A couple of weeks ago I went to post Christmas presents to the ex-patriot members of my family. “I’ll only be ten minutes” I told Mrs. Chippy. After all, the packages were already wrapped and addressed. I could avoid queuing by going to the self-service machines; print out a postage label; job done. What could possibly go wrong?
I weighed the first package, confirmed that it contained no unacceptable items (paint, firearms, explosives, etc), and was presented with the next question: “the total dimensions of the package must be less than 90cm, with no side longer than 60cm”.
I looked between the package and the screen several times. 90cm? 60cm? Haven’t got a clue.
I looked round for a measuring device without luck. But I did spot a notice on the wall that reiterated the 60cm rule. It looked a bit like this.
And that’s where the problems started. Seeing that line on the notice, I assumed that must be 60cm. Why else would it be there? (The possibility that it might be there just for emphasis didn’t enter my head). And once I’d got the idea that 60cm was the length of the line, all logic and sense dropped out of my brain.
As an aside, this is the same psychological effect that scammers use when they phone to say your bank account has been hacked. The fright that your money has been stolen overrides every other thought and you will do anything to minimise the loss. You don’t question why the bank would ask you to transfer money, when they could quite easily do that themselves. You give out your card PIN without further thought. Michael McIntyre uses the same technique (though for non-nefarious purposes) on the “star for the day” slot on his TV show. So many bizarre things happen while the candidate is in the waiting area, they are unlikely to notice anything strange as they are led to the stage.
Anyway, back to the Post Office. I started the weighing process again in case I had made a mistake, but each time it came out as parcel rather than package. Concluding (though somewhat surprised) that my packages were too large to be counted as packages, I prepared to send them as parcels.
Wow! Parcel Force prices are higher than Royal Mail. A lot higher. In the end, love for my family over-rode the cost so I clenched my teeth and decided to pay.
I needed to get a Parcel Force label. There weren’t any at my self-service station, but I found a roll on the next station. The label seemed to be in several sections, and it wasn’t clear what needed to be attached to the parcel. I stuck it all on, which I think was correct.
At this point, a post office assistant – who had possibly been watching me flounder for several minutes – came ever. “I think they are small enough for packages” she said and took them away to measure.
“Yes, they are well within the dimensions” she said. Finally the penny dropped. 60cm is 2 feet, isn’t it?
I started all over again, and got the packages weighed and priced. The cost for all three was now less than the cost for one when it had been a parcel. Now I was hit by the next problem. The self-service machine was not accepting card payments. Over to the post office counter to withdraw cash (where the helpful assistant helped me to jump the queue), and feed that into the machine.
Whew! Finished at last. I dropped the letter-sized package into the post box, and placed the larger packages on the counter, and started to leave.
“Did you remember the customs label” called the assistant.
Oh rats! I had stuck the label on the packages, but forgotten to fill it in. So back again (and the assistant had to open the post-box to retrieve that package).
As another aside, why can’t they make the customs declarations with a tear-off section so the details of the gift can be removed by customs once they have looked at it? Otherwise my family will know what they’ve got for Christmas before they open it.
My 10-minute task had taken nearer half an hour. But the good news is that at least one of the packages has reached its destination.