Thursday, February 21, 2008


I’ve been tagged by the Goat. So here’s the game:

1. Pick up the nearest book of at least 123 pages.

The Floating Brothel by Siân Rees The extraordinary true story of an 18th century ship and its cargo of female convicts.

2. Open the book to page 123 and quote the fifth sentence.
“With nothing in the way of detergent, the dirt was boiled and then beaten out of the linen.”

3. Post the next three sentences.
“Stripped to the minimum required by decency, the women did the washing. The top deck trembled as rows of them, up and down the waist of the ship, thwacked its timbers with shirts, shifts, sheets, hammocks, trews, and a vast pile of sanitary napkins. Rivulets of filthy water trickled down the sides.”

I must add that this is a fascinating history of one of the first shiploads of female convicts (1789) sent out to Sydney Harbor to help populate the new colony. Rees gives individual stories of these women--from their crimes and trials, to their prison sentences, to their transportation -- and the ship's voyage from Portsmouth to Rio to Cape Town to Australia. Meticulously researched and unputdownable.

4. Tag five people.

KSA Woodchuck
Little Yellow Duck

(Non-bloggers can respond here!)

Monday, February 18, 2008


You hear all this talk about “globalization” and the world being “a smaller place.” Everything is international this and global that. First air travel shrank the globe, and now the internet has made distances between people and places virtually nonexistent. Yes, with the internet, you have information at your fingertips 24/7. You can get instant weather, news, or opinions from all over the world, in a myriad of languages. Best of all, in cyberspace you can buy all of those things from all of those places that perhaps you only dreamed of visiting in the real world. And all through the miracle that is the internet.

Yeah, right. Unless the company you want to buy from is in America and you live somewhere else.

I am an American abroad, but an American nonetheless, with an American bank account, an American credit card, and even an American mailing address. So why is it that, for most of the US sites I want to shop from, my billing address being in the Middle East is a huge problem?

In the past week, I have made or tried to make on-line orders from four different companies. The only one that never has a problem with me is, which always merrily takes my money and sends me my goods no matter where I want them sent or which international credit card I use. Amazon wlll sell to anybody.

So what about the rest of the websites I try to buy from? Oh. Well. Sometimes I get websites where the billing and shipping addresses must be the same (I guess there’s no buying a surprise present for someone else from those sites). Sometimes I’m forced to provide a fake zip/postal code, because Americans simply cannot fathom a country that doesn’t use zip codes. (I wonder what would happen if I told them we don’t have street addresses either?) And sometimes I run into a truly hopeless situation where I want something that has to be paid for through Pay Pal, which apparently doesn’t recognize any place outside Canada or the US. On-line ordering from abroad is a messy, mixed bag.

But I digress. As I said, this week I did a lot of on-line shopping. It was a maddening experience. OK, in the end I got what I wanted, so why am I so steamed? Just let me tell you a story…

I wanted to buy a hundred bucks worth of sugar-free chocolates from a major US chocolatier -- with a US credit card, delivered to a US address. Not the biggest order they ever got, but not chump change, either. Their on-line form only allowed US or Canadian billing addresses.

I keep running into that or, even better, a website that has a button for “international orders” that isn’t really. Case in point: I tried to order some lingerie on line two days ago. Nothing scandalous – silk slips, as a matter of fact –and the website listed an option for international addresses. Good. I duly chose my goods, filled in my shipping and billing addresses, and hit “international”. I was given a drop down pick list. Which included Canada, Bermuda, Japan, Germany and not much else. This is international?

Again I digress. I phoned the chocolate company, since person-to-person usually gets results (it did with my slips). This time, however, I get this guy on the line. I briefly explain my problem. He laboriously takes my order and shipping address, and then we get to the billing address:

“Oh, I can’t put that country on the form.”

“Yes, I know that,” I reply politely. “As I said, that’s why I didn’t just order on line.”

And instead spent seventeen minutes on long-distance to put in an order by phone, I mentally added.

“Your billing address has to go on the form.”

“Surely you can type in any country you like there in the office?”

“No, it has to go on the form. It’s not a choice.”

“It’s an American card and a US shipping address – it’s just that I live in the Persian Gulf and that’s where my bank statement goes. Surely you only need the billing address so you can call my bank and they can tell you I'm legit? They've known me since I was twelve.”

“Well, it’s not on my form.”

“Please let me speak to your supervisor.”

So I go back on hold and eventually get the supervisor, who says:

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but I can’t take your order if I can’t fill in your billing address. We could take down your order and hold it until we get a check —in US dollars, of course.”

Now, it’s hard enough that I live in a place where I cannot just go down to the mall and pick up what I want (in spite of this place being a so-called shopper’s paradise), and that I have to pay a premium to get what I want express-delivered because I cannot trust the local postal service, but really – I can’t place an order for goods because I get my bank statements in Dubai instead of in West Podunk, USA? Still, I was desperate for decent sugar free chocolates.

I had to ask my Mommy in North Carolina to pay for them.

The US purports to be the world leader in information processing. So when will companies located there finally get it into their tiny minds that there is a whole world out there eager to buy their products? We are not big, bad, scary, un-American entities – we’re customers. Or would be, if the American on-line companies weren’t so damned parochial.
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