Federal Express aka Federal Inept

Americans don’t realize it, but they are often regarded as stupid children by most intelligent Europeans. The main reason for this is that the average American has a tendency to blindly focus on the letter of the law, whereas most non-Germanic Europeans tend to pay more attention to the spirit of the law. The exception to this general principle is, of course, the Italians, who cheerfully ignore both spirit and letter alike.

“We are all Fascists now… ciao!”

I didn’t realize how far I have migrated towards the European position until I was forced to deal with an international shipping issue this week. A US company shipped some packages to me and provided me with the tracking numbers, which I happened to check on the FedEx web site yesterday. The web site showed a strange destination, which was an address that did not make sense due to it being in a city that does not, in fact, exist on this planet.

I called FedEx in the States and learned that according to the tracking number, the package was listed as having been shipped from the West Coast by a woman, picked up in Minnesota at precisely the same minute as my package had been picked up, and was on its way to the aforementioned nonexistent city in Europe. I pointed out to FedEx woman #1 that this was a) impossible, b) improbable, and c) impossible, in response to which she quite reasonably suggested that I first contact the shipper and make sure they hadn’t made some severe mistakes when filling out the shipping forms. In my opinion, the amount of variance stretched credulity, but because my belief in the potential incompetence of humanity knows no bounds, I agreed to do so before pursuing the matter further with FedEx.

After testing the gentleman who had shipped the package and confirming that he did, in fact, have all of the shipping details correct, I contacted FedEx again. This time I spoke with another woman, one even less intelligent than the first, who simply could not grasp the concept that the information derived from the tracking number could not possibly be correct. I asked to talk to her supervisor; after taking 15 minutes to get him on the line, she said she would get off the line and let us resolve the matter, then hung up on me.

I called back and this time reached a Hispanic guy, who after about 10 minutes finally agreed that there appeared to be a genuine problem here and actually managed to get his supervisor, another woman, on the line without hanging up on me. The supervisor was reasonable at first and seemed to understand the basic problem, but she refused to actually do anything on the sole basis of my request and insisted that the shipper needed to contact FedEx in order to correct any problem with the shipping details. When I pointed out to her the inherent flaw with this logic, namely, the fact that according to the tracking number, the shipper was a nonexistent woman living on the West Coast, she hemmed, hawed, and finally resorted to repeating that the shipper, not the recipient, had to contact FedEx. After two futile attempts at convincing her that her solution was doomed to failure, I gave up and agreed to follow the protocol, knowing full well what was bound to happen.

So, I called the shipper and asked him to call FedEx. He complied, and this morning I received an email from him which completely failed to surprise me: “According to her these tracking#’s do not belong to our account number anyway. They belong to a [woman’s name] ….she suggested that if there are issues with these trk#’s that [woman’s name] should call? Who is [woman’s name] anyway?”

In summary, I called FedEx and explicitly told them, repeatedly, in great detail, that they’ve got what appears to be a software bug substituting nonexistent shippers and nonexistent destinations for the real ones, and their response was to demand that the NONEXISTENT shipper contact them in order to straighten it all out. This was despite the fact that I not only possess the relevant tracking numbers but also the precise time and location from which the packages were picked up. I would have surely lost my temper at some point along the way were it not for my strong belief that most people are TOTAL FUCKING MORONS. (I know I usually say “idiots”, but that’s just because I’m attempting to be polite.) At this point, I’ve probably spent around two hours on the phone, and as Spacebunny can attest, have remained calm throughout.

I finally called the FedEx office in Europe this morning. The first thing the guy said, even before I began explaining the situation, was: “But there is no such city!” Against my better judgment, I began to feel the first flutterings of hope that I was not dealing with yet another fine specimen of Homo Stupidens. When I explained the situation, as well as the inherent problem with his colleagues’ proposed solution, he laughed and said “you were talking to the Americans, weren’t you”. He asked for my address, told me to call him if the package wasn’t the correct one, and asked me to have the shipper contact their shipping rep to investigate the potential software bug. Total time on phone: five minutes.

This fiasco exemplifies one of the fundamental problems that economic globalization poses for America. The concept of replacing a manufacturing economy with a service/information economy requires a great mass of individuals who are capable of functioning at a higher level than the average IQ. Whereas the first five FedEx employees with whom I spoke were perfectly capable of following simple directions and would probably make for productive manufacturing employees, they were all completely incapable of thinking or acting outside the simple flow chart that had been laid out for them.

And as John Derbyshire, among others, has asked, what comes next in the progression Farm -> Factory -> Office -> X? I suspect the answer is X = Farm.