My Mystery UPS Package

UPS called me today about some sort of package that I'm supposed to be getting, and I was once again reminded of how backward a nation we are.

All I know at this point is that the package contains two T-shirts, one ballpoint pen, a baseball cap and some sort of "bottle", and that it has a commercial invoice of US$57 (which doesn't match anything I've ordered in years, and I'm pretty sure I didn't order anything from the US in, oh, the past six months).

They called me first to confirm my address (it was smudged or mistyped), and a bit later regarding Customs charges. The first call was pretty straightforward (no, that's not my address, this is, are there charges, do you know the contents - because I don't, etc.)

Their second call was a Monty Python-esque conversation that went more or less as follows:

UPS guy: Hello, I'm calling about your order, due to arrive tomorrow. We have a note here that you wanted to know if there were any customs taxes.

Me: Yes, but I also wanted to know exactly what was in the package. I've confirmed that I haven't ordered anything, so it has to be some sort of Xmas offering. Can you tell me who shipped it?

UPS guy: Oh, it's (painfully spells out a name).

Me: Okay, that name makes no sense to me. Isn't there an address of some kind?

UPS guy: Yes, it's (starts saying my address).

Me: No, a originating address.

UPS guy: It says (a PR company that I looked up on the Internet). So, you ordered this from them?

Update: I've since checked up on the firm. It's Edelman, who do PR for Microsoft's MacBU. I have to call them up or e-mail them to correct my address, it seems...

Me: No, I didn't. If you look them up on the Internet, you'll find that they are a PR company. They're likely to be sending me those things as a gift on behalf of some other company I ordered from previously.

UPS guy: But there's an invoice here. It says US$57.

Me: I didn't order anything. That's probably not an invoice, just an estimated value for export purposes.

I've since figured out that you can't export gifts from the US without a commercial invoice of some kind - at least that's what the UPS tracking for that package implies, since it was held near its point of origin (Seattle) with the note "THE COMMERCIAL INVOICE IS MISSING AND IS REQUIRED FOR EXPORT;FORWARDED TO THE FACILITY IN THE DESTINATION CITY" at one point.

UPS guy: Okay, but these T-shirts are from China, right?

Me: What?

UPS guy: It says here they're from China, and Customs is very picky about country of origin, you can't import anything above 22 Euro...

Me: Erm... I didn't order those, remember? And that only means the T-shirts are made in China.

I missed a great opportunity to ask the guy why he believed the T-shirts were being shipped from China when the sender was in the US, but I was utterly fascinated by the conversation.

UPS guy: And what about this pen? Is it a laser pen? Because if it is, Customs will want to know, there are safety regulations...

Me: A laser pen? That makes no sense. I didn't order that, remember? What is in that manifest, anyway?

UPS guy: Two T-shirts, a "ball point" pen, a "base ball cap" and a... "bottle" of some sort. Can't make it out.

Me: Okay, that's a normal pen (I then explained why they were termed "ballpoints" in English) and a cap with a bill (took me a while to sort out that there weren't any balls involved in that one).

UPS guy: Ah, okay. And you didn't order these, right?

Me: Right. I just wanted to know if I will be paying any import duties on those.

UPS guy: Well, just a moment then. (pause) It comes down to 89 Euro.

Me: WHAT? 89 Euro for GIFTS?

UPS guy: But it comes with an "invoice" for 57 dollars, and that's the import duties if Custom decides this is an import.

Me: Okay, so I won't take the package if they do. I'm not going to pay 89 Euro for US$57 worth of gifts that I didn't order. And, by the way, was my phone number on the shipping info, or did you match it against previous records? That might help me figure out who sent those.

UPS guy: It's on the invoice.

Me: Well I won't pay 89 Euro for something I didn't order, so I won't be taking the package.

UPS guy: You'll have to call our dispatch in the morning to check if it's cleared Customs.

Me: Okay, thanks. And I have to call them to change the delivery address too, right?

UPS guy: Yes, we can't change that ourselves. It has to be done via our hotline.

So I wished him a merry Xmas, thanked him for his help, and hung up, dazed.

Besides the obvious misunderstanding regarding the invoice (and the requirement for a commercial invoice to "export" something I didn't pay for), I am dumbstruck that the Portuguese Customs system would charge 89 Euro for the package.

I can take the UPS guy's excess of zeal in stride (I've had much worse experiences back when I ordered servers and components from abroad, and he was pretty earnest about the whole thing), but the while thing is... just plain weird.

Anyway, whomever shipped that to me had my phone number, an inkling of what my address was like, and good will. I have no idea who they are, but if they're reading this, It's not looking good right now...

Update: In the meantime, I called back and the package was delayed until Tuesday (which means I'm not home to collect it - not even in the Lisbon area...), and they still haven't corrected the delivery address (I've tried to do it three times now). Worse still, they say they can't do that until it reaches dispatch, which means I have to call back on Tuesday, hope it hasn't been delivered (to the wrong address) by the time I call, and re-schedule delivery.

Great service. I still can't figure out why they wouldn't fix my address on any of the previous attempts.

Update 2: after five calls to repeatedly fix the delivery address and a week (including two or three failed attempts at delivery), the package finally arrived - and there were no charges whatsoever. A photo of the contents follows (thanks, MacBU!):

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