Monday, April 11, 2011

Perfume and the Post Office

Before I started doing this, I’d gotten my visits to the Post Office down to a few per year. But fumephreaks send stuff out. Swaps, gifts, winners of drawings; little vials, bigger vials, spray atomizers for decants. There’s much confusion about this. Is it legal, illegal, sorta legal, what?
Read on.
The closest Post Office to me is ruled by Vera the Queen. You know her. About 20 minutes to retirement. Has worked there somewhere around 50 years. Thick glasses. Sour expression. Carpal-tunnel braces on both arms. Absolutely certain that you are sending anthrax to terrorist friends.
Vera the Queen -- and she’s always the only clerk at the counter  -- rules her little PO with absolute authority. She stares down everyone who dares walk through her door, more eagle-eyed than 50 TSA agents -- make that 100, since the TSA is where Beavis & Butthead finally got jobs -- put together. The first and last time I attempted to deal with Vera the Queen went something like this.
EXT. DAY -- I approach the Post Office, joyfully realizing that there isn’t a line. I am holding a carefully sealed padded plastic envelope containing two 1 ml. samples to send to England. Ever efficient, I’ve already filled out the customs form, stating “cosmetics samples” in the appropriate box. 
INT. POST OFFICE DAY - I approach the counter. Vera the Queen is staring at me like I’m one of the people on the FBI’s 10-most-wanted list, posted prominently on the wall.
“I’d like to send this international priority, please.”
Vera the Queen takes the package, feels it, turns it over several times, peers at me.
Vera the Queen
 “What kind of cosmetics samples?”
Olfacta: (taken back, no one’s ever asked before) 
“Uh, rouge.”
(Behind me I hear several people come in and get in line.)
Vera the Queen: 
“What KIND of rouge?”
“Just, y’know, rouge. The solid kind.”
Vera the Queen (feeling vials):
“I don’t think I can let you can mail this.”
 “But I mail these all the time!”
Vera the Queen: 
“Well, maybe that other Post Office’s lazy. Not doin’ their job.”
She turns and takes a huge manual down off a shelf. Behind me, I hear the people in line start to sigh and hiss. Slowly, she puts on a rubber finger cap, and begins paging through the manual.
Vera the Queen:
 “Lemmee see. Now what did you say that was?”
Olfacta: “ROUGE.” 
The sighs turn to grumbles. 
Vera the Queen:
(continues paging, slowly)
Olfacta: (retrieving package) 
“You know what? I’ll just take this somewhere else.”
Vera the Queen: 
“Now, don’t you get impatient with me. You take it somewhere else, somebody’s layin’ down on the job, you prob’bly get it back anyway….” (continues paging). 
The grumbling has become a dull roar.
Olfacta: (Backing away from counter, package in hand:)
“Never mind!” 
This is what Vera the Queen would have found if she’d gone through the manual (hint: it’s well-hidden):
Section 12.16, United States Post Office Mailability Manual:
A fragrance advertising sample (39 USC 3001(g)), i.e., any matter normally acceptable in the mail but containing a fragrance advertising sample, is permitted in the mail only if it is sealed, wrapped, treated, or otherwise prepared in a manner reasonably designed to prevent individuals from being unknowingly or involuntarily exposed to the sample. A sample meets this requirement if it uses paper stocks with a maximum porosity of 20 Sheffield units or 172 Gurley-Hill units treated exclusively with microencapsulated oils, and if the sample is produced so that it cannot be activated except by opening a glued flap or binder or by removing an overlying ply of paper.
I’m going to print this and keep It in my car, just in case I ever meet Vera the Queen, or any of her loyal subjects, again!
And here is the entire mailability manual, should you wish to torture yourself.
Post Office photo, from the Bridge and Tunnel club website, via Google Images. 


learn to oil paint said...

I like your blog. Great Article....Daniel

sharilstuff said...

..and that's why I always mail perfume parcels using the self-serve kiosk. It's utterly ridiculous that they make such a fuss over mailing perfume. The arguments supporting the "dangers" are always grossly conflated.

Olfacta said...

Hi Daniel. Thanks!

Olfacta said...

Hi Sharilstuff -- I know -- for domestic stuff I just use stamps. But this is a very international thing, and it seems like winners of my drawings are often overseas, hence the dreaded customs form, the standing in line, the dealings with Vera the Queen, although I now go out of my way to avoid her little empire.

Anonymous said...

Vera's cousin must work at MY post office.

(And what the heck is a self-serve kiosk? None o' those in my small town. I'm tellin' ya, it's Vera's cousin Wanda or hit the road.)

