Foreigners Explain What Shocked Them Most About UK Festivals
"In the middle of a circle pit, one really big drunk guy started to pee in his mouth and spit it at people."
Muddy Glastonbury guests in 2011. Photo: Everynight Images / Alamy Stock Photo
A number of things are guaranteed to happen at every British festival. A man named "Nitro" and his mute friend in a beanie will successfully sell baggies of crushed paracetamol to teenagers from Hampshire. At least 500 people will wear, and absolutely ruin, their brand new Air Max 98s. After a blissful, sun-drenched day of dancing with friends and strangers, someone will return to the campsite on Sunday evening to find their tent and all of their belongings burned to the ground.
These things are a given – to us, at least, because we have been to British festivals, and these factors become expected after years of attrition. But what about festival attendees who travel thousands of miles to experience our shit banter and shitty portaloos? To find out what shocked foreign punters most about British festivals, I did the sensible thing and asked a few of them.
IKER, 29, SPAIN
Over the last ten years I've been to some of the biggest festivals in the UK – Sonisphere, Download, Reading, 2000 Trees, Citadel. I remember I used to be impressed about the famous British punctuality – all the gigs started without a second's delay – whereas, in Spain, the headliners started with two hour delays.
One year, I bought synthetic weed, and it was fucking awesome – but after the festival I checked on the internet and it was really dangerous stuff. My most shocking memory, though? I remember three years ago, in the middle of a circle pit, one really big drunk guy started to pee in his mouth and spit it at people.
PHIL, 37, AUSTRALIA
I've been going to festivals now since I was 15... it's been an extreme ride. Reading was my first English festival. On the first day I decided to sneak my own booze in; it was ridiculously easy to do. The security was so slack I'm pretty sure you could sneak anything in. On the second day there was a high percentage of young people overdosing on fucked up pills – my wife and I pulled a young girl out of the crowd who was convulsing and foaming at the mouth, with no one giving a fuck around her.
Back in Australia, the festivals I go to, people are there to get high on the music, not crack. Also, earlier that day there was a munted guy publicly masturbating to the band Pvris, so I took it upon myself to publicly shame him. Reading was full of wannabe fuckwits – when Eminem came on it was the funniest shit I've ever seen: 18-year-olds wearing gang shit like the Crips and the Bloods. Halfwits!
HANNAH, 25, NEW ZEALAND
I'd say the two biggest things that shocked me were the friendliness of the Brits and the smoking. I'm from New Zealand, and the public campaigns around smoking are huge at the moment: basically everyone from my generation has had it rammed down their throats that smoking kills. So really, only people who are older or from low-income backgrounds smoke. I don't think I met anyone who didn't smoke. I struggled to breathe in the mosh pits all the time! I was scared of the portaloos, but the smoke was harder.
Even more shocking, though, was that people I'd never even met put my tent up for me. I thought it might be risky going alone to the other side of the world to camp with thousands of strangers – especially as a girl – but I never felt unsafe once. Oh, and also that [who the fuck is] Alan thing – everyone in New Zealand has seen the video, so it was fucking hilarious.
LIV (RIGHT), 49, NORWAY
I think what shocked me the most my first time at Glastonbury was the friendly, loving atmosphere. In Norway, people are more reserved towards strangers, and tend to get much more drunk. At Glastonbury, people were smiling, and I saw so few police officers – and when I saw them they were smiling and dancing too. I've been three times now, and I feel so safe there, never experienced any trouble or unpleasant people. I know people get things stolen, but that happens everywhere, and at a festival this size I guess that's to be expected. But no unpleasant security guards anywhere! I love it! They do use drugs much more openly than I'm used to, though. But that never bothered me.
EVA (RIGHT), 21, CYPRUS
I've been to a few British festivals – camping and non-camping ones – and what has absolutely shocked me the most is the speed at which a nice grassy landscape turns into a mud bath, and also the amount of people who sell pills, as if they're mini doughnuts at a waterpark. But mostly the mud. Also, I've never felt as much a sense of community as when it'd been raining all weekend and then the sun came out for a brief five minutes and everyone in the campsite just hugged and cheered. It was beautiful.
DANIEL, 33, BRAZIL
I'm from Brazil and went to Lovebox in 2015. To be quite honest, it was one of my worst festival experiences. People were drugged out of their minds. Don't get me wrong – I love to party. I also just like to be conscious, and lots of people I saw there were just drooling and shit. Plus, there were sound leaks everywhere. Some of the performers were visibly not feeling the vibe from the crowd, and wrapped up their acts early. And, to top it all off, I got searched on the second day. Security found some stuff on me and just sold it back to me, right there, no questions asked. So yeah, not really crazy about going to another festival in the UK.
What shocked us most was the insane amount of nitrous canisters we saw people doing. On the train to the festival, at the festival, in the crowd. In addition to that, the amount of litter was atrocious. Everyone just bought cheap pop-up tents and left them there at the end, which was new to us too. On a more positive note, they handed out free cigarette butt containers, which was really cool! As for drugs, it was just weird hearing people say the drug's name instead of the usual lingo. Instead of molly, it was MDMA; instead of Lucy or acid it was LSD. Also, there was lots of cocaine offered, which is different from my US festival experience.
BEN, 24, AUSTRALIA
Being my first time attending a music festival abroad, I was profoundly overwhelmed with the kindness and care shown by the those within UK metal scene [at Download festival]. The community-like atmosphere really was the highlight of my weekend. People from all walks of life gathered not just for the amazing music, but also to enjoy the company of those who all share a common interest. Not once over the three days did I feel unsafe, which in today's festival scene is a rare occurrence. Of course, drug use is present, but nothing compared to perhaps that of other music genres. People were there for the music and the community, not to get off their chops and black out in a porter loo.