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February 10, 2009

On branding... and national postal services

February 10. Day 225.

When I woke up this morning, my first thought was a nonverbal image/sensation/desire/qualium for two slices of pizza and a coke. Emphasis on the coke.

I don't know if it was residue from a dream, or if my alarm clock/radio had just played a commercial about pizza and coke, or if the idea was building up in me for a few days, but I remember desperately craving an icy cup of coke the moment I slid back to awareness from the dreamstate.

Moments later, I forgot. I rarely have soft drinks -- maybe a few times a year -- and I almost never "crave" them, so this was unusual.

I went about my day, packing, making sure my last minute plane ticket went through and it wasn't all a sham, or another dream, and later I met my mom for dinner again.

At dinner, the first thing I ordered was a coke, and then I remembered the craving.

All this is going somewhere. And here we are:

I wonder what has to happen in someone's brain for such an elemental need for a product to be implanted. I rarely wake up thinking about anything, except "want more sleeeep..." so how did Coke-a-cola infiltrate my hypothalamus?

And more importantly, how can I use this to become a savvier asker? or savvier anything? How can I make asking, negotiating, buying, selling, eyeing opportunities, so essential that I wake up thinking about it? Just food for thought. I'm not interested in brainwashing myself, or anyone else. (Except to encourage the City of Boston to forgive my ancient excise tax -- doesn't it degrade us both, darling, to dwell on the past?) But this is what I am curious about now.

Today, I asked twice.

First, at Target, I went to return a half dozen items I'd bought as I cleaned and decorated the new house and discovered I didn't need (a flimsy curtain rod, a clock cd/radio, some file boxes, etc), but there was a problem with almost every transaction. Once, my card didn't work when I swiped it for a refund, so the man had to give me cash (which seemed to be a painstaking procedure). Another time, I didn't find the receipt and he had to look it up on my credit card. Then, the cashier said there's a limit to three transactions.

I think he was tired at the end of a long day, but I still wanted to return my stuff and get out of there...

That's when I thought I'd ask, extra nicely.

"You're doing a great job, I know I have a lot of stuff and it's confusing us both," I tried. He smiled. So far so good. "Is there any way we can work around this?"

"Oh-- I got it! I'll ring you up now, then do the last transaction separately."

"That's awesome, thanks for working the system for me!"

Back at home, I didn't exactly ask a question, but I did embark on a fact finding mission that should save me a few bucks.

Way back in July, I asked my friend E for a special something from Paris: Caramel tea from my favorite teahouse. She replied with a 'sure, but plz send me some twizzlers!!'

I finally bought her Twizzlers -- 6 whole pounds of them -- and I was about to send them, when it occurred to me that if I'm going to Greece (and have a short stop in Amsterdam), it's probably a lot cheaper to send from Europe.

For those who have never navigated a postal website in a language you don't know, let me tell you my new theory: It tells you a lot about the society!! As I tried to find rates for mailing packages to France, the Greek site directed me to a bunch of "direct mailing" and entrepreneurial business services -- apparently, a country on the upswing, trying to build capitalist roots, trying to foster growth and b2b type interactions; just now discovering the beauty of Penny Saver-like mass mailings. But at the cost of basic and logical functionality, like rate info. No criticisim, just sayin!

The Dutch site was super slick, plastered with hearts for V-Day, and it was efficiently organized yet hyper commercial. They were even selling chocolates; also seems like a country where the mail is reliable. I immediately found the rates. (TNT is a multinational postal and freight company that operates the national mail service.)

Yet both countries are former maritime powers and, stereotypically, a land of merchants. What does that suggest: Privatization, in the case of the Dutch provider, is a good thing? The strong Dutch economy translated to a stronger web presence, while Greece, which entered the EU later and has had some problems with the currency and corruption, is focused on things other than web 2.0? Or rather that the Greek postal service is smart enough to cater exclusively to business users, if that's where the money is?

Or simply that one website is cooler than the other?

Gained: About $100 back on my card after a small hassle, and info that it's cheaper to mail the package from Amsterdam to Paris (about $15-20) than from San Diego ($45). No idea about Greece!

I'm curious, if there are any Dutch or Greek readers out there -- am I way off? Or is there something to this postal anthropology?

And... what could someone theorize about America, based on its website:
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