Are there any foreign-product swaps like a CD swap?
March 16, 2004 9:14 PM   Subscribe

There are a lot of American products you can't get in Europe and vice-versa. Does anyone know of any private, Internet-based mail-swap scheme, similar to CD swaps? [More inside.]

Despite apparent European Community and U.S. Customs strictures, it's never been easier or cheaper to ship stuff between Western Europe and the U.S - if it's not a commercial transaction.

Small private packages are usually waved through Customs on both sides. Does such a scheme exist?

My particular interests (unavailable in Europe) are Beer Nuts, Planter's Cocktail Peanuts (they're available in Europe but they're roasted in England are are deplorable) and stuff like ordinary plastic ice-trays (too small and expensive here) and a wide variety of other foodstuffs too humble and non-gourmet to be imported.

If such a scheme doesn't exist, would anyone be willing to start a Metafilter Mail-Swap scheme, modelled on the successful CD swaps?

There would obviously have to be some form of accounting (to compensate for shipping costs) but perhaps the simplest solution would be to to swap, say, 20 dollars worth of Beer Nuts (on the American side) for 20 dollars worth of perfect, fresh pimento-stuffed Manzanilla olives (about 10 big jars of the best brand), including postage costs.

Any ideas? Opinions from those with experience of the CD swaps would be most welcome. Thank you!
posted by MiguelCardoso to Shopping (39 answers total)
For the record, postage to Portugal is not expensive at all, and if you happen to accidentally send a package to someone's mother's home, instead of theirs, most Portuguese mothers are more than happy to deliver the errant packages. Plus, when they send you stuff back, there's all kinds of wacky postage on it.
posted by ColdChef at 9:25 PM on March 16, 2004

Response by poster: A good idea (I think) would be to post a big online supermarket link from one's native country, so fellow swappers could pick and choose, as well as know the prices.

In my case, the department store nearest to me (they also take online orders and deliver for a small extra charge) is El Corte Ingl?s, which has the advantage of stocking the best (and most ordinary) Spanish products, as well as the Portuguese.

You have to bluff your way through the guest option (it's easy) but of course I could set up an account for the purpose of swaps.

A good multilingual online dictionary is available here, so you can enter the product you're looking for. Try "olive", for example.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 9:36 PM on March 16, 2004

Response by poster: OK, I've tried it out. Enter 1250-001 in the "Codigo Postal" box to access the full product and price list, then enter the name of the product. Here are some examples:

Presunto (cured ham)
Queijo (cheese)
Azeitonas (olives)
Bacalhau (salt cod)
Peixe (fish and canned fish)
Vegetais (vegetables)

posted by MiguelCardoso at 10:08 PM on March 16, 2004

oh wow. i would be totally down for this.

who wants to build the backend to make everything super-smooth?

(dreaming of mustard in tubes and bottles of absinthe arriving daily in my mailbox.)
posted by fishfucker at 10:44 PM on March 16, 2004

Response by poster: Fishfucker: just think! We could save hundreds! :)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 12:00 AM on March 17, 2004

I desperately need some Amora mustard, and can exchange Beer Nuts for them.
posted by interrobang at 12:15 AM on March 17, 2004
posted by interrobang at 12:16 AM on March 17, 2004

Response by poster: You're on, interrobang! :) The thing is: couldn't we, as fishfucker suggests, build a backend so that these exchanges could be made with the minimum of fuss? It's not only about cutting out the middlemen; it's about cutting out everyone but the interested parties. Amora mustard is really cheap here - for 2 dollars you get an enormous tub, in a cure recyclable jar with a neat lid. My idea was you'd send me 7 packets of Beer Nuts; I'd send you 5 big tubs of Amora and, including postage, we'd both spend around $20.

