Going Postal

I know I said that my next post would be about our first New Year’s Eve in Budapest, but today marks an even more momentous occasion. Ladies and gentlemen, we have *finally* received our first package delivered to our home address in Budapest. This may not seem like a big deal to those of you who have not lived in another country… or maybe, considering the state of the U.S. Postal Service, you’re high-fiving along with me. Either way, trust me when I say that this is a huge milestone.

Friends and coworkers who have previously lived in Budapest always provided the Firm’s office address as their mailing address for just about anything – Christmas cards, packages, etc. Whenever I asked them about it, they would say something like, “Well, the Hungarian postal system is… sort of… unreliable….”

Then, when we moved into our flat, the apartment manager (who is Hungarian) told me that the only thing I should have sent to the house is something I didn’t mind being stolen. I asked him about it, starting to worry about the safety of the flat, and he said, “No, not by people off the street… by the Posta!” He then told me about a friend of his who’d ordered some custom-made shirts online and never received them. When he brought his paperwork to his local post office to see if they could locate the missing package, the guy who handled his paperwork at the post office was WEARING HIS SHIRT – complete with monogram.

Apparently, though, there is much more scrutiny over items delivered to business addresses. So, for the first 6 months or so, if I ordered something online, or if family and friends asked for our address, I’d give them Richie’s work address.

In November, though, I got a little gutsy. I ordered some storage containers from the U.S. for the dogs’ food (yes, I realize how ridiculous that sounds, but I promise that I went to about 5 different stores here trying to find something big enough that sealed properly – no luck) and, since they were so large, I didn’t want to have them shipped to the office. I typed in our home address and hit “purchase” on November 17th. I just received the package today. Today’s January 3rd, for those without calendars. It wasn’t because of a shipping delay – the package arrived in Hungary on November 27th. Nope, it’s been sitting in customs for over a month.

Just before we left to go to the U.S. for Christmas, we received a notice from the Posta in our mailbox. This notice was two pages, front and back, entirely in Hungarian. Since my Hungarian instructor had just left the country, and Richie’s coworkers were busy wrapping up year-end work, I decided it would be easiest to simply go to the Posta around the corner from our flat and pray that someone spoke English and could translate the document for me. I was in luck – a really sweet girl who was fluent in both Hungarian and English pulled me into line with her, and she asked the Posta worker what I needed to do. He read the document once, then twice, then a third time… and then started calling random other workers over to help. By the time I left that office, four people had looked at the piece of paper, but none of them had any idea where I was supposed to go to get my package. The girl translated for me that they had never seen this type of letter before and that the letter said to go to the address on the top – but there was no address on top. Their best suggestion was to take the letter to the international package office of the Posta at the Nyugati train station.

Luckily, that train station is just a few blocks from our flat, so I walked over there and handed over my letter to yet another Posta worker who didn’t speak English. We both exhausted our limited supply of words in the other’s language (me: “Csomag? Itt van?”    him: “Ummmm…. no.”) until an English-speaking coworker came along. He was able to track the package in their online system and told me that it was stuck at the airport. Apparently the shipper had provided an invoice without prices, and the customs authority couldn’t figure out how much import tax to charge. He sent me home with an e-mail address to which I should forward my order confirmation.

So, after nearly two hours of being passed from one person to the next, I wrote my e-mail to the address provided. I received an auto-response saying that my e-mail was received and I should hear back soon. That was on December 14th. I heard nothing until today, when a guy called my cell phone and told me that he was outside my door. Oh, and that I owed 5,650 forint for importing the package (about $25).

Lesson learned. I will absolutely never use the home address for packages again.

On the positive side, don’t you feel really great about the U.S.P.S. right now?

And since there was so much effort to obtain them, here are the items in question:


Yes, I know what you’re thinking. That was totally worth waiting 7 weeks to receive. 🙂

Edited to add: The best part of this whole story? There is a customs declaration form taped to the top of the box, which includes the exact dollar amount of the purchases, a description of the items, and a copy of the invoice. Sent by the shipper, and obviously viewed by customs. So I have no idea why they needed me to send an invoice with the purchase price… they already had it!


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