Tales of a wandering lesbian

The ministry of soap

When my family first said they wanted to send a thank you box to my friends in Italy, I thought that was pretty great.  For the next couple of weeks, I got updates on what was going into the box, and provided info on the members of my extended Italian family.

I checked with my friends to see what the best way to ship the box would be.  We determined that something like UPS was much better than the postal system.  (My mom and aunt had spent 45 minutes in line one time only to find that they couldn’t actually buy extra stamps for the postcards they wanted to mail.)

Just before I headed to Venice I got emails from my mom and sister saying that the box had shipped.  It might arrive before I was away.  “I told them it had soap in it, and ‘personal hygiene items.’”  My sister, Cathy, had FedExed the box, and she and my mom had put a couple of bars of soap in for me, because I was having a hard time figuring out the Italian labels.  “I thought it was better than saying it had food items from Idaho.”  That sounded reasonable to me.  Shipping food items into Italy wasn’t probably something to advertise.

So I went to Venice and instructed the ladies not to open the box if it arrived while I was away.  When I got back I had a message from my sister:  the box had been detained when it arrived in Italy.  Apparently, the Italian Ministry of Healthy closely regulates the shipping of “personal hygiene items,” specifically soap.  Damn.  They needed someone from in the country to call.  It seems they had tried to contact me and had left a voicemail on my Italian cell.  Double damn.

I’d had a series of phone calls from blocked numbers while I was in a train station.  Thinking it was a friend playing tricks, I answered, “pronto!” to which they responded “pronto!”  We went back and forth for a while yelling pronto at each other.  Then I laughed manically and hung up.  After a few of these, I just let it go to voice mail.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out how to set up or retrieve messages, because the instructions were in Italian.  So I forgot about it.  It seems it was the government calling to talk about the box.  Great.  And I’d mocked them, laughed, hung up and ignored their message for about a week.  Excellent.  Well played.

So, Cathy sent me the phone number for FedEx Italy, and Sandra made the call.  Then she made another call as instructed by the FedEx people.  On that call she learned that we would need to fill out some paperwork, make a payment of 40 Euro (approximately $60), and fax the paperwork back, along with proof of payment.  They’d be sending an email shortly.  We had 3 days to complete our tasks.

“Why did she say there was soap in the box?”  Evidently it was the wrong thing to say.  Who knew?  “Do you really want to pay 40 Euro for the soap?  That’s expensive soap.”  I didn’t give a hoot about the soap at this point.  I wanted the gifts for everyone.  So we waited for the email.

The paperwork, it turned out, was 5 pages of questions about my province of birth (assuming I was Italian), my company’s location, the name of my warehouse, and the weight of the soap I was shipping.  They, apparently, thought I was a soap importer.

Assisted by my personal translator, I filled out the pages and signed.   Deb’s mom took me to the post office to pay the fine and get a receipt.  The woman behind the counter had never seen forms like ours before, and didn’t know what we would have to do to get our box.  She could take my money and give me a receipt, though.

I gathered all the papers and faxed it the number I’d been given.  If I’d have known the patron saint of mail, I’d have said a little prayer.

The day I left for Rome, we still hadn’t heard anything at all.  I was beginning to wonder if we’d ever  see the box.

I had a wonderful time in Rome .  When I got back, Bertie came to find me.  A box had arrived.

I went downstairs to retrieve it.  It was like Christmas.  The box was intact.  It was wonderful to see my mom’s handwriting on its top.  Tom and I opened it and spread its contents out on the kitchen table.

Presents and soap

There were toys for the kids, and mugs for the ladies.  Jars of jam and mustard, and games appeared for everyone.  And there was soap.  The few small bars were the most interesting items to everyone.  “She should have told them it was books or something.”  The ladies found it pretty humorous that I’d had to pay so much for soap.

The next day, when I delivered a bag of goodies to Deb’s family in Barga, Ryo said that he’d had a box arrive as well.  And he’d had to pay a 35 Euro fee.  “What was in his box?” I asked Deb.  “Books.  His old used ones.”

Bookmark and Share


1 Molly { 12.20.09 at 7:22 am }

Welcome home! Hope to get a chance to see you during your visit.


2 Heather Johnston { 12.21.09 at 6:32 pm }

I am assured by the good people at CatholicPatronSaint.com that the saint you were looking for is St. Anthony of Padua. He is, of course, the patron saint of mail.

3 Ryo { 12.28.09 at 2:06 pm }

… well, that box of books was from my brother in SantaFe… and it cost me €18,25 (not €35) to receive it, despite the contents declaration of $0 value…

However, I’m still waiting for a delivery of a parcel of Christmas gifts from my mother in Japan, 3 weeks since we received phonecall telling us it was to incur €65 of import duty…

4 KFlick { 12.28.09 at 5:51 pm }

Awesome. It’s like I’m writing fiction. Thanks for the correction Ryo!