Going Postal

I have a dear friend, KT, who believes in the concept of the care packages. The Understanding family has received many boxes of goodies since leaving Brazil. She always includes our favorite candy, stickers, kitchen gadgets, and holiday ornaments; at least one item bears a heart.

I am not the only person for whom KT sends these boxes of love – another overjoyed recipient lives in France – and I am quite sure there are others I don’t know about around the world for whom she does the same thing. It’s her personal mission to friends in the expat community.

The Spanish government, however, is trying to quash the good deeds of the KTs of the world. Herewith, a timeline and recitation of facts proving that Spain has finally reached the pinnacle of absurd. An American formerly married to a Spaniard explained the mindset to me thusly: “ventanilla, ventanilla” , the mindboggling hopping from one ventana (window) to another in those hopes that you, the customer, will just go away, fed up with the bureaucracy.

On October 27, I received a letter from the government that I was to pick up a package. I had until Sunday, October 31 to deal with the matter or the postal service (Correos) would send the package back. The office was open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Early in the morning of the 28th, I went to my local post office. After waiting in line, I was told that I was in the wrong office. I had to to to the airport. This made me grumpy but I recognized that I had not read the fine print and proceeded to my next appointment. There I met Mrs. John Dear who announced she was going to the airport because she had to pick up a package. I hitched a ride.

At noon, we arrived at the airport office and double parked (this is the custom – when in Rome). In a facility next door, we spied mountains of packages, most of them from the United States. Two hundred people were in line inside, snaking around a receiving area the size of a pet shop and spilling out onto the sidewalk. Someone tipped us off to get in another line. We divided ourselves -Mrs. Dear manned the long line and kept an eye on her car. I headed for the other line since I could speak Spanish. A man eventually collected our official letters and fifteen minutes later gave us copies of the original packing slips. He told us we did not owe anything. In the meantime, Mrs. Dear spotted a friend of hers at the head of the other line where packages were issuing forth. We cut in line (this is the custom – when in Rome).

When at the counter where packages were delivered, we were told by a dour looking woman that our letters did not have the stamp from “Hacienda” (the taxing institution) and that we would have to obtain that stamp in order to collect our packages. Hacienda is in another building two blocks away. I explained that the man in the other line told us we owed nothing. She said that we needed the stamp anyway. By now it was 1:20 and there was no time to get to Hacienda and back by 2:00 p.m. The day before, Mrs. Dear had met a woman on the Metro who spent four hours collecting her package. Clearly, we either had to abandon the packages or try again one more time.

We left, still mulling the issue over. There would be great satisfaction in making the Spanish government pay to return our boxes but we would be empty-handed.

We returned the next day at 9:30 to the Hacienda department, determined to be victorious. Mind you, there are no signs indicating where in the building this department actually is. You have to ask. As a bonus, however, there was a parking lot with free spaces. Mrs. Dear and I waited in a short line and were attended. The civil servant (misnomer if ever there was one) told us that no, we did not have to pay duties or the 18% Value Added Tax (VAT) and gave us our stamps. He told us the value for paying the tax on it was 45 (Euros? dollars?). My package was valued at 40 dollars, Mrs. Dear’s at 86. Hunh? Someone doesn’t know how to do math. But oh well, we were elated because now we had our stamps! We ran over to the other office. There were only 3 people in front of us. Three attendants sat behind the long counter. We were served by the same woman who took our stamped letters. She told us to pay 4, 48 euros for the privilege of receiving our packages (FYI – they only take cash). We did. As a man in line said, “Todo es dinero.” Everything is money. After waiting for the attendant to text his girlfriend or his grandmother, he sauntered over to our packages and called out our names.

Boxes in hand, we walked back to our parking spot in Hacienda. Mrs. Dear was looking forward to opening up a new lip gloss (an item Fed Ex had rejected in a package recently sent to me – go figure).


My package had been sent on October 9 from Ohio and arrived in Madrid on October 12. It took the Spanish Government more than two weeks to send me a letter telling me to pick it up. Of the four days, they told me I could collect the package, two of the days the airport office were CLOSED. I am guessing that the 4, 48 euros they charged me was to pay for the extra step of sending me the letter. For a country that seems to be so concerned with being “green”, the carbon footprint of the package retrieval was scandalous. What if we had not carpooled? The drive to the airport (one way) is approximately 35 minutes with no traffic. What about the carless? There is no nearby metro stop to the Barajas air freight area. Buses? Taxis? The end effect of this brand new policy will be chilling: nice people like KT will not send packages and business around the world will suffer because Spaniards will not order anything from overseas. Regardless of the outrageous VAT, it is just too difficult and time-consuming for most people to retrieve their packages.

I did not abandon my box of love because I know all the effort it took to send it. Nor will I future ones. But you can bet that I will never order anything else be delivered to my door via the regular Spanish postal system. The good news: at least I’m not living in Yemen. I don’t think any packages will be getting out of there for awhile.



Filed under Customs, Friends, Life, Spanish vocabulary

14 responses to “Going Postal

  1. Mood Ring Mama

    In the words of the estimable Will Farrell, “Mind bottling.” This would be a good post transform into an article for a magazine.

  2. I think for the next election we should take out an Ad in the NY Times and print the article saying this is very close to happening to you.

  3. Raftbuddy

    That is ridiculous! I am amazed you kept your sanity during this process!

  4. Mrs NATO

    I agree with MRM…definitely crossover submission material. Unfortunately, your adventure doesn’t surprise me – I felt exhausted merely by reading about it. :/ I need to send a document via registered Sp. mail from the P. de A. Correo this week…care to join me? ha. No, seriously though?

  5. Sarah P

    The run around isn’t as much in the Philippines but you do need to pay the VAT and then bribe the person to give you the package. I’ve received only one here, I didn’t know what it was but it was from our moving company. I had to pay the equivalent of $20. It ended up being a “Thank You” gift which was probably valued less than $1. I learned my lesson. 🙂

  6. NittanyKitten

    Thank God I don’t have thoughtful friends that send me care packages! MEOW!!

  7. maria

    Well,should I send or not packages in future???

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