Did I mention I was also interested in tins of Planter's Cocktail Peanuts?
posted by MiguelCardoso at 12:21 AM on March 17, 2004

Response by poster: in a cure recyclable jar

Make that cute. Cure records are equally cheap/expensive on both sides of the Atlantic.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 12:23 AM on March 17, 2004

Sounds good to me, Miguel. Send your address, and I'll send you mine. (email in profile).
posted by interrobang at 12:24 AM on March 17, 2004

(email sent, Miguel)
posted by interrobang at 12:28 AM on March 17, 2004

Response by poster: (likewise)!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 12:36 AM on March 17, 2004

Swappingtons. May be US only, I'm not sure.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:37 AM on March 17, 2004

Also, veering dangerously close to chat : there's a veritable cornucopia of seemingly ordinary foods and ingredients I wish desperately I could get here in Korea, but cannot, but there's no way they'd get through customs without massive duties. Too bad.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:39 AM on March 17, 2004

Response by poster: You'd be surprised, Stav - it's all about the packaging. As long as it's small, light, unobtrusive and bundled up in a clearly amateur fashion, it gets through as a non-taxable gift. For example, there are a lot of Korean supermarkets here in Lisbon selling stuff for little more than they cost there, because they're sent here in small, personal packets.

E-mail me with your list of wants. I warn you, though, that Clamato (being Canadian) is not a European product, however popular it's recently become here. :)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 12:55 AM on March 17, 2004

It's entirely about declaring it a "gift" and saying that it doesn't cost more than a couple of dollars (or pounds or euros or whatever).

Because of that, I'm able to sweet talk my dad into sending me taco seasoning packets, corn bread mix, and Lucky Charms. Now if I could only find a way to ship root beer...
posted by Katemonkey at 1:18 AM on March 17, 2004

Woah! I'm in for the Olives, miguel. Anything you want from the UK?
posted by Pericles at 1:58 AM on March 17, 2004

It's entirely about declaring it a "gift" and saying that it doesn't cost more than a couple of dollars (or pounds or euros or whatever).

Might be that way in the rest of the world. I live in Korea.

Trust me, I know of what I speak. Thanks for the offer, but I'll just keep going with the self-denial. It's character-forming.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:30 AM on March 17, 2004

A friend just sent me 2 pounds of my favorite seasoning blend from the States, to the UK. No customs problem, it was very amateurish packaging. So it does work in the UK at least.
posted by Goofyy at 5:58 AM on March 17, 2004

On a related note, why didn't they ever introduce McVitie's Hobnobs to the US market? My family was addicted to those when we were in the UK.

Miguel: This is a great idea. Who will our social software savior be?
posted by blueshammer at 6:04 AM on March 17, 2004

What ees eet you want? Cigarettes, booze, meybee some weemen?
posted by jazzkat11 at 7:17 AM on March 17, 2004

uh. okay, i might be able to put something together software side. what is it going to need? i checked out that swappington's site that stav mentioned. looks like it's basically a big online store that everybody has access to, and we each get to set our own little "mini-stores".
posted by taumeson at 7:17 AM on March 17, 2004

Miguel, Stav, anyone -- I'm not sure what I want (tell me what's good...that bacalhau sounds interesting), but if I can buy it in New York City (and what can't you?), I can send it to you.
posted by Vidiot at 8:03 AM on March 17, 2004

oh man, i would love this! ive done a similair thing with a buddy in the US, he cant get good barbeque sauce where he lives. ive gotten so many cool things from european friends that just cost to damn much to order again online.
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 8:38 AM on March 17, 2004

Anyone need wing sauce, Weber's Horseradish mustard, or any of the other delisshies from Sunny Buffalo?

We actually ave a huge Polish population and all of the delicious sides that means, as well as other tasty things. Food is all we have to do here. Food and beer.
posted by oflinkey at 9:59 AM on March 17, 2004

Stavros - I want Kimchi and lots of it. Is there anything I could supply from the UK? Marmite? Guiness? Fish and chips? lost sense of empire?
posted by gravelshoes at 10:12 AM on March 17, 2004

This would be a brilliant idea. To really make it work, I think you'd need one or both of the following:

1. Escrow: you'd need to pay a bond upfront equal to the maximum amount that someone else would send you, so that you can't rip people off. Everyone would need to regard this as a sunk cost for joining.

2. An ebay-style feedback mechanism so you can decide whether you want to let someone be your overseas shopping buddy.

You'd also want some kind of cumulative karma rating.

One member would check in a request; other members could look for requests they could fill, and check in offers to fill them. The original requester could then make a contract with the offerer he is most comfortable with. Karma could be used to give higher-karma members better placement in the queue or something like that.

Beyond that, it would make sense to sort the requests by geography (ie, "this item should be most readily obtainable in XXX, also YYY").
posted by adamrice at 11:09 AM on March 17, 2004

I'd be happy to ship anything desired from the Minneapolis region.... Tho' we don't seem to have much of anything unusual except great prices on wild rice and maple syrup, seasonal deals on truffles, and a widespread addiction to lemon poppyseed muffins. Minnesota is also the home state of Spam, but does anyone really want to eat that?

