Saturday, 9 February 2008

Swaping books and the human condition..


I don't drink, smoke, take drugs, lust after other people's wives (well hardly ever), have secret desires (and if I do would I tell you?), gamble or any other sinful activity...well I do swap books... lots of books. Well as you ask nicely its 700+ but this was over 14 months. Yes I do read them and no I am not a secret bookseller.

This is done through two book swap sites: Bookmooch an international site and ReadItSwapit an
UK only site. They operate in very different ways but this is not what I want to talk about. I know that those of you that worry about which type of elastic band to use (natural rubber, EPDM (Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer), synthetic polyisoprene, or silicone compounds- see I told you) will have to do a Google to know more.

Now before they comeback let me get to the point. When I request books from the
USA I send this standard request:

Hi, I am mooching two books so that you can use the Priority Mail® Flat
Rate Envelope. This is the only cheap way for international post If you
get the free envelopes from your Post office and click on

it will cost you $10.45 . This means that you will get six point
s. It looks like this.

Priority Mail® Flat Rate Envelope 6 - 10 Days $11.00$10.45

Also I am in no rush, so delay sending them until within budget. If not possible then let me know and I will cancel this end

In one case, this was accepted and the books were sent but then I got this email

It urns out that you are incorrect about the flat rate int'l envelope. The U.S. Postal Service has not released that product yet, and it is not known when they will. So, I paid full dollar to send you those two books. I think a smooch(Ed... this is a device whereby they get free points and not a request for some perverse vice) at least is in order here! I wouldn't have accepted a double mooch from anyone, but treated you as a special case based on the info you provided. It's not your fault that you were wrong; you don't live here. And, as I was there in the post office, I could have said "screw this, I'm not sending both these books (and one of them a hard back, too)." But, I gave them both to you anyway. So, I expect some kind of gratuity in return!

I responded with this(don’t you think I was so English as at no time did I rant, stamp my feet and point out why is it only to Americans do I have to explain how to send mail abroad)

I am afraid that you were given poor advice as I have swapped many times using this process and have dozen of the envelopes sitting on my floor that prove this.

The link takes you to the USPS and so I am not clear why this was not given as proof to the post office.

I am sorry that you have been given the run around. I will consider your request once the books arrive.

Anyway so what was the response to my comments? It was this charming note

Well, I was standing right there at the post office window and was told by a US Postal Worker that no such flat rate existed. I sent the books to you anyway, and it was very costly. And your response, that you'll consider my request for a smooch or the like when the books arrive, makes me really, really sorry I sent them to you. One of them a brand new, never been read book, too. You have proved to be unworthy of my generosity. What a jerk.

When I posted all this to the Bookmooch Forum I was given a lot of support and useful tips which I have used to make even more clear how the USPS works for overseas.(Yes I know, I know)

So is this about Americans being dumb? Well no it’s about how nice many Americans are and it’s about understanding that we are from different cultures. The postal systems are different and in rural areas… Europe isn’t that north of Canada may well be a typical response. But Read this interesting blog ( for why this may be. His argument is that many Americans have an instrumental view of education and learning… if it earns me money then fine if not then why bother which clashes with the broader more liberal notion of education in Europe.

I prefer to remember a Fools of Gotham story in which a rich merchant stops a peasant and shouts at him

What are the people like in yonder town?

The peasant asks

What were the people like where you come from?

They were greedy liars

You will find the same here

The merchant rides on.

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