Expectations when shipping from a foreign country

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I’m not much of a shopper at home (well, except for plants but that’s an entirely different story). However, when I travel, I love to shop. It’s such fun to buy things and then enjoy them in my house long after I’ve returned. I get to relive the experience of the purchase: who I was with, what the place looked like, how good the sales techniques were, if I bargained meaningfully, and so on. Most often, what I buy is packable or portable but occasionally it is not. And that’s when one must beware.

For example, twenty years ago when I was first in Tanzania, I was determined to buy some ebony figures. I told our guide Charles what I had in mind. I saw many cookie-cutter statues of Masai warriors with spears but I wanted something different, unique. On the last day, I found what I was looking for: a man and a woman seated together, finely carved of ebony, he holding a goat, she a gourd. They were perfect. I didn’t do a very good job of bargaining–I was new at it and I really wanted the pair. So I paid an awful lot, probably way too much. Then came the matter of shipping. The proprietor told me the carvings would be delivered COD. I asked him how much he thought that would be. After all, they weighed 170 pounds together and were going to be shipped by air. He answered that he didn’t know but maybe around $250. I wasn’t crazy about the idea but I could picture them in my house in just the right spot.

About a month after I returned home, I had a call from someone at the San Francisco airport saying there was a package waiting for me there. I was thrilled. He asked me when I could pick it up. I asked him how much I owed. I can’t even tell you how flabbergasted I was when he told me $550!!! When I expressed my shock, the man offered to send them back to Tanzania. I told him to wait. That night, I called the merchant. I had to time it just right because of the ten hour time difference. I missed reaching him several times. Of course this was adding to the already over-the-top cost of the whole affair. When I finally reached him and complained about the delivery cost, he reminded me that he had told me he didn’t know and what he gave me was just an estimate. So I drove over to SFO mad as hell and got them. I surely wasn’t going to send them back. After all, I really wanted them.

And ever since, they have sat proudly in my dining room. I even had a stand built for them and had them wired to the wall in case of an earthquake. After all, with such an investment, I didn’t want to lose them. And it did make a memorable story, didn’t it? And it taught me such a good lesson!

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