush said their problems with Brits were rare and mostly minor. They admitted that Brits could get noisy. But the main problems they’ve encountered were broken glasses and customers failing to pay for beer. Only one waitress at the four pubs said she had seen a Brit showing his privates. Most pub employees said they enjoyed the lively atmosphere that Brits brought to a pub. They said Brits were friendly toward Poles, appreciated Polish culture and were funny.
They also said Brits were generous. In many cases, Brits buy drinks for others in the pub. And they leave big tips, pub workers said. None of the workers at the four pubs said they could remember a Brit getting into an altercation. Lukasz Russer, the owner of the Med bar, said some Poles cause more trouble than Brits.
It seemed puzzling that the news-organization accounts of the drunken-Brit problem were so different from the pub workers’ accounts. Krakow’s Tourism Office came down on the side of the pub workers. Katarzyna Gadek, director of the city’s Tourism Office, admitted that “the problem of drunk Brits does exist but it is not overwhelming. They do drink a lot, but alcohol is definitely not the main reason for their visit. The main reason remains culture, monuments and friends in Krakow.”
Brits are just one of the nationalities coming here, and it’s unfair to characterize all of them as trouble-makers because of the actions of a few, Gadek said. “If a journalist takes a picture at 2 a.m. during a weekend night in a crowded pub, it will be no surprise that you will be able to see some drunk people in there, including Brits,” she said. Because Brits have caused some problems, however, the city has created a Web site, www.visitcracow.com, to give them advice about things to do and not do in Krakow. It has also organized a public-relations campaign in Britain, called ‘Before You Go,’ to warn Brits about the consequences of inappropriate behavior, including run-ins with Polish police.
The best way for pubs to deal with rowdy guests, Gadek said, is to ask them to stop being noisy or refrain from other obnoxious behavior. If the bad behavior persists, she said, the pubs should ask them to leave. Only in the worst cases should police be called, she said. Gadek said a sampling of restaurant- and pub-goers at the end of 2006 indicated that most Krakow residents have positive views of the tourists coming here, although a few said rowdy Brits were a problem. Between December 2006 and January 2007, Krakow police detained 36 tourists for further questioning about possible crimes. None was British.
Police said they came to pubs five times during that period to deal with complaints about Brits being noisy or not paying a bill, but they didn’t make any arrests.
So the answer to the question of whether Brits are a problem in Krakow appears to revolve around whom you ask. Some people think so. Many do not. One thing is sure: The debate is likely to continue. In fact, it could make for a lively discussion at a pub – even if Brits are not in there.