Mark Twain wrote: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Over the years, this contemplative quote has been boiled down to the epithet: “Travel broadens the mind.”

But does it really?

Now I quite like my foreign travel and two weeks in the sun is the perfect antidote to a year of work.

(Yes, I know we’ve had Continental-style weather over the past few weeks but that really is the exception rather than the rule.) Anyway, back to travel.

Personally, I think Mark Twain got it wrong.

Visiting other countries is always interesting but surely the effect of your trip to the Costa or Riviera serves no more than to confirm our own prejudices.

The fact remains, as much as we may enjoy our tapas, bouillabaisse or stifado, you can usually find an English (or Irish) pub on your travels filled with Brits drinking Strongbow and eating all-day breakfasts.

But what travel does provide is the opportunity to observe national characteristics close up.

If you guessed I have just returned from my annual sojourn in the sun you would be right and this year, I thought I would hold the inaugural Fly in the Ointment international awards based on my experiences over the past few weeks.

First up is the noisiest people on the beach award.

I will discount the shrieking children and crying babies – that sounds the same in any language.

Runner-up is the man who thought it was a good idea to hold business calls on his mobile phone very loudly two feet away from my beach towel.

Impressively, he did conduct them in at least two, maybe three, different languages.

But the clear winner was the Brummie father of baby Matilda and toddler Jensen.

In the space of 15 minutes, Brummie dad must have shouted (and I mean shouted) his children’s names 20 times.

And let’s face it, Jensen is a pretty unforgettable name especially when you heard it as many times as I did – at full volume.

My second award is for the inappropriate breaching of personal space.

Picture the scene: You arrive at the beach with your towel, coolbox and parasol. You survey the available space and plonk yourself down so you are not too close to anyone else.

Well that’s what you do if you’re a Brit.

It would appear there is a sliding scale of complying with other people’s personal space.

The Germans and Dutch seem to behave like us while the French and Spanish are a little more relaxed about getting up close and personal.

But the prize goes to the Italians who are quite happy to insert themselves into a non-existent gap.

Overlapping their beach towels on mine seemed just a little bit too close for comfort in my opinion. In fact the only people who have ever got quite that close to me are my wife and mum.

If the matriarch of the party had got any closer we would have had to have got engaged.

But no foreign holiday would be complete with the international air travel customer service award.

There could only be one winner...Ryanair.

Fortunately it was only on the return journey we crossed the path of the Irish behemoth.

The first clue things weren’t going to be great came when I arrived at the airport in plenty of time to be greeted by the longest check-in queue I have ever seen.

Don’t forget, this was a Saturday in holiday season at one of the busiest holiday airports in the Med.

And how many check-in staff did Ryanair have on to handle multiple outbound flights?

Two for most of the time until a third turned up. The queue simply crawled as passengers became more and more irate.

Still, as one of my colleagues said: You get what you pay for and that’s very true.

And my final offering is the drinking alcohol at inappropriate time of day award.

My flight out to the sun was at a ridiculous time of the morning which entailed turning up at the airport at just after 3am.

Bizarrely, the coffee shop wasn’t open but the bar was. Now I like a drink and I’m all in favour of getting in the holiday spirit but drinking lager at 3.30am is pushing it just a little bit. So the award goes to half the outbound passengers at Liverpool Airport.

One final thought. Why are the seats on Ryanair planes so uncomfortable?

Answers on a holiday postcard please to Fly in the Ointment.

By our columnist The Fly in the Ointment