What I dream of in recompense: those amazing fluffy-crisp english-muffinlike items that the B&Bs often offered in New Zealand. Every single product in that category in every store in my area is utter crap. Oh, and that fresh Australian red licorice that came in the brown paper sacks.... Heaven.
posted by clever sheep at 11:19 AM on March 17, 2004

Do you mean crumpets, clever sheep? They are heaven. If you fancy some in the mail just email me, though I suspect they may arrive in a not-so-fresh condition.
posted by malpractice at 11:32 AM on March 17, 2004

I'm in Kentucky, where we make something called bourbon - name your brand, I can almost certainly get it. What I crave is fine, rich, dark chocolate of the quality I overdosed on in Belgium. Oui, mon dieu, le chocolat!!
posted by Alylex at 5:02 PM on March 17, 2004

I'm in from Milwaukee. I could really use some Serrano ham.
posted by sharksandwich at 5:07 PM on March 17, 2004

jazzkat11: am I right to guess you're in France? Can you get Lu Baroquettes? The hazlenut chocolate flavour, or maybe the apricot flavour.
This is a very good idea...
posted by nprigoda at 5:20 PM on March 17, 2004

Damn, I'd love some of those olives. And some Kirin. I'd like some Kirin. Anyone want anything from the UK?
posted by armoured-ant at 5:49 PM on March 17, 2004

A lot of the best European goods are available in the USA, companies like Zingermans in MI make a living importing and educating. And theres been a renaissance of sorts in the USA in the past 10 years some our artisan craft foods are better than the European originals winning awards, kind of like what happened with CA and French wine is now happening with cheese, bread, etc... The stuff you won't find are the artisan craft foods of Europe like certain sausages because they are illegal, making them that much more desirable. Of course price is an issue if you can avoid the middle man if you know exactly what you want it's a great idea.
posted by stbalbach at 5:56 PM on March 17, 2004

I would kill for Norwegian candy or soft drinks (Solo, specifically). Or, tomoe ame Japanese rice candy - any Hawaiians here?

Okay, I wouldn't kill per se, but I would be willing to swap anything you can get in Middle USA, like, um, barbecue sauces and cream soups. :D

Any takers?

Oh, I forgot - I have access to fabulously terrific, fresh from the source fair trade, shade grown, organic coffees from all regions of the world.
posted by annathea at 6:03 PM on March 17, 2004

Just don't put fresh fruit, vegetables, red meats, sausage or plants into the mail or a personal property shipment. One piece of fruit or sausage can cause such a major outbreak of disease that the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection fines people who mail or take prohibited foods to the States at least $100. When you return from abroad, you will be given a Customs Declaration form on which to declare your agricultural products and will also be asked whether you have visited a farm or ranch outside the United States. Officers inspect passenger baggage for undeclared agricultural products. Failure to declare any items may result in delays and fines of up to $1,000.

"We're having a big problem with canned meats being mailed at the moment," said William Manning, USDA adviser to the European Command. He explained that the canned meats come mainly from Germany and threaten U.S. agriculture because they are often not cooked long enough to kill Foot and Mouth Disease germs. USDA therefore fines people who mail canned or dried meat, pâté, salamis or sausages to the States because the disease has been eradicated in the USA.

On bringing food, plants and animal products into the USA. Now in PDF format.
posted by matteo at 6:05 PM on March 17, 2004

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a biosecurity system to prevent threats to America's agricultural system. USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) prevents introductions of foreign animal diseases, non-native animal and plant pests, and plant pathogens. APHIS also maintains a response mechanism designed to contain and eradicate foreign pests and pathogens.

more info here
posted by matteo at 6:09 PM on March 17, 2004

We're really strict here.(PDF)Understandably.
Could probably make an exception with exporting the red licorice etc.
posted by johnny7 at 7:17 PM on March 17, 2004

Oh damn. I found this thread too late. I've been jonesing for some (UK) Boots brand mud mask - the tube is quite small. Will exchange for anything from the Md/DC/Va region or US in general.
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:35 PM on March 20, 2004

« Older Where should I go in Las Vegas?   |   How to acquire clients for a new web design... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.