So our time abroad was not all filled with jumping bunnies and pretty, pretty pansies. There were a few downers, but may be the biggest one came directly from back home.
It was known as the United States Postal Service.
Many cooks and chefs can tell you that your knives and tools are like an extension of their own hands. Well, for the entire three plus months we were in Europe, until the day before we left back home, Karen and I were without our knives, our spoons, and every one of the little personal tools that you like to have with you for odd and end use (mine is my personal plastic bench scraper). Not having your own personal tools is a defeating feeling, it’s like trying to walk around blind and gutted.
But how, how did this happen, you ask?
Well since no one at USPS was willing to listen to our story, I might as well just tell it here:
We originally were going to just bring our knives with us, but had heard of the horror stories of customs agents turning cooks right back around and sending them home– even if they had written letters from the restaurants stating that they would be staging, not working in the countries. We’d also heard of people just getting let go without so much of a two phrase question, but the whole game seemed to be a crapshoot, and not one we were willing to try to play. So when some people advised us to just mail our knives, that’s what we decided to do.
I left the task of sending the knives to Belgium to Karen, because I know that she’s the one that always asks the right questions, and makes sure of the right details to get the job done. So when she went to the Post Office to send everything, she spewed off her normal spiel of questions, letting the agent know that there were knives in the package, asking if there was anything we needed with the package to make sure it went through. And in true USPS fashion, the cashier said “of course” there would be no problem as long as we declared that there were knives there, and “absolutely” the package would be there a week later, as we had it expressly shipped, full on, with insurance, tracking and confirmation, and the works. So by the time we got to Dranouter, were our knives there?
I guess I wouldn’t be writing this post if they were.
Online, the tracking said that the package was in customs, so at first, we just waited a week and hoped for the best, but eventually, we were getting antsy so Kobe offered to call the customs office to offer an explanation (and be able to speak to them in Flemish) to try to get the package out. The only problem was that even in the small country of Belgium, there were like 8 different customs offices. So naturally, I figured I’d call USPS to ask them which one it was at because they were tracking it. Of course, they would know exactly where it is because otherwise it would make tracking and confirm a completely useless tool, right? Right?
Not only was the agent unapologetic, but the only thing that she could tell me was that the package was in customs, and that they only track it through where the package was scanned, even though they have no idea where it was scanned. They couldn’t offer me an idea of which customs office our knives were in let alone an address or phone number. It’s like me telling you that I’m serving you beef, even though I have no idea which part of the cow I’m serving you.
Eventually, we wanted to make a claim at USPS, and was told that they were going to do an inquiry, to which they never got back to us. So through Kaatje, in de wulf’s amazing front of house manager/innkeeper/day to day utilitywoman, and her tireless calling around, we found out where our knives were… but to get them out, we would have to come up with receipts. For. Everything.
What in the world.
To try to make this long bitch-fest somewhat shorter, we came up with a way to at least get our knives out of customs without as much as a lift of a finger of help from our friends at USPS, and they arrived at In de Wulf… four days after we’d left and two days after we’d bought new knives in Copenhagen so we’d had something to bring to our stages at Kiin Kiin and AOC.
I’m sure had we not gone after it ourselves, our tools would have been stuck in Belgium’s customs limbo forever.
I wish the story ended there, but after calling USPS today to try to recoup a lot of long distance call money, maybe something to offset the cost of us having to spend a lot of money on new knives, maybe an apology for a lot of frustration, or at least something off of the 100 bucks that we’d spent to send an express international package with insurance that doesn’t insure anything and tracking that doesn’t track your package, the only thing I got was a surly woman telling me this:
USPS does not guarantee the delivery of international packages unless it’s the 1 to 3 day global mail.
So what does 100 dollars guarantee you? The non-delivery of your package, a lot of dealing with customer service agents whose only goal is to make you want to bust a cap in their ass, and maybe some good blog fodder for you if you happen to write a blog. I hope you’ll join me in *not* using their piss-poor-even-for-third-world-country services again.
The only good from this is probably the fact that it gave us a great reason to see Poltje, Kobe, and Willy again, as they brought us our knives all the way to Seasalter, England when we went to go eat at The Sportsman. Best customer service ever.
So what is the moral of this story?
If you’re going abroad to stage, bring your knives with you and hope for the best.
Or maybe try Fed-Ex.