Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Common Market?

It’s a common market, right? No problems shipping stuff and trading between all of us lot in the European Union, right? All pals together, no cross-border bureaucratic nonsense like we used to have to put up with, right?

No, wrong.

Yesterday I wanted to buy a simple piece of computer equipment. Now, living in the depths of the French countryside, there’s a bit of a dearth of handy computer stores so the Internet is the method of choice for this sort of thing.

Although the item I wanted was neither exotic nor expensive, it’s not a popular item and I couldn’t find one in France. But there were several companies, UK based, who had it in stock.

I turned to the website of the largest one. It seems that before I could place my trivial order with them, I needed to register as a ‘customer.’ There was one of those elaborate forms to fill out, asking all sorts of questions and, naturally, my address. I worked my way through this, hoping to get a passing grade, until I came to the block, marked with an asterisk as being vital, that read ‘country.’ As you know, this is usually a drop down menu, listing all sorts of exotic nations from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, so I clicked on it. It gave me only one option – England.

Knowing how uptight the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish get over little matters of national pride such as this, I went to the contact page for the company. I felt that they should be alerted before their offices were raided by the Welsh Nationalists. There was a long list of offices in the US, Canada and England – but none in Europe. I telephoned their number in West London.

‘How,’ I asked the lady, ‘could I do business with them, seeing as how they didn’t seem to recognize any nation other than their own?’

She wasn’t sure. Then said that perhaps if I telephoned the sales department they might be able to help. They couldn’t. It was as if I was asking them to dispatch the item to some far distant planet.

‘But don’t you ship to Europe?’ ‘Well, yes, but we wouldn’t be able to tell you what the shipping cost would be. Will you be paying in Sterling?’ ‘ But I’ll be paying by credit card so that’s not a problem.’

‘We don’t accept European cards.’

I hung up and turned back to the Internet.

The next company looked more promising since they featured a gaily coloured array of the flags of all nations.

Once again, I had to fill in the same elaborate form, culminating in the country block. I clicked it. There was only one choice – England.

Then I had a stroke of genius. As I was going to be in England in a week or so, all I would need to do would be to give an address there from which I could pick the thing up. All this went like a breeze until I came to the credit card bit. Then, it told me that my billing address on the credit card did not match the delivery address I was requesting. Sorry, no go.

I gave up on the United Kingdom, or as they seemed to prefer in this case, England and rummaged the continent once more.

I finally located the part in Spain. It will be here on Thursday.

Someone should tell companies in Britain that there is a life beyond the English Channel.

And that it’s no longer as the famous headline in The Times once put it: “Thick fog in Channel – Europe cut off!” But it might just as well be if you want to do business with some companies in that sceptred isle.


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