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Mailbox #paris

There is one thing that strikes fear in the hearts of all Parisians. It’s not a letter from the tax office, being body-checked by those seemingly fragile little old ladies pulling their shopping carts at the market, or learning that a model for Christian Louboutin moving in upstairs from you and installing brand-new hardwood floors: It’s getting a notification that there is a package, somewhere for you – that’s got your name on it.

If I had a bag of dried sour cherries of California dried apricots for everyone that offered to send me something that I was craving from abroad, I’d be knee-deep in sticky, shriveled up dried fruits. (Which is possibly a good thing, come to think about it.) My Inbox and social media streams are filled with helpful folks offering to send me everything from San Francisco coffee to felt-tip pens. So much so that I’m considering doing a post about my fondness for gold buillon, but am concerned that in spite of the value of the cavalcade of gold ingots that will be coming my way, that I’ll be spending an inordinate amount of time wrangling with the shipping company to get them to me. And it’s just not worth it.

When I moved to Paris, a Frenchwoman who works for an appliance company told me; “Daveed, you need to be standing at the door, with the door wide open, and your name written across your forehead” for something to be delivered. And I didn’t believe her until I was leaving my apartment a few times shortly afterward and found a missed delivery sticker on my door, with nary a knock or ring of the doorbell to announce its previous presence, just a few centimeters away. Yet so far, so very, very far from my grasp, as the next few weeks would prove to me.

Sometimes I think it’s a vast conspiracy by brick & mortar stores to sway folks away from online shopping. However those shifty folks have set up ‘relais’ points, shops and drop-off spots in various neighborhoods that accept your packages so you just go in and get it. Those work great, but they’re quite limited as just a few merchants work with them. And the guy who runs the store near me, which is such a mess it’s hard to tell what exactly he does sell in there, doesn’t even ask for ID. So I’m not sure I can trust him with all the precious metals and gold Rolex watches that I am anticipating after this post goes viral.

The most challenging of the lot is one that goes by three letters, and the first one is a “D.” Getting a message that D has a package for you terrifies us expats almost as much as a trip back to the states without health insurance does.

[Although another one runs a close second, which was a real cultural shift for me because in San Francisco the delivery man was my absolute very favorite person in town because he would bring me chocolate at least once a week then hang out and chat with me in his starched, tight brown shorts, which gave me a chance to reconsider my life as a baker. Because if I was a delivery man, I’d have legs like he did. However on the other hand, he probably didn’t eat as much chocolate as I did, either. So that is one fantasy that I had about him that would never get realized. Actually, the other ones didn’t either.]

I’m not sure why they don’t make the effort to get the packages to you. But perhaps if they delivered the package, they would be done quicker and the company might think they were expendable, and get rid of them. So it’s better for all (well, except us…) concerned if they stick with the status quo and hold out for a less-convenient time to make a delivery.

Whenever I hit le roadblock with a delivery company, which usually includes a flurry of “missed delivery” warnings – which I’m beginning to suspect are keeping a French sticker company in business – I call the US branch of the company since it’s actually cheaper to call them (which is free, thanks to my phone company) versus calling their “08” number, which is the equivalent of “800” numbers in the United States, except you pay 34 cents per minute to wait on hold, then if all goes well after you’ve shelled out €6,40, you get to speak to someone. (Because as everybody knows, if you’re too helpful or accessible to customers, they won’t come back.) So if I want to call their local number, I check the price of gold that day to determine whether its worth will offset the hold time if I call the delivery company.

[The much maligned La Poste has taken a lot of hits over the years. But a make-over happened a year or so back and the post offices in Paris were not only modernized, but made more efficient. At first, customers complained because they were used to doing things the same way over-and-over (and everyone complains when something changes – for the better or for the worse – it doesn’t matter). Until people realized that 1) They were in and out of the post office in five minutes, and that 2) The people who worked there were happier and more helpful.]

I don’t know if it’s like this everywhere else in the world, but in the US, they’ll leave the package with a neighbor. Here in Paris, they won’t do that because one delivery company I called told me that neighbors are apparently not to be trusted. (To make my case, U delivered a package to someone who they said was a “neighbor”…which was at an address way on the other side of town, and I haven’t heard from them. In fact, I don’t even know where the heck they are.) But I have a neighbor who runs a business and is always there, so my take is that it’s just too convenient, and you should be suspicious of anything that’s that convenient.

I was once delivered a package for another neighbor by accident, and when he came by to pick it up, I could see the almost tears of joy beginning to flow because that was the next two weeks of his life I had given him back.

So I’m waiting for a package to be delivered this week, after two others were finally returned after multiple delivery attempts, which I will have to take their word for because apparently I was not at home when they called me at home to tell me that I was not at home. I’m not sure what’s in the package that is en route, and it’s likely going to be a while before I find out.

If at all.



    • B.

    That’s why I always try to get packages delivered at work.

    • Esme

    I live in a building with a gardienne (concierge) and she keeps all the packages that are delivered to me when I’m not around. Many Parisian buildings have a “gardien” so I don’t think it’s a problem for people who live in these apartments.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      I lived in a building with a guardienne and more times than not, it was a problem as they would skip her door and just leave a sticker on my door. I was call and tell them that there is a guardienne (which you would think would be evident since her door was just next to the entrance, with a big sign on it) – and they would say that they would try to redeliver the package in the future.

