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A Gripe about Global Gifting

December 21, 2012

We always knew the price of living in the US was being an ocean away from half of our universe of family and friends. We go back as often as our measly vacation allotments allow, primarily taking summer trips to enjoy the southern France sunshine. Traditions being stronger on my family’s side, Christmas (or Christmukkah in our case) has typically been spent in the wilderness of New York. No big deal, right? We’ll just send fabulous American-made gifts to our French family, who will wear/carry/display them proudly and say “Why yes, it’s the latest trend in the US”.

Without fail, holiday shopping for our relatives in France is the most tedious challenge of the holiday season. This coming from a girl who makes homemade gift tags for Christmas gifts three months in advance. In an increasingly globalized world, global gifting somehow seems to be getting HARDER.

gift-arriving-late-never-christmas-ecard-someecards

Shipping gifts is risky business, at least in my experience. Trackable, seemingly reliable delivery services often means fees far higher than the worth of the gifts, which can quickly add up. More bothersome are the strict customs regulations. Anything that could be remotely considered in the beauty, perfume, food or a handful of other categories you’d never even think about ensures that your package will likely be savagely opened for inspection and maybe, just maybe, closed and put back on its original path. If you’re lucky, you’ve packed your gift with care and lots of buffer materials (driving up the weight and therefore the cost), and it arrives with the gift wrap and contents perhaps just slightly battered.  And if the universe hates you, your gift that you’ve spent hours scouring New York for (like the most perfect NYC-themed, handmade, manufactured-with-sustainable-fabric booties for your stepsister-in-law’s new baby) never arrives at all, while the post office shrugs its shoulders. No bitterness here.

But there’s that space-agey thing called the internet now (yes, I did just steal a line from Step Up Revolution).  And if I can visit an Abercrombie store in Paris and fill my closet with duds from a Spanish brand in the US, then surely the internet retailers have got this whole shipping conundrum figured out. Not so much.

The majority of online brands – even those that are multinational – won’t ship a purchase from one country website to another country.  To purchase within the recipient’s country – on Zara France, for example – only a French form of payment and billing address is accepted. Also – there’s no telling when your gift might arrive, or how complicated a return might be.

You might think gift cards, which are now available electronically by many brands, could be the answer. This is yet another trap to watch out for; the fine print on most sites indicates that gift cards can only be used on the country-specific website it is purchased on. Even the New York Times is baffled by the absurdity of all this per a recent article on the challenges Macy’s and others are facing in opening up to foreign shoppers.

There are a handful of sites that are starting to get on board, like ASOS.com, which offers extremely reasonable shipping to almost anywhere. UrbanOutfitters.com will allow for international shipping for a reasonable fee, but gift cards are off limits unless you can purchase from the country site. Nordstrom and Macy’s have now made it possible to send many classic American brands to far off lands. However, with no gift wrap or even gift message option is available, your gifts will arrive without any holiday fanfare.

Sure, we could bring Christmas presents during our summer jaunts, but where’s the fun in getting a Christmas present in July?

I suppose this post came primarily from a desire to vent about the global economy’s shortcomings, but also because there must be a better way out there and there must be other expats who have figured it out. So looking to you, blogosphere. Have a fail-safe method for holiday gifting? Any tips and tricks are most appreciated. And maybe by next year, I’ll have given up entirely and resorted to IOUs to be redeemed the year we eventually move back to France. In the meantime, we’re off to another Christmukkah on Long Island, where Frenchie will shake his head at each and every one of our wacky traditions. Wishing everyone hassle-free gift giving and de tres bonnes fetes!!

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