Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Love-Hate-Relationship

Actually, you can delete the item ‚love’ in the heading, at least from my side... I have taken several trips to the customs offices this year already. One in May on the occasion that my quilt “Illuminated” was returned to me early, taken out of the show “Beyond Comfort” after some crew had managed to lose the plug and adapter. I had to prove that it was mine indeed, that it had not been out of the country for longer than three years, and then I was questioned on why I had not had export papers done when I sent it in the first place. I did not have to pay taxes or fine or customs, though. But they told me I should make sure I got export papers from them the next time I sent a quilt to non-EU countries. At that point, I told them that I would be expecting a second quilt from this same exhibition later on.
In August, I had bought a few printing stencils and a necklace made from old glass beads via the TAFA-List, which were sent without a proof of purchase or value. In order to retrieve this I had to go to customs twice because they would not accept my paperwork the first time, and I had to bring proof of the actual amount of payment. I had to pay slightly over 12 euros VAT on this occasion. (Not to mention the gas money for two trips.)
Today I went to retrieve that second quilt from Beyond Comfort, “Yellow Line”, which again had been caught.
My husband has already asked me who this boyfriend is at the customs office...
To be correct  – by now I know them all, the guys who work there. One is friendly ok, he is the one who took care of me and "Illuminated" earlier this year. One is efficient, strict, and correct, but not necessarily assuming you are trying to cheat him personally by millions of dollars when importing three printing stencils and a glass-bead-necklace, he took care of me and my little items on my second trip in one day in August. The third one, however, is small, very young compared to the other two, hyper-adhering to rules and regulations, and definitely trying to give everybody who has to come there a hard time. He took care of me on my first trip in August, and I had the bad luck of hitting onto him again today. The friendly one was present, too, but did not interfere in the process after they had agreed which one of them was going ‘to do her’ (except for sending me an eye-rolling look behind his colleague’s back when he was giving me a hard time). I brought all the same papers as I did when negotiating release of "Illuminated", thinking that that would be sufficient, after all, it had worked once. This included a catalogue from the exhibition, a print-out of the email telling me when to send the quilt so that it would arrive in the States on time, and my proof of identity. I also repeated the story from May, and stated that this was the second quilt I had mentioned then and that I did again not have export papers...
At first he questioned my explanation about a quilt going to an exhibition – but his colleague remembered me from May and spoke on my behalf. Then he questioned the validity of the e-mail message because it was sent such that the curator’s name appeared in the sender and the recipient’s space as she had bcc’ed it correctly to prevent every artist in the exhibition getting everybody else’s mail addresses. Then he said this didn’t prove anything at all about the time the quilt had been out of the country (it explicitly stated that the show premiered in August 2011 in Birmingham). What was the worth of the item? Why had I not got export papers?
I felt almost as badly as approx. 25 years ago when I was trying to enter the US in Dallas with an open return ticket – on that occasion I was retained by immigration for over an hour, questioning me because they thought I would go and catch myself an American husband. My parents were waiting outside and getting worried whether I had actually been on the plane.
Actually, I think the customs officer today didn’t know enough English to completely understand the content of the e-mail message, but I held back my offer of translating it for him, telling myself to not let this get out of hand. Finally, he graciously agreed to treat the packages as a ‘gift’, but warned me yet again about the export papers. And that next time he would be the one to estimate the worth of the item and that it would then be taxed accordingly. Again I bit my tongue and did not ask how much he would have estimated the item in question today...

Just how could I manage to not have to deal with this particular guy anymore? I certainly don't know enough about this kind of psychological warfare that these people have been trained in.


  1. What a nightmare Uta. Has it put you off sending entries outside of Europe?

  2. No, Maggi, I don't think so. Next time I would either arrange for undercover transport, or a foreign return address so that I would then pick up that quilt there in person. Or I would indeed try to be a good girl and go to customs, smile nicely, and make an attempt at filling out export papers. The crucial question, of course, will be when they ask about the value of the item you are sending...