      And sometimes they would tell me they could not get into the building because they didn’t know the code, even though no code was necessary and there was a big button for them to press to let them into the building. (Which you would think that every delivery person would try, since many buildings in Paris are like that.)

      Once a delivery company called and said that they couldn’t find my street, when I lived on one of the Grand Boulevards of Paris. Which is like living in New York City and not knowing where 5th Avenue is. omg.

    • Loulou in France

    We ALWAYS go with la Poste. UPS and DHL are hopeless in rural France (if not everywhere in France!) :)

    • Brandi

    I laughed out loud at this story…because when I live in Grenoble, deliveries were a stress point for myself. Generally because 1) I normally would have to learn a whole new french vocabulary (which was not necessarily a bad thing) and 2) because I would have to go all over town to find my package(s). Sometimes they would leave my packages, with the shop located below my apartment. The first time I went to get a package, at Sephora, I was amazed it was there. I guess it was normal and the associates were always very nice.

    • Greg

    I remember living in Strasbourg in 1995 as a student and the difficulties I had with deliveries of care packages from back home in Canada – not so much for La Poste- they got the parcels in good order to my foyer – but for the gardien of the foyer who would actually go thru the contents and help himself to a cookie or candy. A phone call home and my mother and I hatched a plan, with the next delivery containing a bag of brownies with some special ingredients of the ex-lax variety. (Apparently it took a few batches to get the consistency correct.) Sure enough, the parcel was placed outside my door, the brown packaging ripped, the promised brownies missing.
    The next day, a temporary new gardien was at the front desk. And for the remainder of the semester my care packages arrived intact and sealed.

    • Nikki Fein

    This is one of my biggest pet peeves here as well. A few years ago, I had my ipod sent to me from the US, only to open it up and see that it was replaced with a boeing jet part. Apparantly, when it went through customs, they pulled multiple items out of boxes all at the same time and then put them back in the wrong boxes. Although, I received my ipod many weeks later, I would not be happy if I was boeing since they inclosed all their billing information in my box. Sometimes I swear they ring our bell and by the time I answer it, they have magically vanished into thin air and the delivery notice is all that’s left.

    • Stephanie

    Deliveries are bad, but sending packages is just as hard!

    When I first moved to France I was so excited to send things back to my friends and family….but after being treated like a criminal whenever I try to send a package to the US, I have given up. Each time there was a longer form, a higher price, a stranger question. Now the gifts are few and far between which is sad, but I am not willing to put myself through agony to send a scarf to my sister.

    • Kim Uyyek

    Is there still a customs charge for packages? When I lived there, it was 30 francs per package. A friend’s mom thought that it would be fun for my friend to have lots of packages to open at Christmas, so she sent individual boxes and it set her back quite a bit just to get her gifts.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      Yes, and while we all want to pay our fair share of appropriate charges : ) sometimes people will send a jar of jam or something similar, and declare a value of something like $50. When I tell them about the exhorbinant customs bill I got, they say “Well, I wanted to make sure in case it got stolen, I’d get reimbursed.”

      A while back someone sent me a lovely vase from a department store in the states. It was $60 value and I got a customs bill for €50. When I went to the FedEx office to inquire about it, they said (and showed me in the rules book) that I had to tell the people sending me a gift that it needs to be marked as “unsolicited gift.”

      So, of course, I asked them “If it is an unsolicited gift, how will I know if someone is sending it to me?” Which baffled them, too.

    • Jenny

    I’ve been in France 2 months now, and at least a month and a half of that has been sucked up by dealing with the new french bank card that never showed up in my mailbox (but apparently showed up somewhere, as 3500 Euros was withdrawn from my account). I’m now expecting my first package from the states to arrive, and I gotta tell you, I’m nervous about it. fingers, toes, eyes, everything!! is crossed. Serious, as a modern, reasonably civilized country, you’d think France could get it together!!!

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      I’ve been getting someone’s bank account statements for the past 3 months. The first time I called (for 34c/minute), they told me to just throw them away & they would correct that. The second time I got them, I called and spoke to someone else who told me to bring them into the bank branch. When I told them I was, um, kinda busy, they said I could mail them (which would have required a trip to the post office) – so I brought them in.

      (However I wanted to say on the phone, “Since you made the error, send a courrier to get them”, but that would have cost me another €3,75 to have that discussion.)

      I am still getting her bank statements months later, which now leads me to believe that my bank is doing it on purpose, to see how trustworthy I am..

    • Cindy

    I live in Mexico and I thought it was bad here, but I do get them, albeit slowly.

    • Jenny

    also, LOL at the person who got a boeing jet part instead of an ipod!! oh man :))

    • Kiki Dam

    We live in the Cote d’Azur and last Christmas (our first here) was an ending stream of confusion….sometimes Le Poste would deliver our Christmas presents from family in the U.S. and sometimes buzzer at the electric gate would buzz and by the time we got to the gate opener, the Le Poste person was gone and left a note. FORTUNATELY our very good and kind neighbor who acts as our “Postal Woman” goes down to Le Poste in Vallauris and “has words” with Le Postal People so they know if they can’t really deliver boxes here, they go next door. All this being said, I am still getting nervous about the upcoming holiday.

    • Jen

    Similar experiences (nightmares?) living in Belgium where we simply began begging our families in the U.S. to STOP sending us packages! One Christmas, we found ourselves in an obscure warehouse in some odd section of Brussels where I took a number and tried to wait patiently, paper notice in hand telling me I had missed a delivery the day before. After an hour and a half of waiting, my number was called. I handed over my missed delivery slip of paper and the worker there hauled out a 3″ BINDER full of papers – no computers in sight! They started flipping through the pages to find out where, in their myriad of cages filled with packages, mine might be. That was in 2005 and I’m still experiencing trauma from it!!

    • Frances

    Yes! Normally I just smile fondly at your descriptions of Paris, congratulate myself smugly for having beaten the system…. but yesterday I went to pick up post at a Service Carre and actually burst into tears when she told me “but of course that service is only the matin, mademoiselle. Mais non!” (Imagine affronted look that I dared ask.)

    Trudged home in rain. (I feel your pain! Chin up, hey!)


    The comment by Stephanie about difficulties sending packages back to the USA is just the opposite for us. Not only are the La Poste employees kind and helpful but they even will fill out any form for you…though that sort of thing with needing forms is minimal these days. I have even walked in to at least 3 or 4 branches of La Poste in our arrondissement with an unwrapped soft toy gift or some baby clothes i had just bought and they make a real fuss to please then…getting me just the right mailing envelope etc. My husband says if this kind of efficient service and friendliness ever happened in his former post office in Brookline Mass he would faint dead on the floor. Stephanie should try again.

    • ron shapley

    Wow Dave,you got my ire up with this post !! I never buy anything on line because,here in NYC, the post office delivers nothing but the package notice that it’s at the post office where you wait in line for hours, it seems, to get your package from a single clerk who is holding down the fort at the package window and wading through thousands or parcels looking for yours.. On average, it one half hour wait to get the package to you. And then it’s only a letter from the IRS, yikes !!!

    • Stephanie


    In 5 years I have tried to send packages to the US at least 15 times and in three different cities….including Paris. The issue is that I bring the package in my own packaging and they want me to use their Chronopost packaging (which costs about 3X as much and is the equivalent of FedEx). So sending a 20€ box of chocolate costs 18€ which is a joke. If I want to send a regular package without all the services and fees, they do not know what to do. Last month they told me I HAD to send my package via chronopost so I asked for a supervisor who eventually figured things out but acted like I was a nutcase asking for a favor.

    In addition, the recipients of my packages say that it looks like the boxes were kicked around for a few weeks.

    David, when I was living in an apartment, I once offered my facteur a coffee and from then on, I always received my packages. Might be worth a try.

    • nic miller

    The regulations here in the UK have been relaxed so as to allow automatic leaving of parcels with neighbours in the case of nobody at home.

    I have to say I have never had a problem with any of the carriers including Royal Mail. The only complaint I have is about all those brown envelopes they keep on delivering that contain bills! I do wish they’d stop……

    • AdrBarr

    My, I had no idea! As you said, here in the U.S., packages can just be left with a neighbor. No hassle. Good luck with your future deliveries, and thank you for a great post.

    • João Víctor

    I live in Brazil and actually work for the Brazilian Post. Here, packages are never delivered to neighbors, but irregularly addressed letters and packages often make delivery complicated for a few people. Other than that, delivery is pretty damn good. The funny thing is that I was told La Poste was the best postal operator in the world.

    What about renting a PO box instead? Maybe that works?

    • iza

    It’s simply amazing how accurate David’s observations are about life in general in Paris. Deliveries here? thank you. I’ve tried it twice and will NOT do it again. And I also have a gardienne in the building, super nice lady. When I suggested leaving a package with her, the delivery man said that he won’t do it/can’t do…not sure. So, it’s all reduced to getting things from the store or not at all. C’est la vie.

    • Laurie

    Oh man I love reading your posts about life in Paris – you have the perfect way of describing it! It’s the same down here in the sud-ouest… I had to live for three months of our Freebox cutting in and out before I could psych myself up to deal with exchanging it!

    • Annabel (Mrs Redboots)

    It’s not just Paris. UPS once said they couldn’t deliver a package to me as “the premises were closed” – hello? I live in a block of flats, they weren’t trying to deliver to my work address.

    But the classic was when the postman put one of those cards through my door, without ringing the doorbell or anything. I happened to be passing the door, so grabbed the card and opened my front door. The postman was in the corridor, delivering letters to some of the other flats, so I said “I’m home; can I have my parcel, please?”

    Postman went bright pink and made some excuse – he obviously didn’t even have the parcel with him! To do him justice, he did go and get it and deliver it 30 minutes later, but even still…. cynical, or what?

    • Jenn

    Wow, it’s incredibly comforting to have this shared experience, even though I live in Mexico. A friend once sent me a fridge magnet as a gift and it cost me $5 to get that magnet from the shipping company. I didn’t really want the magnet in the first place. Also, your comment about visiting the US without health insurance… makes me shudder, too.

    • Angela

    This post was exceptionally well-timed, as I am currently living the worst nightmare trying to locate a package full of clothes my mother tried to send to me from the US. At least in your story you actually received the famous “avis de passage” – in my case the post man was too lazy to even do that. I received NOTHING, no notification, no note, nothing. And when I went to the post office to inquire using the tracking number my mom told me, I came up with nothing because, unbeknownst to me and contrary to all logic, the French give the package a new number once it enters France, although they don’t notify the sender or the addressee about this change effectively making it impossible to track the package. Bande de branleurs.

