Last week I had three identical books to post to the United States. They are quite heavy, so I wanted to post them by the most economical means.
The French postal system has a special book rate. You have to write on the packet ‘livre‘ to indicate that it contains a book, which I did.
There was until fairly recently a rarity in our nearest post office – a thoroughly miserable and difficult little woman who was as awkward as she was able to be within the remit of her job.
At the time there were two adjacent cashiers. People queued in a single queue and moved to the first cashier to become vacant. From long and depressing experience, if we saw that we were going to have to do the wearisome battle with Mrs Sourlemon-Face, as we called her, we would allow the person behind us in the queue to leapfrog us. I don’t think she was so difficult with French people.
Anyway, the good news is that following a revamp of the post office, she has now been relegated to a back room where she hands out parcels through a small window, and there is a new friendly lady dealing with the post section.
I handed her the three books, said that they were for the United States and that they were to go by the least expensive means.
After she had weighed them, she asked if they were French books. I said that they were about France, but written in English.
Then they could not go by book rate, she said. Only books written in the French language qualified.
But how would anybody know what language they were written in, I asked.
Well, the Customs might open them, she replied.
Why does the language matter, I asked.
Because the special book rate is to promote French culture.
But these books are all about France. They are about champagne, history, the French Revolution, French food ….. it is just the words that are in English. Why can’t they go by book rate?
She shrugged. Because it says so, she replied.
The cost of posting each book – €10 – was more than the value of the book. I said I wouldn’t pay that, it was ridiculous.
Ah yes, she sighed. It’s a shame.
But she wanted to be helpful, and after a moment she had a bright idea:
If I went home and put all the books in the same parcel, and sent them to one of the recipients as a parcel, it would cost less.
But then how would the other two recipients get their books?
The first recipient would deliver them.
One lives in Texas, one in Massachusetts and one in Oregon. The first recipient would have to pay to post the books to these people.
We both agreed that her bright idea wouldn’t work. She looked up what it would cost if the books went by book-rate. Less than one-quarter of the non-book-rate. Oh la, she said, there is a big difference. But, still, it says ……………….
I said to her, this is the first time I have ever been asked what language the book is written in. It has never happened in any other post office, or indeed in this very same post office, even by Mrs Sourlemon-Face.
Which other post offices had I used, she asked.
I named the one I frequently used.
Well, she said, I think it would be better for you to go to that one. It will cost you much less.
So I went to another post office, where the lady didn’t ask what
language the books were printed in, and they cost precisely €2.13 each to post.
Of course it did take an extra two hours out of my life, and thirty miles of fuel.
There’s a moral here in case you need to post books abroad from France. 🙂
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