Waste of trees and time (and petrol)

This isn’t directly about books, although I have read some that were a true waste of paper and by extension both trees and time.

I participate in two book trading societies on the web: Book Mooch and Title Trader. The books I get from my trading buddies abroad have to go through customs. The customs procedures are incredibly bureaucratic and not nearly as streamlined as they could be.

The system, as delivery concerns, goes something like this: Customs receives my package and the officer decides it could be a delivery from an Ebay seller, and thus fees and taxes would be due. A couple of days later I get a letter, telling me this and asking for permission to open the package to look for an invoice. The law for the protection of personal information is such that they need permission every time. As far as I can tell a standing permission is out of the question for individuals.

I sign the permission and fax it back, with an explanation saying I am being sent the books free of charge, which technically* means I shouldn’t have to pay any fees or taxes. A customs officer opens the package and finds no invoice. Usually my books are then delivered 2-3 days later, unless the customs officer thinks it looks like I’m trying to get out of paying import tax, VAT and a handling fee which alone is about 5 times the worth of an ordinary non-collectible used book. This means I get a second letter, as much as 10 days later, couched in polite phrases but basically telling me I’m a liar and they want that invoice or else they send the package back to the sender. Then I have to write another letter (they no longer take phone calls), explaining about Book Mooch and/or Title Trader. So far, this has worked every time except once, when I had to ask for time off from work to drive across half the city to the customs house to have an eye-to-eye with a customs officer. (In that case it would probably have been cheaper to just offer to pay the handling fee and whatever taxes they wanted, however unfair, but I have principles and one of them is not to let myself be blackmailed).

A couple of months ago I was offered the choice of receiving and answering my package announcement letters by e-mail. Of course I jumped at the chance, but I soon discovered that being this bureaucratic dinosaur, the customs office couldn’t just do it like that. Oh, no: now I get the email, and then 2-3 days later I also get the letter. Last time I answered the e-mail so promptly that I got the package a day earlier than the letter announcing its arrival and asking for permission to open it. So instead of making the system easier and simpler and wasting less paper, the only thing that has happened is that there is now a double announcement system and paper is still being wasted.

*Technically because the law states that only gifts** for special occasions (e.g. wedding, anniversary or birthday) are non-taxable, the unwritten assumption being that gifts that are not for special occasions (e.g. because the giver was feeling generous) should be taxed. The actual working rule is that anything the receiver is not paying for counts as a special gift and is not taxable, and thus Book Mooch and Title Trader books are not taxable.

**Definable as "packages sent by others that contain something you are not paying for".


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