    • mlle paradis

    can ya believe it! i have a similar story about a package coming from amsterdam to l.a.! (somehow one has the idea that the dutch – and such a small country – would be better than the rest of us at all this!) it took TWO MONTHS! and arrived in pristine condition. i expected at least two months worth of wear and buffeting to show up on it. maybe coffee stains ……

    it’s a scandale the whole subject! and no kidding, it’s really expensive to send anything from the states these days.

    although bullion sounds v. nice, i’d stick with “no gifts, just send money!”

    • Nick

    Yup don’t we all have stories like that?
    The way out is to come and live in a village like mine. The postman – Mark – puts your letters on the table (we don’t lock the door much). Should we be away he takes them to the neighbour who is in, if he knows we are just out gallivanting, he leaves a note “In the greenhouse” or similar.
    Of course, any misaddressed post just arrives.
    ps I couldn’t afford the postage on the bullion, so sent a few diamonds instead. PM me for tracking #.

    • Sophie

    Well maybe a “neighbor” is the one who has your long lost cookbooks….

    • bonnie

    Maybe a batch of cookies, brownies, or jam to the folks that hold the power is a good idea.

    • Kiki

    Oh, the (French) story of my life…. isn’t it just dismal and a total cheek this so called SERVICE….!!!! If I’d get a botte of red for every time I made an unsuccesful trip to my post office, I’d be a wine merchant! If I’d have to wash my mouth with soap every time a swearword (or two) escaped my lips when I found a note in my letter box for being absent (IF they put one…) ALTHOUGH I was at home but the guy couldn’t be bothered to ring and wait – well, I’d be outselling Le Petit Marseillais….
    IF I get my stuff at all it usually gets thrown across the high gates and lies then in the rain, sod, or whatever until I happen to run off to the train or something that demands that I take the ‘official’ way – another time I went to the post office three days in a row because they just couldn’t find the parcel, another time I had a recovery slip in the box but the parcel had another number and therefore could not be found (and yes, it came from the UK, just to make me phone them three times to find out if THEY put another number on than the French postal service read… and no, it wasn’t)… it was just my lucky day to have one of the many illiterate facteurs with dislexia and the brain cells of a geranium. Oh the fun we have….

    • CWID

    It’s the same curse we have here in Vancouver (or Montreal). Fedex, UPS — they’re all the same. No matter if the package or the letter is to be delivered RUSH, those guys don’t seem to understand the urgency. They LIE. Those delivery persons don’t come at all, don’t ring the doorbell, don’t call. They simply report that there is nobody home. My daughter’s boyfriend sat at the condo lobby for three hours waiting for a parcel just to make sure the guys arrive at the front door. That’s how bad parcel delivery has become. And we pay an arm and a leg for the non-service! It’s a crime.

    • Franziska

    Same experience here – I have just signed up for this service – it only works for French parcels that come by colissimo, but it’s a start

    • anne

    A great post David, my friend from Paris just sent me the link… Last year I sent a package to her .. and in it was a present for her and 4 other friends .. as a surprise .. and it never got there … it was not a huge package it was just a simple little package…It did not come back to me, and it had my address on and it did not reach her !!!

    • Axelle the french cook

    Don’t complain ! I certify : La Poste made so much progress in those last years ! I promise, before, it was worst !! :D

    • Sarahb1313

    So having grown up in NYC the post office was a dreaded trip.

    I have to say, living in the outer suburbs has 2 major perks: nobody clips my ankle with a shopping cart at the supermarket and by golly, I LOVE BOTH MY POST OFFICE AND MAIL CARRIER!

    This mostly keeps me from ever moving back to the city- I just think, I couldn’t bear the post office!

    • Sarahb1313

    So having grown up in NYC the post office was a dreaded trip.

    I have to say, living in the outer suburbs has 2 major perks: nobody clips my ankle with a shopping cart at the supermarket and by golly, I LOVE BOTH MY POST OFFICE AND MAIL CARRIER!

    This mostly keeps me from ever moving back to the city- I just think, I couldn’t bear the post office!

    • Marianne

    Same here in London – Parcelforce is the company (used ot be part of Royal Mail I believe) which holds your package and claims they have mailed you a Customs letter which they haven’t and won’t tell you where to get a copy of the form (online perhaps??). They held a package for 3 months and only then was I graced with the Customs form after I complained to the Postage Umbudsman. I will only go with DHL, UPS, Fedex, TNT, etc. all of which are slower here in the UK than in the USA but have reasonable to good customer service (unlike a lot of the UK.

    • Valentine

    Things are just as bad here in the Netherlands. Being a small country, you’d think deliveries wouldn’t be a problem, but I swear UPS, DPD et all delight in playing some twisted game of musical chairs with your parcels. I always choose to have parcels delivered at a drop-off point if that option is available (one advantage of a small country is that such drop-off points are spaced less widely apart). But even that can go wrong if some fool delivers your parcel to the wrong drop-off point – a distinct possibility as apparently only about half of the Dutch deliverymen can actually read. And for a really fun time, try sending something to Belgium. It costs an arm and a leg and can take weeks, even though I live less than an hour’s drive from the Belgian border.

    • Nora Gleason

    This entry was hilarious! I had a run in with a delivery service in Montpelier about ten years ago, waiting all day for a package that had been promised in the early am. I went to their office a few times and got a blank stare from the supervisor. Finally, in the very late afternoon, the truck pulled up to my hotel and the driver handed me the package, demanding a tax payment in excess $100.00! Incredulous, I jumped in my get-away car. As I drove away, I saw an astonished delivery man standing in the parking lot looking completely bewildered!

