expat life: sending packages to germany, or woe be you customs office

Friday morning on my way to the Mainz customs office, I would have looked like a raving lunatic had anyone else been around to see me. “God damn fucking assholes,” I muttered loudly as I hobbled down the empty street leading through an industrial park to their offices. “Holding every damn package anyone sends to me while I’m pregnant. Because walking is just so much fucking fun right now. God damn bleeping bleepity bleep bleeps.” Why the customs office doesn’t just open the damn packages they confiscate, look at them, and send them on I will never understand. The stereotype that Germans are an efficient people may ring true in many cases, but it is never, ever true when it comes to the country’s bureaucracy.

Thursday I had received a letter from the customs people. It said that they had a package of mine. It said I needed to bring along the receipt from my order to pick it up. It also said that I had 14 days to do so. Except the letter had arrived 13 days late. Which meant that if I didn’t drag my ass down to the office the following day, my package would be sent back across the ocean. I didn’t know what to get angry about first: the lateness of the letter or the fact that they had once again confiscated and demanded to see proof of purchase for a package that was a gift. Sigh.

It is at moments like these that one particularly enjoys the convenience of the custom office’s pick-up hours. A whole four and a half hours a day, beginning at 7:30 am, weekdays only. How does anyone with a normal job ever liberate their packages? It is on the way to the Mainz customs office that you start to feel like you may actually, for real this time, be in one of the rings of hell. The signs meant to direct customers into the office have been designed by demons who I can only assume enjoy watching the frustrated, angry humans circle their goal unaware from atop the neighboring buildings. With popcorn. In fact I give hell complete responsibility for all customs offices everywhere.

At the Mainz customs office, the signs that you thought were there to helpfully direct you to its entrance lead you in a circle around the building (right past the entrance, which is tucked away on a narrow, unmarked street), but never point into the tiny street that guards the door. During my first visit I circled three times before noticing two fellows smoking outside of a door down the unmarked street and decided to take a look. The unadventurous might end up circling the building for eternity.

Having been to the customs office three times since, I no longer fall prey to their misleading signs, and instead of circling their building, I cut directly into the alley that leads to their entrance. At least there isn’t a line at 7:30 am.

I handed the woman behind the counter the letter I had been sent about the package. “And did you bring your receipt?” she asked.

“There is no receipt. It’s a present from my uncle,” I replied.

“Oh, ok.” She wandered off with my letter to find the package. After a few minutes she returned and placed a small padded envelope on the counter.

I looked at the label. Uncle Sprinkles had dutifully checked “present” on the customs form glued to the outside of the package. “So why is it that packages that have ‘present’ checked here get confiscated?”

“Oh well, anyone can check ‘present’ on the form, can’t they. And this obviously came from a company.” My uncle sends his packages from the used book store he runs. When the address is written by hand the customs office doesn’t intercept them. But this time he’d put one of the store’s stickers on the outside of the package. Though I do wonder why anyone would think a package addressed to “The Great Bearded One and Gypsy Momma Nikki” would be coming from a company I don’t know. And if the customs forms on packages have become so meaningless that the customs officers themselves no longer believe in them, then what the fuck do we have to fill them out for?

“Well, he owns a used book store,” I explained. “But this isn’t the first package you’ve intercepted recently. Why do my packages keep ending up here?”

She explained about companies again, that they intercept anything that looks like an order if there is no invoice affixed to the outside of the box. That they intercept anything listed as being worth more than 45 euros (I had previously thought that the present limit was 100 euro, but I stand corrected). And they don’t give a damn if you check “present” on the form or not. Oh yeah, and sometimes they intercept packages just because. Just because they like to do random checks and spread as much of their own bad mood around the country as they can.

I left the building with my package, happy to have avoided paying any fees, but still too disgruntled to shake the bad mood. On the bus again, I opened the package to find a zombie movie and a Fahrenheit 451 t-shirt (from these people—aren’t they brilliant?). My mood improved slightly, before I remembered that I could have had the package delivered right to my door two weeks ago when it first arrived in the city and had instead wasted another morning getting to, standing in, and getting home from the customs office. At least now I knew the score. No business address labels, no gifts over 45 euros, and hand grenades for the snarky demons on the roof.

Photo (cc) flickr user nadja.robot

0 Comments on “expat life: sending packages to germany, or woe be you customs office

  1. I’d been weighing telling you how much luck you had had not having had to pay import tax on your diapers. Glad this was a smaller package even if it was a PITA to pick it up. (My aunt keeps sending books and I have no idea why I haven’t gotten stuck with a big bill and a tramp to the middle of nowhere myself.)

  2. Ann: Yeah that was def a bit of good luck that I am still really thankful for. Particularly because the person who sent them didn’t know about never ever writing the real worth of the package’s contents on the label. All the same, she sent four or five packages and only the one even ended up at customs, another thing to be thankful for. And considering she’s been sending me packages in Germany for years and years and years without them ever being intercepted, I have to wonder why they even bothered to intercept that last one. Who knows. That is one of the things that kills me about their offices. You just have no frickin clue where you stand.

  3. Yes ma’am…this is actually what I do for a living – import and export. And Germany is not nearly as bad as it gets! Try sending chemicals to a remote island in Indonesia…This is the stuff that keeps me up at night.

  4. “The unadventurous might end up circling the building for eternity.” – brilliant turn of phrase you have, Mrs Gorilla Lady.

  5. Katja: Oh yeah? Where do you work the inport and export scene? I can imagine that it’s much worse elsewhere. Though it’s just one of those things that is no damn fun. Can’t imagine it’s all cookies and rainbows and your side of the desk either. As I said to a friend I met up with after this incident “It’s probably just bad organizing and not malicious, but every time you go to that office you just get the feeling you’re being toyed with.”

    Frau Dietz: Ahhhwww thanks. 🙂

  6. I work for a Dutch company but I’m in the US. I had a good laugh the day I read this post…very cathartic. One thing I’ve learned is that customs, no matter where you are in the world, will stop any package they want and just make up a reason later. : )

  7. Bureaucracy makes my mind melt.

    I’ve notice that the longer people stay in a foreign country the more they become like the natives. Now that is scary. Is there anyway to counteract this?!


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