Or: the Trials and Tribulations of an Uptown Girl with a Boyfriend from Old Europe

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Location: Basel, Switzerland

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Around the world in 80 boxes

My movers arrived at 9 AM sharp last Tuesday. I'd ended up picking a German company that had been recommended to Swissy Pie, and while I wasn't sure exactly what to expect - a small army of blond, stony-faced packing machines? - what I saw definitely wasn't it.

Three young kids stood outside my door, stale cigarette smoke seeping from their pores. While the crew chief could have been a poster-child for the Third Reich - tall, muscular, blond, and blue-eyed - he turned out to be Polish, as I discovered after he started giving instructions to a skinny silent Ukrainian kid who stuck near him the entire day. The third member of the team was a chunky, dark-haired Irish-Italian-German. I'd have happily wagered that none of them was older than 25. In fact, I wondered whether the Ukrainian needed a fake ID to get into bars. (On second thought, this could be a sign that I'm getting old.) How much experience packing could they possibly have had?

Before I could get too nervous, they charged. The Irish-Italian-German headed for the bedroom. The Polish and Ukrainian stayed in the living room. Soon, whiny squeals and dizzying clouds of chemical fumes choked the air, courtesy of the alarming quantities of markers, bubble wrap, and tape that the movers were consuming.

Like some neurotic ping pong ball, I bounced back and forth between the living room and the bedroom, marveling as the pile of boxes grew. Within a couple of hours an entire wall had been obscured; by lunch time, the closets were empty, and the big pieces of furniture had been completely encased in packaging material.

As fast as this had all happened, however, it evidently wasn't fast enough. In the afternoon, their boss - the man who'd surveyed my apartment - called to check on their progress. Whatever he said apparently made them nervous, so they started to speed up, just as they were getting to all the breakables in the kitchen. I watched anxiously as they wrapped up my favorite wine glasses in nothing more than paper (though they did use plenty of paper!) and piled them into an enormous dish boxes. Odds that all the kitchenware survives intact: pretty much close to zero, if you ask me. (Though one of the moving companies I'd interviewed told me the damage rate is about 25%: 1 in 4 shipments is reported to have some damage, either minor or catastrophic.)

Because they were short on counter space, the Ukrainian kid had placed a pile of packing paper on top of my gas stove. At one point, as he turned from wrapping to packing, he accidentally hit one of the knobs. Click click click went the stove. "Sh**!" went the Un-Swiss Miss, diving forward to turn it off. Just in time, too: the bottom layers of wrapping paper were already polka-dotted with smoldering ash. Good thing those plastic fumes had long since conquered my apartment, or the whole thing might have caught fire. And that day I wouldn't have been able to locate my brain, much less the fire extinguisher.

As it was, we were forced to endure the overwhelming stench of burnt paper for the rest of the day. Around 2:30 the boss called again, and the crew chief got so anxious that he actually asked me to help out. Not that I was entrusted with much: he gave me rolls of colorful stickers and told me to slap them on the appropriate boxes. I was the official sticker fairy, flitting around dispensing green "SEA FREIGHT" and red "FRAGILE" labels.

The guys had another panic attack when they went to start moving the boxes down to the truck. A sign hung from the door of the back elevator, which is the one we're supposed to use for moves: "STOP! ELEVATOR BEING SERVICED. PLEASE USE STAIRS." I live on the third floor. I have big, bulky, heavy furniture. Schlepping it down the stairs would not be fun.

Fortunately, it turned out that my building was being helpful: they'd hung the signs to make sure nobody but us would use it. Some of my neighbors gave the guys strange looks as they headed into the evidently out-of-order elevator. One even asked the crew chief: "Are you the repairman?" "Yep," he answered cheerfully, though I doubt the neighbor was dense enough to believe him.

At 4:30, I was signing a little form stating that the guys had arrived on time, and that they'd taken everything they were supposed to. It wasn't strictly true, since they were still ferrying down boxes and furniture. My beloved bicycles were still hanging from the walls, completely untouched: those would be wrapped later, in the warehouse. At 4:50 I got the inventory form - 4 pages! 80 items! - and we said our hurried goodbyes.

Or so we thought. Five minutes later, I was catapulting myself down the stairs after them, shrieking that they'd forgotten the enormous armoire that was sitting in the middle of my bedroom.

"Lucky for you that you caught us," the crew chief said, trying to make a joke of it. "You already signed off on the form!"

I smiled and agreed, though I was really thinking: "Lucky for you!" The armoire was listed on the inventory already; I suppose I could've just sold the thing here and claimed they lost it.

Finally, around 5 pm, the apartment was well and truly empty, except for a few piles of 6-year old dust (amazing how much can build up under furniture!), opened bottles of vinegar, oil, and cleaning fluids that the movers wouldn't pack, and the suitcases I'd be taking on the plane with me. I surveyed the place, trying to feel some sense of sadness, or regret, or... something. But I felt nothing. I was utterly drained.

I tottered back to the living room and slumped to the floor. Catharsis, I thought. My frantic, fretful month was finally over. And I would soon be headed home, to Switzerland.



Blogger Sarah said...

So they didn't take your opened vinegar and oil - interesting. Our furniture should have arrived in Rotterdam yesterday, then 5 - 7 business days to Basel, then customs. We'll see how long it actually takes!

February 8, 2007 at 7:48 PM  
Blogger Jessica said...

aww, you call switzerland home :)

February 10, 2007 at 11:45 AM  

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