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.


Blogger Keefieboy said...

Wonderful! I think you're wrong about PayPal though - they operate in lots of countries, including, since about a year ago, the UAE.

What are you gonna do with all that chocolate, if you ever get it?

12:40 PM  
Blogger Mme Cyn said...

Eat it. Very, very slowly. I'm working on the Venus de Milo thing (again).

I think with PayPal it was the "we don't recognize your country" thing, but I confess I haven't tried it in several months or so-- maybe I should give it another shot before I slag them off.

9:31 AM  
Blogger dubaibilly said...

To be fair to PayPal, Cyn, I used them to pay for my book from Keef - and I didn't even have to register with them!

But, if you think you have problems with US companies, you want to try being non-American or not having an American address - My God, not having a two letter code to say which part of the world you come from can make you feel like a criminal sometimes!

But then what can one expect from the country that has a sports World Series and only invites one foreign team - (Baseball and Toronto Blue Jays).

I don't bother trying to buy anything from America anymore, but in my opinion, my own country (England) isn't much better.



10:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's really sad is that the customer service person who couldn't type in your information, probably lives in India or some other non-U.S. place. You have a point though. Send it on to Clinton, Obama, McCAin, whoever.. TM

1:27 AM  
Blogger Joseph said...

I suggest you use a mail forwarding company like Bongo International at
They will have a personal shopper service where they will make the purchase in the US for you and have it shipped to their warehouse. Then you can see the items you buy online and have all of them consolidated into one shipment and shipped internationally. You can save a ton on the shipping costs by doing this too. It is one way to shop at US retailers without worrying about the whole billing address issue. Good luck!

6:35 PM  
Blogger tagoff said...

Well,Girl, if it makes you feel any better, they aren't much more helpful when the billing address is Stateside. Being older and wiser ;) I keep an American card/billing address just for such purchases. Um, well, not for the chocolates, which I might mention you also share with chocoholic friends, but for all those little necessities that one cannot find when abroad. So, Xmas time I discover that a wonderful cheese factory in N CA now has a website and think, aha, the perfect gift for the wine expert sib and the DIL. With credit card in hand I order up all kinds of award winning bries and other tasty tidbits, get to billing information and plink in my good old American numbers, go to next screen, and, um, it doesn't exist! Well, it does, but it is just thanking me for my order. It shipped directly to my billing address! Needless to say there was a last minute scramble to get said cheeses to the proper people in two other States.

As for the PayPals, I've had a gift cert sitting there for several years, unable to dot all the "i's" and cross all the "t's" necessary to actually spend it.

Hope the chocolate gets there in time to calm the frayed nerves!

7:55 PM  
Blogger B said...

I have the same trouble as you do and I live in Ireland. We're not exactly unfriendly to the Irish. We recognize dual citizenship with Ireland. The country is overrun with tourists year round hoping to reconnect with their 'roots'.

And yet, getting some of these companies to recognize my billing address in Dublin is nigh on impossible. We Americans only recognize particular parts of the world exist. Sort of like learning geography thru CNN war maps.

11:33 PM  

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