    Despite the lack of empathy for customers in retail situations, France is still my favorite country, hands down. An afternoon at Le Baron Rouge with friends wipes away any bad feelings I harbor about bad customer service in France.

    • Gavrielle

    You would think being at home all the time, like your neighbour, would be the magic bullet, but no, at least here in New Zealand. I work from home, but never get deliveries as the couriers ALWAYS come at 6 a.m. and flit away noiselessly after their feather-light door knock, if any, fails to wake me up.

    As for posting food through the mail, lucky it’s not you trying to send food to the US, because the rules are bizarre. We can send home-made food there, but not anything commercially made. What on earth is that about? You’d think it would be a lot easier to insert cocaine or anthrax or whatever they’re worried about in the middle of a home-made brownie.

    • Joshua

    Hey David, I just wanted to say how much I love your blog and how helpful it has been to me. Its funny because I have read a lot of your posts yet I have never commented on one, so I decided to begin doing so! I love the stories you tell, simply because they are always interesting and I always feel right at home here. And second your post about food blogging was incredibly helpful for me. I would have commented on that one as well but its not letting me. Anyway, your post on foodblogging and everything on here has been so helpful to me. I’m only 16 but you have motivated me to start my own food blog and I just wanted to thank you for that. Please keep posting David, I cant wait to see your next story.

    P.S. I love France, every time I have a bad day I always think to myself “ahh if only I lived in France.”

    • phi

    Nice. I had a similar experience in Paris when I got my first package. I went to every post office in my arrondisement which led to me doing a long research project on Parisian Posts. I made a mapping of each post office and went to the post office museum – made notes on each type of post office vehicles and followed them around. I made post cards commemorating each location and mailed them to myself (some only took 1 day to arrive!). I really enjoy the one hidden behind the stairs at the Pompidou Center.

    • Sylvie

    I am thoroughly entertained reading your post and all the comments. Hilarious ( I can laugh because am in the US and they leave my packages at the door if I’m out)…so sorry for all of you en France!

    • Martha in KS

    If you lived in Kansas, like moi, your packages would be left on your front porch behind the brick posts so they can’t be seen from the street. When I was mailing packages to Moldova (my niece was in the Peace Corps) the paperwork was a hassle & a big box cost $125 to ship. Glad she’s back home.

    Happy Thanksgiving!!

    • Li-hsia

    Well, here in the US it’s no better. Note on door telling my husband there’s something at the PO for him. I took the note, his driver’s license (!) and a signed note from him telling the PO they could give it to me. They refused because my name isn’t the same as his. I asked if his sister could pick it up, and they said yes (!!). So he went, and they gave it to him. And it was addressed to BOTH of us (!!!)

    • Jasanna

    So unfortunate! That’s one of the joys of my day…getting a package! I had no idea they were so terrible. I wonder why? I guess it keeps things ‘cultural’ right? :)

    • Hannah

    In rural BC, we have no home delivery, we go to a wall of post boxes in a vestibule, which is in the same building as the post office. Each family has a key to thier own letter box, and if there’s a parcel, there will be a card, numbered to correspond with a number a staff put on the parcel. The boxes can be accessed any time, but the parcels can only be redemed during business hours. Any family member/box key holder can redeem the parcel. There’s lots of free parking. The system is so organized – downright civilized, I tell ya!

    In Vancouver the same happened once, as another poster here said: a card saying I wasn’t home appeared while I happened to be standing right in front of the mail slot!

    WHAT a pain, having to brave horrendous traffic to the P.O., drive in circles looking for a metered parking space that cost an arm and a leg. And the place kept banker’s hours, so most of us had to waste half of a day. Aaaaaarrrrrgggghhhh!

    • Cyndy Witzke

    I’m still waiting for U to deliver the (second) replacement Amex card (the first never arrived either), and we left Paris in 2010. There was a guardien, too. A good one.

    • naomi

    I’ve been trying to figure out how I could afford to live in Paris, and now I know how! I’m going to rent a space and charge people to receive their packages. Everyone will just have the packages addressed to me and themselves, and it will cost only the smallest surcharge – really.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      I’ve been thinking that if someone opened one of those “pack & ship” places on the Left Bank in Paris, they could make a fortune. All the tourists who buy things, then can’t figure out how to bring them home could just go in and drop them off, have them packed up, then shipped out.

      Then I realized that no one’s done it because of the problems with the delivery companies. FedEx works well & the shops I know that ship internationally will only use FedEx, although they won’t ship packages within France, for some reason.

    • Karen

    I’m thinking your cookbooks have finally arrived!

    • Anna

    hahaha, this was fun to read!

    • Willnyc

    My trick, after 20 years in NYC: tip your mail carrier lavishly for a couple Christmases, then ask for her cell phone #. I now text her to warn her of upcoming deliveries and they are always on time. Ya gotta pay to play!

