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British Expat Newsletter: August 2012

Hello, and welcome to those of you who have recently signed up.

In this issue

This month

Not many new additions this time – we’ve been on our travels again, having finally sorted out the shenanigans with DHL which we mentioned last month. It’s enough to give anyone an ulcer.

On the subject of health, Jenkin Au has sent us a two-part article about how to get the best value from your health insurance. You might think that a local policy for your host country would be cheaper than an international one – Jenkin explains why it might not be.

We’ve also been working on a new venture – a Kindle book! Called Bangkok Basics – 101 Tips, it does more or less what it says on the tin – it’s not a guide book so much as a collection of tips of places to stay, things to do, what to eat, how not to get ripped off. And if you’re very, very quick, you can get it free! See our “This month’s sponsor” slot below.

The latest Pic of the Week is a spectacular sculpture outside an Olympic sports venue. But no, it’s not sponsored by Lakshmi Mittal and championed by Boris Johnson – it’s an altogether more elegant affair in British Columbia.

And for our latest Quick Quiz we’d like to say “Thank you” – in five different languages. Can you tell which is which?

Editorial: Post haste?

Sending stuff over the Internet is great – most of the time. In just a couple of seconds you can send stuff to the other side of the planet. Or multiple copies all over the planet, like this newsletter.

Physically sending actual documents or other stuff can be a lot more problematic. In the news today we read about an Indian diplomatic bag that went down over the Alps with an Air India flight 46 years ago, and has just been recovered from Mont Blanc. That’s slow delivery all right.

But that’s by accident rather than human error. We were mightily annoyed by all the nonsense foisted upon us by DHL and their agents last month. It got worse, too.

We had the documents returned to us by ParcelForce, who quoted a three business day delivery time. They (or their agents, FedEx) then kept the package at Stansted for over 24 hours, ensuring that it wouldn’t arrive in Thailand until midway through a public holiday weekend – so it ended up taking nearly a week to reach us rather than three days. If we were paranoid, we might even think they’d kept it in Stansted so that they could send it more slowly and still claim they’d delivered within three business days. Bah!

About the only people who performed with any kind of reliability in the whole process were the good old Royal Mail and their Special Delivery service (Registered Post, as was). They got the package from A to B when they said they would, and back from B to A as well.

All this reminds us very strongly of Terry Pratchett’s wonderful novel, Going Postal, where the poor old run-down Ankh-Morpork Post Office takes on the private semaphore company – the “clacks” – and wins. The parallels aren’t quite exact – it’s modern technology against established though run-down methods, rather than a straightforward head-to-head of private versus public enterprise.

And, of course, there’s still the human element. An organisation may be otherwise solid, but it only takes one person to let it down. We’ve probably all heard the sad stories of postmen who’ve hidden years’ worth of letters in their garden sheds because they just couldn’t face delivering them. (These people don’t just crop up in the Post Office, either. Dave once had a colleague who behaved like that – luckily it was discovered in weeks rather than after years.)

But our experience suggests that it was something more systemic than just a single individual’s lapse. Imagine not having troubleshooters on call over the weekend, for example. Hardly the picture of 24/366 dedicated operation the courier companies conjure up in their adverts, is it? And it smacks of incompetence to lose a consignment that had already gone missing once and was seriously delayed.

So, for all the glitz around the big courier companies, there may not be a great deal of substance to back it up. Worth bearing in mind, the next time you’re sending anything urgent or valuable.

What’s your experience been with courier and postal services? Good, bad or indifferent? Why not let us know on our discussion forum?

We’re giving a shameless plug to one of our own products this month!
Bangkok Basics – 101 Tips is a short Kindle book consisting of 101 tips (actually, a lot more than 101 – we’re generous like that) to help travellers to Bangkok make the most of their visit. It’s based on personal experience and on-the-ground research, and is an insider’s guide for where to go and what to do.
Amazon.com Kindle Store: Bangkok Basics – 101 Tips

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Besides articles, we also publish quick trivia quizzes – five questions about any subject. So, if you’d like to write for us but don’t feel like producing a literary masterpiece, then why not try writing a quickie quiz about your city, country, or even your hobby? Please use our contact form to get in touch.

British Expat Amazon Shopping

Amazon don’t just do books, you know. We’ve teamed up with them to bring you the ultimate in online shopping – from a micro SD card to a garden shed! A great way to do your shopping online, especially if the shops aren’t up to much in your part of the world.
BE Amazon Shop: UK & EU | BE Amazon Shop: non-EU

And now for something completely different…

Figure skating. Yawn, right? Wrong! Here’s a routine from Russian multi-gold medallist Evgeni Plyushchenko that we’re sure will make even the most jaundiced viewer chuckle (well, it worked for Dave, anyhow):
YouTube: “Funny Ice Skater”

So there’s a round-up of all that’s been going on. Come on over and see for yourself! Don’t forget…
Visit the BE website and join in with our lively community!

Till next time…

Happy surfing!

Kay & Dave
Editor & Deputy Editor
British Expat – the definitive home for British expats

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