There are many things you take for granted before you move to an island – mild weather, a bug-free home, reliable electricity and internet, and the ease of online shopping. The convenience of the last one is mostly attributed to the reliable postal and delivery services back home, and the development of online shopping websites like Amazon and eBay. The truth is, these days you can buy anything you want with the click of a mouse from the comfort of your own armchair – anything from new computers to clothes to flowers and even groceries. That is, unless you live on an island like mine.
When I first moved to Grand Cayman, my new boss and music teacher colleagues filled me in on the various quirks of the island. They joked that the power might go out at any given moment when you’re teaching, leaving you in the dark with a confused child and an electric piano that has been rendered useless. They informed me that the island was overrun with feral chickens due to the sole chicken farm on the island being destroyed in Hurricane Ivan, setting the chickens free and allowing them to live and breed freely forevermore. They lamented the fact that there were virtually no shops here. “Oh, so do you have to order everything on Amazon then?” came my innocent question. The looks on their faces pretty much gave me my answer!
I soon found out that it is notoriously difficult to post things to an island. There is, in fact, a postal service in Grand Cayman. You can use the big post boxes – blue here, instead of red – much like in England to send letters and cards, but it’s mainly used for local mail rather than anything international. Amazon and eBay, for the most part, don’t seem to realise that the Cayman Islands even exist, so buying things from them is about as easy as shipping to Neverland. My boss actually told me a horror story about the time her father had posted a birthday gift for her shortly before he tragically passed away. Her birthday was in March and the present didn’t arrive to shock her until May… 2 years later!
Christmas presents are out too, it seems. Apparently, if your family or friends ever actually decide to send you a lovingly wrapped, thoughtfully chosen (and expensively shipped) Christmas present, by the time it actually gets here (usually 2 months or so late) and you have to go and collect it, they won’t give it to you until you give them either a copy of the receipt (which you are, let’s be honest, unlikely to have since you didn’t buy the thing) or pay an extortionate amount of duty on the estimated value. Oh, and then they open it up in front of you to make sure it’s nothing dangerous or overly valuable. Merry Christmas, right?
My dad was less than inclined to believe any of these stories when we discussed Christmas presents this year. Though I’d told my family to post their presents to a friend of mine who would be visiting me over the holidays, he was characteristically stubborn about the whole thing. “I want to post you something directly,” his messages read over Facebook. “It’s not reliable, Dad, you’d be better off sending it via my friend like everyone else is.” I could practically hear him getting frustrated and ranting about how it’s 2018 for goodness sake, and that in this modern world, surely there is nowhere that Amazon can’t reach?!
He decided to test the theory. Amazon, as previously stated, pretty much won’t deliver anything to the Cayman Islands. Anything, that is, except books. Triumphantly, thinking he’d found a loophole, my dad ordered me a music book that was sitting on my (relatively defunct) Amazon Wishlist. “It’s on its way, all duty and shipping costs were included so it should be with you in 2-3 weeks,” Dad’s text message read, rather smugly.
3 weeks later…
$18 DOLLARS IN DUTIES. The book had cost £9 and shipping was £8, so where the hell had Customs pulled this mysterious figure of $18 from? And why was I being charged this when, as my Dad had informed me, duties and shipping costs had all been included in the total price? When the DHL man arrived to deliver, I inquired about the extra costs. Apparently it was to cover ‘handling costs at Customs.’ I snorted out loud. “The handling costs are double the value of the book!!” I exclaimed at the poor DHL driver. “Sorry ma’am. I just deliver the items,” he shrugged. Flabbergasted, and with no one to rant to about the situation other than my cats, I ended up rejecting the delivery and had it returned to sender. There was just no way to justify those costs for the sake of one small book.
Still, at least I proved my Dad wrong.
From now on, I’ll do as the locals do and take an empty suitcase with me whenever I go on holiday for all my shopping. On an island, I suppose, we have better things to do than shop. The memory of online shopping is a fond one, but for me it has been replaced by those many weekends I’ve spent lounging around on one of my island’s beautiful beaches, or snorkeling a cool shipwreck, or swimming with sea turtles. Turns out, I don’t miss shopping all that much after all.
PS. If anyone wants to send me anything by post, please don’t.
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What’s the mail situation like on your island? Can you get packages in a reasonable timeframe or has Amazon “lost” your address too?
A version of this post was originally published on Letters to England.