[ExI] The Story of a Box
amara at amara.com
Sat Oct 27 10:02:25 UTC 2007
THE STORY OF A BOX
Or How Amara met EU-USA Trade Agreements, USA's Department of Homeland
Security, and Italy's broken infrastructure, all in one morning.
by Amara Graps
On one fine, drizzly, Castelli Romani October morning, Amara began her
journey to mail her seven-kg box to Boulder, Colorado, USA. After
driving to the end of the A Metro line and parking her junkyard-jalopy,
she clutched her box through 21 metro stops, finally emerging, forty
minutes later, at the Ottaviano exit: the Vaticano.
Destination: the Vatican Post Office, where she feels sure that her box
can exit Italy safely.
She leaves the metro stop, and finds herself surrounded by a German
"Kann ich helfen?" (Can I help?)
"Nein, nein.. it's OK", Amara says, clinging tightly to her box.
After five minutes, she reaches a guard gate and with guards, who seem
peculiarly not Swiss, but Italian, instead.
"Il vostro motivo per il vaticano ?" (Reason for the Vatican?), one guard
asks, looking at her box.
"Vorrei andare all'ufficio del poste vaticano per mandare la mia scatola."
(I would like to go to the Vatican Post office to mail my box), she says,
clutching her box tighter.
He smiles and directs her to an office where she exchanges her Italian
identity card for a "Vatican Visitor" badge, which she pins to her
Strutting through the gate and feeling victory at hand, she enters the
Vatican and locates the Post Office. She steps through the postal door.
There were no other customers at that moment, and she sets the box on
a table and walks briskly to the only open window. A gentle-looking,
bespeckled man at the other side of the window looks back at her.
"I'm sorry, we cannot mail that box here."
"It is more than two kilograms. But Poste Italiane is just around the
corner...." he offers, timidly. "They can mail it."
"But Poste Italiane is too risky!" She says.
"Also for us!" The Vatican Post Office Employee answers, apologetically.
Amara gathers her box, dejectedly, and returns to the guard gate.
"Che cosa?" (What..?)
"La mia scatola e' piu due kilogramma.." (My box is more than 2 kg.)
She says, embarrassed.
Returning her Vatican Visitors badge and stuffing her Identity Card
in her pocket, Amara heads out of the Vatican.
The Poste Italiane office looms in front of her.
Thoughts of carrying this box through 21 Metro stops and the return
drive to Frascati impels Amara through The Poste Italiane front door.
She punches a button at the lime-green queue machine to get a ticket to
wait in line, for the one window that manages postal mail. She timidly
asks for a 'Raccomandata' (Registration) form for her box. The woman at
the other end of the window looks at the box.
"We cannot mail that box." (Non possiamo spedire quella scatola.)
"Why not?" (Perche' non?), Amara asks.
Her answer is something that Amara doesn't understand, until the postal
woman points to another box behind her, large and flat and wrapped in
brown paper, leaning against the far wall.
"Possi comprare carte alla cartoleria .." (you must buy wrapping paper a
the card shop...), she begins, now assisted by several customers who are
trying to help her explain to Amara, all of them speaking Italian at the
"Oh! I must wrap the box with paper...", Amara mutters to herself, and
gives the postal window woman her queue ticket and runs out the door.
Back to the A Metro stop, through 21 stops, to her car and then Frascati.
Parking her car in front of her flat, Amara collects her box from the
back seat and walks up the hill to the center of the town of Frascati.
To the "Gigi Travel" agency, who are also a drop-off-point for the DHL
She enters the travel agency, with her box that feels heavier by the
"Vorrei mandare questa scatola ai Stati Uniti... Parli inglese..?" (I
would like to send this box to the US; do you speak English?)
(It seems that Amara is beginning to feel a headache.)
"Yes, we speak English. What is in the box?", a dark-haired girl asks,
and begins to measure the box's dimensions.
"Boots, sweaters, cooking pot, kitchen utensils, socks, scarfs, tea...
Personal items for living. I'm moving to Colorado and it's winter there,"
She pulls out from her backpack, her itemized list, giving the contents.
The young woman calls a phone number, where she is promptly put on hold.
"This is not a standard DHL size box, so I have to get an estimate on
the price based on its dimensions. " she explains.
After some minutes, listening, she says to Amara: "140 euros.., do you
"Are you serious? But I thought 25 kilograms was about 150 euros," Amara
says, pulling out another piece of paper of old DHL information from her
"Weight doesn't matter as much, because the items are not in our
"The items won't fit inside of your standard box," Amara says. "OK, I
have no other safe way. I accept."
Ten minutes later, someone at the other end of her phone begins to ask
the woman questions about the contents of the box. She takes Amara's
itemized list and reads each item in Italian.
"What are boots?", she asks Amara.
"They want to know if they are made of leather," she says.
"Well, yes.. boots are often made of leather..."
"There are shipping rules for not sending animal products, and so they
don't know if they can send these boots...", she explains with one ear
glued to the telephone.
"Also products made of wood.. Is anything here made of wood?" She asks
"There is a wooden spoon for cooking..."
"Oh.. I must ask..." She returns to the telephone.. while idylly
munching on a granola bar.
Another ten minutes later, she hangs up the phone and seems reassured
that no forbidden (at least 'enough' forbidden) animal products or
products of wood are going to be sent to Boulder, Colorado.
"OK.. there are US-EU or US-Italy regulations for shipping, but I
explained that the items in the box are used, private items. But you
must also officially declare the box as "Personal Effects" for US and EU
Customs. Here is what you must write in your letter."
She proceeds to give Amara the main points that Amara must write in her
Declaration Letter to the EU and US Customs.
"And for the Homeland Security, they need a photocopy of your passport
and they need to know the details on your plane trip for your move to
"I don't have my plane ticket yet..", Amara says.
"Well if you tell me the approximate day..."
She jumps to the computer. This being a Travel Agency, she locates a
hypothetical flight, quickly.
"Here, you can use this flight information..." she offers.
"OK. I have a second box..." Amara begins.
The dark-haired woman looks distressed.
"It seems like a better use of time, if you give me two copies of all
of the forms, I fill in the forms myself, write the Declaration Letters,
with passport copies, for both boxes, and return tomorrow morning,"
"Va bene!" (OK!)
And that is the story of Amara's box(es).
My box and its sister box (discounted in price because they were
together) left the Frascati DHL pickup point, in the next morning,
safely bypassing the Poste Italiane, but beyond the help of the
Poste Vaticano, with documentation addressing the concerns of US-EU
trade agreements, and the US Department of Homeland Security.
P.S. In reality, there are ~200 boxes, but the rest will instead meet the
EU-US Trade regulations and the US DHL in shipyards, hopefully out of my
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