Ransom Paid

I recommend going on holidays after your birthday because when you come home, odds are that some late present will be waiting for you. I did. And they were.

I have a fondness for scratch cards. I love a bit of a gamble. [I’ve made a note that I’ve noted this and will let you know how long it takes for the algorithms to cotton on and start sending me ads for casinos and such.] I had a bit of a thing going in Alaska with the pull-tabs. My favourite Hungarian scratch card is the Pénztlift. In Ireland I’m all about Winning Streak. The most I’ve ever won here has been 800 ft, some 300 ft more than I paid for the card.

What I’m really buying is hope. Hope that I’ll win a top prize. But when I win more than the face value of the cards, I’m very happy. One of these days, I’ll strike it rich. In the meantime, I’ll keep dreaming.

Back in the day, I’d hope to get paper notes in my birthday cards – now I look for scratch cards. When I got two lots of 21 scratch cards for my 21st birthday. I was in my element. Wonder if they’ll remember when I turn 60?

I also had a note from the post office to say that they were holding a parcel from the USA for ransom. A variation on the recent Brexit fiasco but this time I didn’t have any hoops to jump through – I simply had to show up and pay the money. The sender has a good track record in choosing presents so I figured it was worth the gamble.

It was a book – on preserving food – just what I needed given that I also came home to a full crop of pears and am on a promise from a neighbour to get as many apples as I want from their tree. Delighted I was, until I did the math. Then I got annoyed.

Were I a conspiracy theorist I’d wonder if online retailers have a thing going with the world’s post offices to make it financially unviable (is that a word?) to buy something locally and then post it abroad. I checked. A 2012 study from Copenhagen Economics says as much

[…] in some circumstances, pricing can be used as an anti-competitive tool to squeeze competitors out of the market to the detriment of postal users.

The book had an RRP of €18.99 (I suspect it was more because it’s a hard one to come by and the value stated on the customs form was $30 but for argument’s sake, let’s go with that). My mate paid another $25 something to post it, bringing the tally to $44, and then I had to pay the equivalent of $18 something to get it out of jail. So all told, it cost $43 to get it from the USA to Hungary. Madness. When I moved back from Valdez all those years ago, there was a book rate – cheap as chips, as long as you only put books in the box. Nothing else. What’s happened?

I had a similar experience myself when sending a package to Balaton, MN. (Did you know that America has its own Balaton?) The postage cost twice what I paid for what was in the box. Why send it then, you might ask? Because I knew the receiver would get a kick out of it. Just as my mate knew that book was written with me in mind.

Every Christmas, the joy I get from giving is diluted by the pain I feel at paying so much for the privilege. I think the local post office would miss me if I ever moved.

When I travel, I send postcards to people who like receiving something other than bills in the post. I like to take an hour out and sit with a coffee somewhere penning my missives. It used to be a coffee – now it’s a stiff drink to help ease the pain of what it’s going to cost. Greece charges a flat €1 for postcards to anywhere in the world. Ireland charges twice that. Hungary is in between at €1.50 equivalent. The Vatican City tops my list at $2.80 but there you’re really paying for the postmark.

Where is all this leading? Will it get to the stage where the go-to present becomes an Amazon Gift Card? I hope not. But in the meantime, senders beware.


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