Thursday, 1 December 2011

holding my gift tea hostage

I should really be quiet about this. I got my package from the Deutsche Post and it'd likely be in my best interest to be grateful. And shut up. Right?


As a teablogger, I feel it's my responsibility to talk about the good, the bad and the surreal when it comes to tea. So here goes.

Last week, a letter from the Deutsche Post arrived and I was simultaneously pleased and perplexed by news of an unexpected package from China. I get plenty of tea and tea writing to try (and potentially review), so that part didn't surprise me. But as far as I could tell this package was unannounced. I couldn't remember anyone telling me this one was on its way.

Well, anytime I receive anything in Beamtendeutsch (bureaucratic German), I get nervous. But for a document of this sort, this one was actually rather straightforward.

'We're holding your undeclared package for you,' they assure me. 'In  order to get through customs, the value of the package has to be displayed on the outside of the package.' They provide their hours and's in Garching! Garching? That's nowhere near where I live. Not remotely.

That's quite a trek for me to be able to tell them, 'It's an unsolicited gift of tea and I have no idea the value.'

But I digress.

They inform me that they'll hold my package for 14 days, and then it's back to wherever it came from. When you read a warning like this from a German office, you take it seriously. 15 days? It'll almost definitely be gone.

Later in the document, it says that they charge €.50 per day for holding my tea. Holding my gift tea (that I hadn't asked for) hostage, I might add. And I have the honour of paying for it. Did I mention surreal? Oh wait...if it's less than €5, they'll waive the charge. That's what I call incentive to resolve this immediately. Well, that and there's gift tea involved.

They provide a checklist for what I need when I trudge all the way out to godforsaken Garching, and I don't like the looks of this at all.

a. invoice/proof of payment (it's a gift-that's why it's called gift tea. How on earth will I manage this?)
b. any pertinent documents (what's pertinent in this case? shall I list all the fictional people who might've sent me tea?)
c. cold hard cash for Customs (like you didn't see that coming)
d. any additional documents as a result of this process (they think of everything...these bureaucrats)

I'm told I can send a Vertreter (someone in my stead), which is all well and good. Can you imagine that conversation?

me: 'Hey! I want you to go to Garching and pick up a package of gift tea for me, ok?'

my imaginary Vertreter: 'Uh, ok. That sounds a bit suspect...are you sure this is all legal?' 

So I guess you can see why I'm not sending someone there for me.

Then the document continues: 'In the event you can't/we can't verify all of this info, we offer the following services...' My ears perk up. Here it comes...'Send us the necessary documents or an explanation and we'll take care of everything.'

Pay dirt. This is what I wanted to hear. They'll take care of everything. Then they say something indecipherable about how far the Deutsche Post office is from the Customs office, but by this time I'm not even paying attention.

They're going to take care of everything. No worrying over here.

I send in my 'It's gift tea that I didn't know about and I don't know how much it's worth...please send it to me soon, though' explanation. That's all that was necessary. Yesterday, the package arrived at my front door.

Turns out I did know of this shipment of tea, but had forgotten about it entirely. It's from Teavivre and I can assure you I'm going to talk much more about this company. Here's how attractive their very practical packages are:

The last thing on the form is really the most practical thing I learned from this whole experience. The document states in bold!:

Please inform anyone outside of the EU that anything sent here should prominently display an invoice on the outside of the package. In most cases when this is done correctly, such packages can be delivered more easily directly to your door.

That's good to know, isn't it? Don't ever let it be said that this very whimsical teablog doesn't sometimes provide a bit of useful knowledge. There's your knowledge for the next little while.

But then I turned the package to the side, and what did I see? Here's what I saw:

That, my friends and fellow teabloggers, is exactly what it looks like. An invoice stating very clearly the value of the contents of the package. Did they truly fail to simply look on the side of the package that they'd been holding hostage? Yes. Indeed they did.



  1. Sounds like a personal postal problem to me. You already know how I feel about posting packages to Munich "it's an endless waiting game searching in the black hole for the gift of tea"

  2. My my my! That puts red tape at an all-time high!

  3. It really was a bit over the top-the red tape.

    agiftoftea, it's especially difficult when you're the one sending it and it's unclear what the requirements are for the country to which you're sending it.

  4. I guess I'm spoiled with the USPS. I've had very few troubles with them...other than holding a package they "TRIED" to deliver...and only rang the doorbell once for.

    On a happier note, the Teavivre stuff will be totally worth it. Especially their golden-tipped Yunnan Dian Hong, if you got it.

  5. I received the same package from them and I also had trouble. My mailman NEVER leaves notices that I have a package. I only found out because they accidentally gave it to my sister when she picked up some of hers from the post office :p

  6. Geoff, I've read about that Yunnan Dian Cong & I'm really looking forward to it.

    Nicole, I think that's why this topic has stirred up so much emotion. In addition to here, on twitter & TeaTrade there've been a lot of personal horror stories.

    Oh, & the German Facebook group 'TeeFreunde' had a lot of practical advice when they read this.

  7. It's good/sad to learn that bureaucrats are all the same 'round the world.

  8. I've had the same exact thing happen here in the U.S., with a gift shipments of tea; mine was from India. In my case, the tea company (now defunct Fresh Darjeeling Tea) resolved the issue with customs without me having to get on the phone with them.

    This sort of stuff is very problematic I think, because it harms small business more than big business. Big businesses streamline their international shipping, but small businesses are frequently trying out new thingss, shipping to a new region, etc. so they bear the brunt of this.

  9. Good point Alex. You're exactly right.

    If I'm entirely honest, it's really rather remarkable that we can so easily send things around the world. The whole idea of buying tea either directly or nearly directly from a plantation or his representative.

    If you went back and told a tea grower in Ceylon about this 150 years ago, he'd hardly believe his ears.

    This post has gotten a lot of attention. I'm sure I'll talk more about sending and from various places.