    • Kirsten

    I live in New York and work at home, so I am quite familiar with the experience of finding the “attempted delivery” sticker on the building door despite no one ever having buzzed me. Oddly enough, this seemed to happen with incredible frequency when I lived in a walk up building. Now I live in a building with an elevator, but it breaks quite often. So now I get the interesting phenomenon of buzzing in someone from the post office then never have them come to my door, instead later finding a card in my mailbox informing me that they had tried to deliver something to me, but alas, I wasn’t home–despite the fact that I had been the one who let them into the building. Oh, and the stories I have to tell about trying to get something re-delivered by the post office…

    • Dee

    Brings to mind something that happened last year. My mother in the UK sent a birthday card to my daughter (here in Holland) and included a Eur 50 note. She enquired several times whether we had received it and only after two months did she admit to putting money in it. Of course we thought that’s it, it’s long gone but then about five months after she had sent it, it arrived intact still containing the money, with various extra marks on it, showing that in actual fact it went to Thailand!!! The address was perfectly correct and we stared and squinted at her not so illegible writing to see whether we could see anything that even slightly looked like an alterior address but couldn’t come up with a reason. Now every time something seems to take a while coming from her (she hadn’t given up this practice), we say “it’s probably still in Thailand”!

    • Holly

    I’ve had similar experiences. Once I had a notice on the door for a package being delivered but when I took it to the post office to pick up the package they wouldn’t give it to me because I had to wait 3 days. No explanation – just a “You need to wait three days before you can pick it up.” It was totally bizarre. But I’ve had similar bad experiences in the States. My apartment complex in Arizona forgot to tell me I had a package waiting in their office and three months later when they finally told me I found out it was a basket of fruit my grandmother had sent me and they only remembered because it was rotting away in their closet.

    I like to use the relais stations now, there’s one across the street from my apartment in Provence and the package always arrives on time and the hours are a bit easier to go and collect it. Though it’s true, the guy doesn’t check my ID.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      It seems the only time they insist on checking your ID is when you forget to bring it (!)

    • Mira

    I feel your pain. I experienced that a couple of months ago when my parents and I vacationed in Los Angeles and rented a nice apartment across The Grove. We had trouble with one particular package (delivered by the three letter provider starting with the letter U). It transpired that they delivered it twice to the wrong apartment number, and upon hearing that the occupant did not have the last name they were looking for, just gave up. This is despite the fact we were just around the corner from the hall they kept coming to. Finally they just gave it to some random person. All of which is logged, by the way, a circumstance which will help the department store to charge them the cost of our cancelling our order… The funny part is that all the packages from Amazon arrived fine and they were also delivered by the same company. So weird.

    • sandra

    David, that was so funny! Thankfully, the post here is pretty good, at least in our area and the postie knows us well. As do UPS and others…
    However, about 6 weeks ago, I ordered a kitchen thermometer and we must have had a mishap and it ended up in someone else’s post box. Now here, is the complication. The group of streets where I live has communal post boxes in a group on the street. The postman delivers letters and small parcels to these, while big parcels are to the house itself. So, the small jiffy bag must have been put in the wrong box. Problem no 2, is that the boxes are numbered but not with the number of the house (except ours which we labelled) and not all the houses are occupied, some are empty and some are holiday homes…
    So a couple of days ago, after long giving up, someone put the jiffy bag in the box by our gate (used for fliers) – after having opened it, presumably to check they didn’t actually want it!

    • Carrie

    In my neighborhood in San Antonio TX packages are usually left at the door if no one is home but then promptly stolen…

    • Gblico

    David: I feel your pain and can relate, having lived in Paris for the past 9 years. The bureaucratic incompetence of La Poste et al can only be described as breathtaking and unbelievable in scope. Try using La Poste and you’ll be convinced that the much maligned US Postal Service is a model of efficiency. I tried sending a small package to New York recently – express, priority, air mail, return recepit, tracking – it took 15 days to Deliver! When I inquired, thinking the package may have been lost, the postal clerk who tracked it said even though the package was left on the 12th of the month, it was sent out on the 17th! Same problem with a package sent to Valencia, Spain. La Poste and other French delivery services are prehistoric at worst and medieval at best! Avoid La Poste if what you’re sending must get to the destination on time!

    • Simian

    Hilarious post, and we’ve all been there though I don’t really think French postal services are worse than in the US.

    …..Growing up in Norway and having pen pals all over the world I complained to my mum how delayed the exchange with anyone in the US was.

    I remember very clearly how my mother explained in a matter of fact tone, that in America the postal services does not really work and no one uses it, you have to use private courier companies instead.

    That was really shocking to me.

    Having lived many places around the world my first meeting with a New York post office was still quite shocking, just how inefficient and rundown it was. It seemed more fit to a very very poor country.

    • Tama Trotti

    Oh my, I wrote about a similar “package delivery incident”on my blog a month ago or so. I also cringe at having to return any item to a department store – you have to give them your first born.
    Tama Trotti

    • Ashley of Ashley Abroad

    I understand – I had my ballot sent to France from the U.S. and it never showed up! I was so disappointed.

    • Jennifer Furlong

    I have a positive experience with La Poste…we were in Paris in October and I had promised to mail my friend a postcard, as she collects them.

    We wandered into a random post office somewhere near Invalides whilst walking around and the lady at the counter was so helpful. Apparently she couldn’t actually sell me a postcard stamp but they had these little machines that would do so…when I was still fumbling about trying to read it, she came over, poked a few buttons and…voila…my little stamp came out!

    Now I did think it silly that I had to go out the door and halfway up the block to deposit my postcard in a slot in the outside of the building, but hey, my friend DID receive her postcard!

    Here at home in rural SW Pennsylvania, the UPS, FedEx and Postal Service all just leave packages on my porch. The UPS guy even puts a bag over them if it is rainy.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      I find the people at La Poste really nice and helpful. (Of course, not all post offices are created equal!) But I think the modernization of the French post offices have really helped morale.

