Monday, June 6, 2011

Who do you think you are?

Our names have gotten us into trouble again.

My mother in law (bless her soul) sent us a much anticipated care package.  It contained some clothing items we can't find here, and some small gifts.  My sister in law (hello anonymous) posted this package for my mother in law through the courier company DHL.

DHL contacted Mr Martin when the package arrived:  They have the package. The package is addressed to:

M & K Sutcliffe

Who are they?  To the Vietnamese - M&K Sutcliffe sounds like a business name.  And therefore we have some explaining to do.  What is this illegal, unregistered company?

There was much passing of the telephone to helpful people who can speak Vietnamese.

Mr Martin had to write a letter, explaining that his name is M Sutcliffe and that the "& K" on the address is me - his wife, whose initial is K.  It is complicated by the fact that I am not K Sutcliffe (duh, I'm Mrs Martin, aren't I?), so there is no proof.  I believe he sent copies of our passports and marriage certificate.

Then, a couple of days later he was told that he needed to send the letter in Vietnamese as well as English. Which is a pain because - you know - we don't speak Vietnamese.  So Mr Martin was  trying to find time to get a friend to translate his letter.

And then when I arrived home a couple of days later (the package had now been in the country for a week) the receptionist in our building told me that DHL had been, with a package, and were ready to drop it off if she would pay the whopping customs charge of 2.1 million dong - which is around $100 US.  Which is a lot more than the petty cash that our reception office carries. Which is actually none.  Ocassionally the office girls have paid small bills for me when I am out (like, 20,000 dong) out of their own pockets.  But 2 million is ridiculous.  And I wasn't here, so she had to send him on his way again.

Maybe they got tired of waiting for their Vietnamese letter?

But my receptionist was very conscientious about the whole business. She got a tracking number and a phone number and other useful information off  the delivery man, and so when I got back I was able to get her on the phone to him again.

The 2 million dong is because of the value of goods that was written on the customs declaration form that NZ Post sticks to packages. There was nothing we could do about that, unfortunately. 

And I had to explain very painstakingly the naming convention that had caused our names to be written as M&K Sutcliffe to the receptionist, so that she can explain it to DHL. I thought that she had it, but then she came back to my apartment and asked me - "What is the company M&K Sutcliffe?" and I had to start again.

The irony here is that of course in Vietnam everything is backwards.  In my country, combining the names of a married couple like this is a way of simplifying the address, and also a little bit more formal.  By writing the names together like that, my MIL would have intended that either Mr Martin or myself could then easily receive the package.  But here in upside-down land, that attempt at formality/simplicity actually complicated things quite a bit. 

And actually, our names were only shortened like that on the customs form attached to the package - not on the address label itself.

So, if you are in Vietnam and your loved ones at home want to send you pressies, tell them to do this:
  • Come and visit and put the present in their suitcase (Hi Mummy!  Can't wait to see you!).
If a visit is really not possible, then:
  • Spend the extra money on postage to make sure it is handled by a courier company - the ordinary postal service in Vietnam is too unreliable.
  • Make sure a contact phone number and email address for the recipient are included in the consignment note/written on the address label. I would even recommend this for a simple letter.
  • Write names of the recipients as they appear on their passports - as these will be required for identification.
  • Make sure the overall declared price of goods written on the customs declaration is low - like less than $50.  Remember that second hand or reconditioned items have a very low value. Not that I'm encouraging to you lie to the customs office or anything. 
  • Use the Vietnamese alphabet on your address if you can. Remember to include all those accents. 
  • I notice that Vietnamese people have uniformly beautiful handwriting and can struggle to read untidy or eccentric handwriting. It's best to type address labels and print them out, or else write in BLOCK CAPITALS.
  • Finally, be sure to include a consignment note or packing slip that lists the items in the package.  It is a very good deterrent for anybody who might be tempted to intercept anything - because they know that you'll know.
Remember - in Vietnam problems can happen, but they also do get sorted out.  If you have a problem like ours, stay calm and smile - it's the easiest way to get people to help you.

So, if M&K Sutcliffe were a company - what kind of company do you think it would be?


  1. M&K made me think of Mark and Spencers for some reason.

  2. FedEx is pretty good, I never had problems with them.

    When I got packages from overseas, I normally bring my passport and declare the items right there. The customs office should have the forms too especially if the contents will be removed from the country.

    Nice to see a new blogger here.

  3. We had something similar happen to us. My Mom sent a package and put both my husband's and my name on it. Not really thinking about it we only took my passport down to the post office. What an ordeal! Gavin only had a bank card to use as ID, and they did not want to give it to us! I think they finally handed it over because it didn't have anything of value in it.