Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sock it to the Post

Let me tell you a bit about the Latvian postal/UPS/postal customs system.

I ordered Rosetta Stone goods from the States (yes, I decided to take the Rosetta leap, if you will. Hate on me after I have my post rant) back at the end of November. Somewhere in the beginning of December I got a hurriedly mumbled phone call from someone at Customs saying I had to come pick up a package. I assumed this was the package from my mother she had told me to watch for and so started planning a transportation option to go pick up said mommy-pack.

But then I got curious as to how far the Rosetta shipment had gotten and logged into the UPS tracking website to discover that it was in fact the Rosetta Stone box that had been sitting at Customs the past several days. Joy of joys! Only problem is that the UPS/Customs office is only open until 18.00 on week days. This, coupled with the inconvenient yet cheap public transportation option that takes me 10 minutes to walk to and takes 15-20 minutes to arrive at the required stop, promised to be an interesting task to manage seeing as I work 9.00 - 17.00.

I'll say now, the simple fact that I, too, work a 40h/week job seems to surprise most of the people I've had to deal with on a bureaucratic level. Ack! I'm not just some American-Latvian come to mooch your money for doing absolutely nothing all day! I actually pull my own weight (and often then some) in the local work force, just like so many other hard working townies! I know, it's INSANE!

I digress.

Then I get a phone call from a weasely sounding man at UPS, who basically informs me that the package has been at their office for some time and that they want to know if someone is ever going to come and pick it up. I then inform him that I've been trying to make it out to their office the past week, but I don't usually get out of the office earlier than 17.00. Enter surprised sound from the weasely man. I continue by saying I intend to do my best to make it to their office the next day. He then tells me I'll have to pay an additional (!!!!) percentage for customs fees. I say this is excellent. My sarcasm goes over his head as he asks me, "So, is someone going to come within the next days or not?" KICK. IN. THE. HEAD. He also adds that the hours are from 8.30-17.30, meaning that I lose a 30 minute window of arriving to get things done.

I roll into the UPS office the next day, no one looks at the passport I've brought with me, I get a piece of paper from a guy at the UPS desk and am told to go talk to the customs declarant. The customs declarant is an incredibly bored looking woman with ink smudges all over her manicured but calloused hands. She takes my "receipt" and tells me if my package contains an educational material, I'll have to pay a 10% customs duty, and if it's something else, I pay 21%. Then she looks me in the eye and asks me, "So what are we going to do about it?"

I am confused and tell her so. "Of course it's an educational material - it's a language acquisition programme." She then tells me that yes, the invoice does say "Educational Material", but this doesn't mean that they know what is in the box. I am also told that a woman received a similar package from the same company a few weeks back, and she was brought to customs inspection. This is at least what I initially heard. At this time I'm starting to get concerned. It's just a box of learning CDs, right?? I didn't do anything wrong, I don't want to be interrogated!" But then I understand that it is the contents of the box they inspect, not you. So my options are: let Customs open my shipment and poke around to make sure it is what it says it is, then pay them 10% of the total of the product, or walk away with it then, but pay 21% of the total. I say I'll take the first option -- hey, what's another 10% and more days of waiting for an item I thought I would be receiving at my local post department branch office, right?

So I sign the invoice and the customs declarant takes my phone number and tells me that the box will be brought to inspection the following day (Wednesday), I would be contacted by Thursday, at which point they would tell me how much I would have to pay in addition, e-mail me a copy of the final invoice, and I'd be able to come pick the package up by Friday. Frustrated, I ask about the office hours and she informs me that her station is open until 18.00, but that the main UPS counters I passed when coming in (and where, presumably, I'd have to pay) are open until 20.00. Great. I part empty-handed, not very amused, but glad that things are at least moving forward.

Fast forward to Friday. I've heard nothing from UPS, Customs, or the weasely man. I don't know who to call. I have no papers. I find the UPS Latvia e-mail address and write them a frustrated and slightly angry letter. Where. Is. My. Stuff.

Fast forward to Monday. I get an e-mail from UPS Latvia saying that my package has been taken to the Customs inspection department near Riga International Airport and that I need to show up in order for them to open up the box and look at it. I also need to take some document with me that proves the contents of the box. Big, ol' WTF. So I call the number at the end of the e-mail, get a somewhat sympathetic woman on the other line, who tells me the exact same thing the e-mail told me. Which is okay.

But then I tell her I'm just really confused why I have to go all the way out to the airport, when the customs declarant at UPS told me I would be called once everything was taken care of to come pay for and pick up my package. The woman on the phone (ba-bah-daaah, bureaucracy!) told me she had nothing to do with what the customs declarant told me, but I would still have to come to them to get the package. Also, I'd have to show up by 16.00 in order to draw up the declaration papers (which, oh, I get to pay for, too) in a timely manner and get the package. I tell her about my 40h/week job and I am not surprised that she sounds surprised. I am then told that my other option is to give UPS Express the authority to fill out the sheets for me, which I'd have to pay extra for, and then they'd deliver the package to my place of work. I ask if this is something the post office would take care of. Of course, it isn't. I didn't ask, but I would bet money that I would have to physically go to the UPS office, fill out countless documents to give them said authorisation to go take care of my stuff for me. The woman asks me if I want her to give me the number for UPS. I think for a second, then tell her very bluntly that no, I do not want to call them. I want my package. It's been in the country for almost a month, I've had all this unexpected stress and ridiculousness to deal with and I still don't have my property. She kind of sympathises, but not too much. She then reiterates that, if I trust UPS Express to handle things, I could still try that option. I bite my tongue to keep from telling her just how much I actually DO trust UPS Express in comparison to the standard postal system.

Then I figured out I could try to take care of all of this next Monday. The woman agrees this would work. I ask her if I can pay by debit card. She says no. I then ask her how much money am I supposed to know to bring with. She gives me a ballpark number. BALLPARK. Jesus Christ on crutches on ice.

During this week I also got a "Repeat Reminder!!!" notice from the regular mail saying I had a package waiting for me some time. Funny, because it was the FIRST NOTICE I HAD GOTTEN. But they delegated UPS Express to bring it to me (who signed on those papers, I wonder?), so it worked out in the end. Then yesterday I got a letter from my friend Andi and her husband Brent, something that I'm guessing is a "Thank you for being at our wedding!" (I was on Skype conference, different story) photo of the two of them. I say guess, because the envelope was put back together with sports tape due to what the stamp basically calls "being opened upon receipt". The envelope looks like a Rotweiler slept face-down on it. The paper of the envelope is worn and liquid-stained and has completely adhered itself to the face of the photo. The front of the envelope with the addresses is mysteriously unscathed, but the back... The postal system here is kicking my butt.

So I am going to go to the building next to the airport next Monday and hope that I have enough time after filling in the declaration forms to tell them exactly how I feel about their absolute crap lack of inter-departmental and office communication. I AM FUMING. You just can't tell because all the snowfall we've had lately is masking it.

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