    • EM

    Oh the post– the common hassle for us expats!

    I live in Vienna, Austria and you would be shocked where my mail goes.From time to time they mix up the city Vienna with the country of Vietnam. Another gem is to send the mail down under– this happens A LOT– even when I specifically instruct people to write Austria-EUROPE on the mail.

    Oh and while we are on a rant about mail and customs– the limits are far too low. Here you have to pay it on 40 EUR or more- but who is really going to be sending stuff under 40 EUR, especially factoring in the high shipping charges (the slow-boat to China seamail option doesn’t exist anymore.) And honestly if there was a bit more consumer choice and selection here I wouldn’t want to import so much stuff. I am shocked by how many companies won’t do business across borders within the European Union (but their American counterparts well– for example, are you listening Eddie Bauer?!)

    • Kristen

    Speaking from personal experience: delivery people will leave packages with neighbors outside of Paris.

    • Merisi in Vienna

    Whenever I hit le roadblock with a delivery company, which usually includes a flurry of “missed delivery” warnings – which I’m beginning to suspect are keeping a French sticker company in business …..

    I’m afraid they branched out to Vienna, Austria! There is no problem with the private delivery companies, those are pretty flexible and leave packages with whomever will answer the door. Postal delivery is the crux here, making ordering online a game of Russian roulette.

    Btw, United Parcel vans around here remind me of John Updike’s “Towards the End of Time”, a sci-fi novel set in 2020, after a nuclear war with China, where United Parcel takes over the logistics of collecting taxes as there is no more government. ;-)

    • Monica Beck

    I feel for you all ! I try to order most online purchases from Amazon, whose headquarters are here in Seattle. They have local distribution centers nearby, and are able to do same-day delivery on many items. The package is left on my front porch if I am not home.

    Live in an apartment? They now have an Amazon Locker program. Lockers are found in 7-11 and Staples stores. At checkout, Amazon provides you with a locker code. After work, you simply run to 7-11, enter your secret code, and voilà, there is your package ! Good business for 7-11 too, since you probably buy a Slurpee and some munchies while there. Good luck to you all !

    • Katka

    Usually i have the best experience with deliveries here in France, when the parcel is small, they let it in the postal box, if it’s bigger, they come again next day or you can pick it up at post office, where they are helpful and well organized. But DHL is a nightmare.
    The other day, I had a delivery of a sink (I bought a sink through internet in Germany). On the parcel, it was written in big letters and three languages (+icons) ‘Be careful’, Fragile, Do not throw. Of course, the delivery guy, had thrown it over the fence (2 m). When we opened it, the sink was broken on two parts… The selling company accepted the photos and send again a new sink (with different delivery service), but what a pity that something is destroyed by such a stupid way…

    • Geraldine in Spain

    Sorry to hear about your travail! Our mail service here in So. Spain is excellent.
    The Argentines have a far simpler solution to mail delivery, no messages/notes/attempts, everything is simply STOLEN, absolutely nothing arrives EVER.

    Years ago, like 30, I took out a post box to receive my foodie mags, even those never made it!

    Move to Spain, we need you here in Andalucia.

    • Patricia

    In Vancouver, BC I’ve never really had this problem although sometimes items are sluggish in the mail. The postie, or fedex guy leaves a message on my answering machine which is hooked up to the buzzer if I don’t pick up and then leaves me the sticker. I guess I shouldn’t complain :-) pretty reasonable service. However, having said that one xmas a postie who was either in a hurry or ran out of cards left everyones parcels under the boxes in the lobby which could be easily viewed from the street. I think we’ll see more of this as more companies become more understaffed. Lack of people lack of time.

    • strudelinparis

    I’ve had quite some misfortunes with French delivery services moi-même (including delivery persons cramming technically too big parcels in my post box, which led to said parcels blocking the lock from the inside and making it impossible to open the post box from the outside), but hey, how can you complain once you heard about the guy having received an assault rifle instead of the TV he ordered ?

    • Elizabeth

    It’s so funny I read this post today, because just this morning I got a call from a person clamining to be from D__ asking for my door code because he had a package to deliver to me.
    I was naturally suspicion, but since I was waiting for something, I gave the code. Lo-and-behold my buzzer rang a second later, the delivery man gave me the package, I signed and he left.
    The first time that’s happened to me in 18 years of living in Paris. What about the sticker? What about the endless calls to customer service? What about the package being returned to the sender? Am I dying? Is the world coming to an end? Maybe it’s just a fluke…

    • witloof

    Ah, now I understand why my friend who lived in France for four years always begged me to send any mail or packages to her lab instead of her home!

    • Laurie

    Now I know why the postcards I mailed from Paris and Barcelona this fall to friends in the US arrived weeks after I returned from my trip!!

    • Jared

    it’s no different in the states. I have worked from home for 5 years now, and I frequently get “could not deliver” tags. Once I chased a fleeing truck down the road. the driver admitted he didn’t knock because “it looked like no one was home”.

    • Christina Grace

    It sure feels good to know that I am not alone! I have a gardienne in my building, and apart from my deliveries from La Poste who seems to know to look for my gardienne, the other companies seem to prefer passing by my place at the most inconvenient hour, during lunch time, during the mornings where I am out or in the afternoons when I decide to have a coffee with a friend. Despite the delivery company having my mobile number, I never get a call from them and always find a note or sticker at my boîte de lettres – once I only received an email from my merchant indicating that the delivery had failed as a result of three unsuccessful attempts at delivery and I had no clue!

