EUROPE: Down and Out in London or Elsewhere

An American lady vacationing in Italy seeks advice at the American consulate in Florence. She gets a crisp brush-off from a pompous young vice consul. "I pay your salary, young man," she protests, but in vain. That scene in Olivia de Havilland's 1962 movie, Light in the Piazza, often evokes a knowing chuckle from seasoned American travelers. U.S. consuls have a reputation—sometimes deserved, frequently not—of being coldly impervious to fellow citizens in distress. Now that the expanding but unreliable charter-flight business is leaving a growing number of travelers high and dry...

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