MISSION: Recover Christmas package

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Mission: To retrieve Christmas presents from the Czech Post
Time: One week, or they get sent back to the USA
LocationPost Office of Exchange, Plzeňská 139/290, Prague 5 – Košíře

*Cue spy music*

It was a rainy afternoon when my husband pulled the mysterious white envelope out of our mailbox. The contents were indecipherable - they were all in Czech. Using my slight knowledge of the language and Google translate, we were able to decode the following from the five wordy sheets of paper in the envelope:

We had just under a week to retrieve a parcel from the customs post office in Prague 5.

This was a job for an experienced, worldly emissary...

...or a clueless American hiding behind a book in a cafe. Yes, that's me.

I mapped out a route on www.dpp.cz and set off on a tram in the grim rain. This mission was not for the faint of heart. Or the rainboot-less.

The tram dropped me in an unfamiliar sector of Prague. I hurdled dog doo and muck puddles as I persisted toward the Prague 5 locale.

And all of a sudden, there it was: A looming steel building that looked like Ikea's ugly stepsister.

I entered its metal mouth, under buzzing florescent lights and lines of rust. Where to go? Not a clue. All senses and brain synapses were engaged.

First, incognito, I tried this area. Behind a pane of glass, a cryptic man with an epic comb-over murmured  třetí patro (third floor). I left in pursuit of it.

Once on the third floor, a perplexing sign bearing the names of many rooms greeted me. I went to one, then another. A woman pointed me here; a man pointed me there. I began to think it was a ruse to bewilder me and render me vulnerable so I could be smuggled into the basement to sort mail indefinitely.

Finally, I reached a door where they made me show my passport and residency visa. My cover was blown! I had to pay a fee in another room, then a hefty VAT customs tax (20% of the value of our Christmas presents) in another, and then get a stamp in another... this was a highly intricate government process. Door after door.

And all of a sudden, they slipped me the parcel. Mission accomplished!

I fled the scene and was back to my domicile by nightfall (i.e. 4 p.m. these days). The contents of the covert customs package?

Wool socks. Lots of them. And some clothing items and a kit that makes a Christmas ornament out of your dog's paw print.

This international operative felt very loved. Thanks, ma!


  1. That is an intense mission! We have supposedly Christmas mail coming to us someday here in China...it's still a mystery to me as to whether we will receive it...

  2. Oh man, going to customs (Zoll) in Germany is a similar nightmare, coupled with having to wait FOREVER. We always tell friends and family to check the "gift" box on a customs form or else Germans will make you pay for it. I learned the hard way when my dad shipped me my ukulele (a possession I already owned) and didn't mark gift, and put a high value on it, and they made me pay tax on it. UGH. Glad you were able to survive and got a nice present out of it!

  3. Ha! Congrats on completing such a mission! Stuff has about a 50% chance of making it through customs here in Russia.

    One package was sent in December for my (late January) birthday. Never arrived... I went home in July and only a few weeks later did it get returned to the sender. WTF. Glad to see the Czech system operates in some sort of normal reality!

  4. Are you vying to be the next 'Bond girl', Em? :-) Congratulations on completing your mission successfully, especially for obtaining that holy grail of Czech bureaucracy - getting all your paperwork officially stamped!

  5. Loved this post, it made me laugh out loud. And there's me moaning about having to cope with similar things in German! Would never survive where you are! :D

  6. Oh dear god, I have been to that very post office approximately three weeks after arriving in Prague. Scariest thing ever as a CZ newbie. Alex was sent to one window. Then to another. Then back to the first window. Then back to the other to pay. Then to the first window to collect. Gahhhhh! Then we went to take the lift back down and the button contraption was hanging out of the wall by a wire. (needless to say, we took the stairs)
    Glad you made it out relatively unscathed! But to get a package from the States, it's all worth it :)

  7. Ha! this post definitely made me giggle. I was hit by a hefty customs fee recently too. Boo! x

  8. You're hilarious. Mail depots are never grand feats of architectural genius, are they? On another note, it's interesting to be entering the age where socks are actually a really useful and somewhat coveted Christmas present. :)

  9. I keep telling ma to just take us out for dinner or something when we come home to visit in the summer, but she insists on making things feel Christmas-y with presents. Good luck on getting your package- sounds like China's postal service is dubious as well!

  10. Oh, that completely sucks! But how cool that you play the ukulele :) I know countries want to be vigilant about people shipping stuff in to sell for a profit, but it's sort of crazy that a used musical instrument or socks wrapped in Santa paper are so scrutinized!

  11. Argh! That sounds like the Czech Republic 10 years ago; my ma sent stomach meds and Easter candy... and they never arrived, nor did they get returned to her. I hope you got your bday present back in the US!

  12. I wish! Think it's possible? Ha! I can't believe all the stamps they have in this country; I had to get my dog's paperwork stamped at three different offices just so she could fly with us - crazy!

  13. Too funny! "Ikea's ugly stepsister"... hahahaha! I recently had a similar experience with the Spanish postal service, but unfortunately it didn't end as happily as your story did. (6 and half weeks later, we still don't know if my care package continues to loom in Spanish customs, or if it was sent back to Arizona...) I'm glad you finally got your Christmas presents - and with a side of adventure, at that!!

  14. Oh my!! I never dealt with packages, but dealing with the Czech government for visas, our adoption of our daughter and getting a driver's Czech license sure takes me back to similar days!! Ha!!


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