    • Janet

    My sister was visiting me in Paris for a few months so she had asked a friend to collect all her mail and send it to me by Fedex. I am blessed with a great gardienne so there’s no need to put the floor number down, just the street number is enough. Three weeks later, still no sign of the package that was sent here as she prepared to go home. She contacted her friend who gave her the tracking number. They got the local Fedex office where they explained no one was at home, which was not true, and they did not bother to call my number which was indicated on the package. I guess the gardienne was not in. Worst of all, they did not leave a notice of failed delivery. I guess if we were desperate enough, the onus was on us to track it down. They informed us the only way to get the package was to trek across town to pick it up ourselves. As we prepared to do so the next day, there was a knock on the door, the gardienne delivered it. What’s their slogan? Fedex – the World on Time. Yeah, on whose time?

    • kim

    Ah, it is exactly the same here in Belgium. I was sick at home for months and often ordered books online, only to find “missed delivery” slips when I shuffled to my mailbox around noon. They never bother to ring. Some don’t bother with slips either but just dump the packages in our communal (and publicly accessible) hallway. So I learned the hard way my neighbours aren’t to be trusted after all :/ several packages have gone missing after being reported on tracking websites as “delivered” (including one containing a copy of “The sweet life in Paris” coincidentally). I’ve filed complaints at various points but am about to give up and just use my work address from now on.
    It’s just very frustrating. It can’t be that hard to deliver a package to someone, come on :(

    • Emmanuelle

    Well, I moved from France here in Canada and TODAY I had a parcel worth 100 $ nicely left in front of my door IN THE STREET… So I guess it’s not just France which is a third world country.Canada is too.
    Many times I had “You’re not at home tags” too. And wonder why? People who deliver parcells do it during the day NOT during the night. OH WONDER!!! everybody is working at the same times… So yes even here in North America I had to go and pick my package somewhere else!!!! Could not believe it!! Why do they not come at 8 pm???

    I lived 20 years in Paris and never had any problem to send or receive a package or a letter… I might extra smart I suppose…

    This is an interesting blog post but sooo many times I get the feeling it’s just American people trying to civilize those poor French subhumans…or French bashing.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      Au contraire! As mentioned, I’m a big fan of La Poste, which is the French postal service & haven’t had problems with them. (I’ve had plenty of French friends that complain frequently – but I insist they’re pretty good.)

    • Rafael

    Very nice. I really like your writings, funny and light humour.

    I had been to Paris in a hotel and needed a delivery. I was afraid of some thing going wrong, but they delivered to my hotel without any problems. I think you could check in in a small hotel just to pick up the packages at the reception later. There’s always someone there. :)

    • rxc

    We once had some medical xrays sent here to France. The package and the shipping documentation clearly stated that the package contained medical xrays, but Fedex decided to charge us the customs duty on movies! Luckily, they delivered the xrays first and sent the bill afterwards, but I still wrote a letter of complaint, and refused to pay the facture. We never heard anything more from them.

    I also remember when we lived in Paris in the 80s, and people would send us Xmas presents that had to be presented to the douane. There was never any customs duty to pay, but always a charge (30 francs, I seem to remember) for the “presentation”. Every time this happened, I remembered the old story that the pensions of the customs inspectors were funded out of the fees and duties that they recovered, so they had quite a personal interest in “enforcing” the customs rules. I believe that this funding mechanism has since been changed, so maybe the EU has been a good thing, in some ways…

    • Coquelicot

    I so feel your pain, David, and everyone else who suffers at the mercy of La Poste. Our packages were delivered straight to our “neighbour” i.e. the shop on the ground floor of our building, but we do not know them, neither do they care to tell us they have our stuffs, neither does La Poste leave a message to tell us what happened.

    In the end, our packages come and go without us knowing… it’s so frustrating, a lot of effort wasted for nothing.

    On the other hand, my mails are always delivered correctly. It’s just their “colis” activity which is completely messed up…

    • Emily

    While living with a friend in her apartment block outside Paris one summer, I awaited several letters from my university. I had to instruct my school to address me as

    MyName Chez MyFriend’sName
    Building number 5, Laide Banlieue
    Post Code

    because, as my friend explained, using door numbers was out of fashion.

    • dan

    Daveed!! Yes, it was hilarious… but this is how socialism works…. keep making lighthearted jokes about it and one day you’ll see how funny your jokes are from a prison cell

    • Jen

    Hello David, I just discovered blog searching for tahini cookie recipes and have just spent an hour reading through. Very interesting and exciting blog, I will be signing up for blog updates! Thanks!

    • Audrey

    We just moved to Montreal from the U.S. and have had the same thing happen. I work at home, and for some reason, they never seem to be able to find me, and leave the tags requiring me to go pick up the package (which, I have to admit, is conveniently at a local drugstore not that far away). The thing I don’t understand is, we live in a secure building, so they could leave the packages in front of our door and nobody from the street could get in to steal them. Ugh. Perhaps Montreal is using the French system for its post…anyway, between that and the crazy customs fees, I tell our friends and family not to send us packages. Unfortunately, this means no internet shopping for me either.

    • Steve

    Wow–I’m struck by your fear of visiting the US without health insurance. I never thought of that.

    • JenGren

    Wow, there must have been something in the air! I just wrote a post on La Poste last week. I’m glad to hear that they’ve cleaned up their act a bit since I was last there!


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