On a recent Friday, Puerto Limon Hostel where I reside in Buenos Aires got a phone call asking if I was a resident there. They asked for my passport number and said they had received a small package addressed to me from the U.S. The package contained a replacement hearing aid from the Audibel hearing aid organization in Florida. As part of my warranty on their product, they had agreed to replace the hearing aid I had lost, and put on the bill of lading a value of $2 because zero was not acceptable. The following Monday, a Fed Ex driver stopped by the Hostel, not to deliver the package, but to drop off two pages of confusing instructions, in Spanish, about how to pay customs charges of U.S. $121 and an additional AR $250 for my free package. I had heard horror stories about package delivery in Argentina, but being the eternal optimist, I was ready to find out for myself. I do not visit a country to become its critic, and after five months of residence here, I loved Buenos Aires and learned more every day. I even entertained notions of using this experience to deepen my understanding of how customs worked, and how the values were determined.
So I set about with one of the receptionists here, who tried to translate the written instructions. Eventually she gave up and called the local Fed Ex office. They explained what I would owe, which I thought was ridiculous. After all, a comparable hearing aid was simply not available in Argentina, and why would they punish a handicapped person (not being able to hear IS a handicap) by making a replacement as difficult and as expensive as possible? It’s not as if they could repair or replace it from an Argentine provider. The following is what happened next to me and Erika, my assistant and interpreter, who was helping me on her precious day off work: