An Italian court convicted Amanda Knox for murdering her study abroad roommate; four American teens have been arrested for a roadside prank that turned near-fatal in Japan. America, it's time to stop screwing up on foreign soil. Here's how.
Warning: What follows may throw you into a xenophobic panic and scare you out of having any level of fun next time you travel abroad.
1. Do Not Use Drugs Nobody ever follows this one, despite the lessons of Brokedown Palace. Even if you're careful and know the rules, being in an altered state of mind reads differently abroad. Some attribute Amanda Knox's bizarre interactions with Italian police to being stoned, while others say the use of marijuana tipped the circumstantial evidence:
In Britain and Italy, "Foxy Knoxy" was portrayed as an angel-faced "she-devil", a promiscuous pot-smoker who went shopping for underwear with her boyfriend straight after Meredith Kercher's murder and did cartwheels during questioning by detectives.
I can't think of any reason to turn cartwheels during cop questioning other than being stoned, so I'm going to assume that's what happened here. Point being: if it's your dream to smoke weed on the same Rishikesh hillside that the Beatles did? Do your best not to be near the scenes of any vicious felony murders.
2. Know that Pranks Are Always Lost in Translation Four American military brats on Tokyo's Yokota Air Base were arrested this weekend for the attempted murder of a woman whose motorbike hit a trip line strung across a road. In a nation where base-related crime is a "delicate issue"—and where "boys will be boys" was a most unwelcome strain of discourse when three servicemen raped a schoolgirl in 1995—a bunch of American kids nearly killing someone won't be taken lightly. Ditto the infamous tale of Michael Fay, the American teen whose street vandalism resulting in a "moistened rattan cane" flogging.
3. Never Underestimate How Prude the Rest of the World Is Even in Italy, the nation that gave us amore and invented the sonnet, Foxy Knoxy's "sexual appetite" was central to her case. First she "leapt to notoriety in the days after the murder, kissing and cuddling [boyfriend and convicted accomplice] Mr Sollecito in front of the lenses of the cameras." Then prosecutors concocted a story about a ritualistic satanic orgy that got tossed out of court. Knox ultimately may have been convicted based on forensic evidence, but there's still a vocal Team Knox arguing that the sexual smear campaign did her in.
4. Learn This Sentence in the Native Dialect "I am an American, I want to call my embassy." If you get arrested, start saying it and don't stop until until you hear an American accent on the other end of the phone. You'll feel like a douchebag, but when you're not drinking bilgewater from a gutter in a Turkish prison, you'll be glad you did. It's your best chance at a lifeline, since even the pettiest local officials don't want to deal with a diplomatic mess.
5. Don't Start Shit In some countries, being accused of a crime is enough to warrant imprisonment. Case in point: This harrowing account from an American who spent three grueling weeks in a Japanese prison without bail or a trial, following a drunken altercation with a cabbie and ill-prepared self-report to the police:
I was pretty tired and drunk so I didn't have much patience... I also noticed that he didn't have his car navigation system switched on so I yelled at him to use it and called him a f*cking idiot (well, the equivalent) in Japanese. I didn't give him much chance to turn it on, as I soon reached over and started pushing the buttons to switch it on myself, all the while yelling at him that he was an f*king idiot....
I decided in my drunken mind to stop him from calling the cops and I reached over and grabbed the phone from him. He of course started screaming robbery and completely went nuts...
The next day when I came to my senses, I decided to go to the cops and sort it out. ... However, when I got to the police station, I found out that the driver had told them a very different story. ... In Japan it turns out that you are 100% guilty until proven otherwise and I kind of went to the cops without having thought through the potential outcomes.
He was interrogated repeatedly. His lawyer spoke no English. By day 15 he "really started getting desperate" and watched as his prison mates gave false confessions. He loses weight, eats terrible food, and is generally terrified. Point being: Don't start shit, and if you do, find someone who can explain what's going on before you throw yourself at the mercy of an unfamiliar system.
6. Don't Go Places You're Not Allowed There are legitimate reasons for going places where you are not allowed. (Like killing Nazis in Inglourious Basterds) But if you don't want to get arrested, don't do it, because even if you run away and apologize profusely, your foreign captors may not care. From journalists-turned-North Korean hostages Euna Lee and Laura Ling's account of their capture:
Feeling nervous about where we were, we quickly turned back toward China. Midway across the ice, we heard yelling. We looked back and saw two North Korean soldiers with rifles running toward us. Instinctively, we ran.
We were firmly back inside China when the soldiers apprehended us. Producer Mitch Koss and our guide were both able to outrun the border guards. We were not. We tried with all our might to cling to bushes, ground, anything that would keep us on Chinese soil, but we were no match for the determined soldiers. They violently dragged us back across the ice to North Korea and marched us to a nearby army base, where we were detained.