Beavis and Butthead got jobs? I got x-rayed, frisked, every single thing taken out of my carryon bags about a month ago, coming back from Rome through Charlotte. Why? I had a leaded glass vase in my bag - carried on so it wouldn't break - and it looked suspicious in the x-ray (the TSA guys let me see the screen, and it was pretty unrecognizable from the outline). Plus, The CEO's Vatican Batteries were in the bag... lead thingy + batteries? Of course they had to check it out. Embarrassing, but they were fairly nice about it...

Anonymous said...

I smiled throughout your post. I thought these things only happened to me.
On the one hand... you want to tell the truth. On the other hand... you want to send the package and you know it's not a dangerous substance.
Thanks for sharing. I'll have to check what's with Canada... but apparently, Canada Post are fascists when it comes to sending harmless perfume samples around or outside the country.


Olfacta said...

Hi misw -- I won't go into experiences with TSA AGENTS -- well, just one. This six foot plus TSA woman at Anchorage took away my peppermint foot balm. I know it met the size requirement. I'd made sure it did. But she looked at me like she was ready to slap me in the Wasilla jail for life if I dared protest. I'm sure she enjoyed it!

Olfacta said...

Hi Normand -- I've always heard that Canada is just about the worst. Good luck!

Vanessa said...

I was astonished by the ferocity of US postal clerks when I visited LA last year - I was only posting completely flat Christmas cards at the time, but still got quizzed about the contents, not as relentlessly as Vera, mind. That would put the wind up me good and proper! Those "fragrance samples" are just those gummed down paper strips in magazines, aren't they? Shame the powers that be are not as reasonable about perfume in the normal "delivery system" of a vial. : - )

In the UK you almost never get asked what you are sending. One in 30 or 40 times, maybe. We are very lucky. And yet it is against Royal Mail rules even to send scent within the UK without a licence, never mind overseas!

Diana said...

I am worshiping you right now. Not just for your fragrance dedication, or your honestly (I lie and say candy or jewelry), but BECAUSE YOU WENT AND FOUND THE CODE SECTION.

The lawyer half of me, all $100,000 worth, is building a tiny shrine to you RIGHT NOW.

runs off to print out section and keep in her own car

Undina said...

A couple of months ago, after trying to be honest and not being able to send my package, I went through A LOT of pages on the topic from USPS first and then UPS and Fedex and I didn't find a legal way of sending any perfume abroad by a private person. Inside the U.S. You can still use Ground mail.

Olfacta said...

Hi Vanessa -- Good point; the second paragraph of "the rules" mentions microencapsulation. I still wouldn't state "perfume" on a customs form, just out of common sense -- we have some, even if the PO doesn't! IMHO this is all over-reaction to the events shortly after Sept. 11, with the powdered anthrax being sent through the US mail by some wackjob. I think they need to take this stance for the usual reason -- fear of litigation. Meanwhile, people keep sending whatever they want, flying under the radar, so to speak.

Olfacta said...

Hi Diana -- Thanks! Don't build a shrine just yet though. If the Vera the Queens want to stop you, they'll find a way. I probably sent out 30 or 40 packages, internationally, with customs forms, before I had walked unwittingly into Vera the Queen's domain, and shall not darken her door again. Perfume is a "cosmetic," so, technically, you're not doing anything wrong by writing "cosmetics samples" in the box.

Olfacta said...

Hi Undina -- Just imagine all the fun we'd have if the arrested us all and put us in the same jail!

I think most US mail goes by air nowadays anyway...or so I've been told. With UPS you can still specify "Ground" or "Air." Same with FedEx, I believe.

The passenger jet that went down in the Everglades because either Beavis or Butt-head had loaded oxygen cannisters in the hold is responsible for the furor over flammability; alcohol is flammable, therefore the don't maii-perfume hysteria. I've never actually tried to light a bottle of perfume on fire though. I'll have to try that with the next "Exceptional -- Because You Are" vial that comes with an order from my favorite discounter.

Rappleyea said...

Between Vera and the re-printed Yatagan post, you're killin' me! What great writing. Unbelievably, my nearest Post Office has the nicest people working in it, so I'm lucky there. For everything other than the international mailings though, I go on-line. I think Click and Ship is the best thing since sliced bread.

Olfacta said...

Hi D. -- Yeah, it's the damned Customs form that is the culprit. I've seen quite a few "no international shipments" cautions, but I feel that, since this is the World Wide Web that I must send to the ends of the earth if says so. Gotta be fair.