A barrel full of...
Speaking of things. We were walking past this industrial section of the harbor in St George's the other day when we saw a crowd of people anxiously waiting in line. Were they waiting to enter the harbor area to work or did they stand there to collect something? Some of these people were dressed in fancy Christmas clothing so it really didn't look like they were going to work. It turns out, they were all waiting for barrels, as one woman rushed to tell me. Barrels? What, rum barrels? No, the man with the blue pickup explained, barrels full of things and gifts from relatives abroad. The thing is, on the ex Brittish islands such as Grenada, St Kitts, Antigua, Barbados, Jamaica, Dominica and a few more, the policy and the high taxes for importing gifts or parcels from abroad is not very accommodating for its citizens. We have experienced that a few times too, even for us who normally are a boat in transit, it is a real pain to receive whatever parcel you have been sent.
To collect a package, whatever the purpose, value or content, is often a long bureaucratic process where you are sent from one authority to another and often have to spend half a day to collect one little box. And not too seldom you will have to waste far too many hours than officially needed, as not everyone are perfectly sure of what exactly is the task assignment they've been appointed. More to this is that you also must pay the high duty fees to customs/state, a broker fee, the cost of the carrier and probably something else I forgot, and the final bill normally ends up at an added 50%* of the total value of the content of your package. Needless to say, to receive gifts from abroad, is not for everyone. But in kind
communist manners, the governments in the ex British colonies have decided that once a year, during the holidays, every household is allowed to collect two barrels free of custom import duty and service charges, full of christmas gifts or whatever their relatives or friends are willing to send them from abroad (appliances and electronics would not be allowed duty-free into the country during this time either though.)
Many of the Caribbean families that we have met on our time around here, have their kids, sisters/brothers, aunts/cousins or parents living in for example the States or the UK, where they're working or studying, and this barrel phenomenon gives them a chance to overcome the high costs that is normally applied when receiving gifts from them. What I find interesting is that these barrels all looked the same, no matter which country they were sent from. This is first time I ever come across them and I can't help but wonder, where do the relatives get the barrels from? Is there a special barrel shop located in every postal office in the US and UK, or how do they get around to purchase them?
I should add that on the other Caribbean islands, the French and the Dutch ones, it is much easier and cheaper to collect and import gifts or other packages. Not sure why they insist on having these tremendously complicated and expensive procedures in the ex British islands. I do understand that it is a good way for the government to collect money to themselves, I mean to the state, but why all the paperwork and hassle?
* might be interesting to know that in Sweden, for example, the custom import duty for gifts is as low as 2,5%, and that 2.5% will only be added if you import gifts from outside the European Union and if the gift has a declared value of more than 500 SEK/approx. $70 USD. Two and a half percent as opposed to fifty seems reasonable, one shouldn't have to get punished for receiving gifts, things that you haven't even paid for yourself?