Birthday surprise ruined

Bureaucracy. Red tape. Officialdom. Call it what you will. No matter where in the world you are, its end goal seems to be to make life a little more difficult for those who simply want to get with what they’re doing.

I had a birthday recently. Usually, when I have a birthday, friends send me stuff. I never know what will come or from whom or when but the child in me gets excited about the potential of cards and packages arriving in the post, something other than a supermarket flyer or a bill. And if those friends happen to live in the EU, that’s even better. The mystery remains. But if they live in the UK (since Brexit) or the USA or Australia or anywhere outside the EU, it’s a hassle.

I got a letter from the customs guys at the post office with a package number and a password. They wanted me to fill out a form so that they could clear the package. They said it came from Farringdon Road in London. I know two people in London, neither of whom I’d expect to remember my birthday, let alone send me a present. I was at a loss.

Curious, I Googled the address to find it was a Royal Mail depot. Great. That meant that ANYONE I knew ANYWHERE in England could have sent me something. The search broadened. What to do? Contact the most likely possibles and ask if they’d sent me something for my birthday? How embarrassing.

Thankfully, the lovelies from Slough had mentioned that they’d done just that.

But their name and address weren’t enough. Neither was the fact that it was a birthday present, and I wasn’t supposed to know what was in it. I had to detail each item saying how much it cost and what it weighed. I kid you not.

I contacted them and asked what they’d sent. And how much they’d valued it at. I’d have been really mortified if the pair in question weren’t two of the most pragmatic women I know. Still, though, I was embarrassed.

Seriously Hungary? What are you at?

I enlisted the help of a Hungarian friend who is well versed in the country’s bureaucracy. After I’d been waiting for 27 minutes for someone in the Vám to pick up the phone, they called the post office to find out what I had to do and together we tried to navigate the form. Yes, it’s available in English but get this – the description of the contents has to be in Hungarian.

All told, it took about an hour to guess (and I mean guess) at what we were being asked, to find where to upload the form, and to figure out the file naming protocol needed.

Form submitted, I then had to wait to see how much I’d have to pay to release my present from customs. Theoretically, because of the value quoted on the package (I had to ask that, too), I’m only liable for clearance, not VAT. And get this, they include the cost of postage in the value of the contents. Mad!

The next day, I got a notice saying that I owed 1746 ft (£4.23 / $4.98 /$5.86) – I got a discount for paying online. Paying in person would have been an extra £2.

I get that there are customs and clearance and tax and such. Although the fee rankled – like paying the bank to take out my own cash – it wasn’t the end of the world. But really – what a way to ruin a birthday surprise.

I’m not impressed.


9 Responses

  1. That’s probably where my copies of the newly published Hangman’s House are stuck. And probably half the staff are on holiday just now . . .

  2. After living in Venezuela for 40 years and with a particularly bad experience with an attempted delivery to Hungary, I no longer believe in snail mail. Yet perhaps my best memory of a package received was Glenn seeing the ‘mice in the box’ for the first time…. Still makes me smile. Maybe it’s worth it?

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