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Don't trust foreign Web sites, Americans warned

A sad tale of xenophobia and killer cheeses

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On Thursday, the New York Times ran a story warning e-shoppers in the US to be on their guard against the perils of buying goods from foreign Web sites. It quoted a Mr Laity, an Andersen Consulting managing partner who is charged with advising overseas Web sites. Frankly, he should have known better. "The United States as a country is way ahead on customer service, so if you are buying overseas, anticipate difficulties if everything is not all right with the purchase," he said. "How do you straighten it out, when the dot-coms in Europe don't come from an environment where customer service is as widely considered important?" Quite so, Mr Laity. Despite the fact that this commonsense advice smacks of protectionism and an unhealthy fear of foreigners, could the same not be said for Europeans buying from US sites? Such a statement would, though, would be equally sweeping, unsubstantiated and misinformed. Perhaps the most remarkable tranche of the NYT story was the gripping episode of why the reporter couldn't buy a "distinctively runny Camembert, ripened 'to the very heart'" from a specialist online fromagerie. The reason became clear when the story quoted a Food and Drug Administration spokesman warning that the listeria bacteria in contaminated raw-milk products (of said runny cheese) kills 425 people a year in the US. If this is true, they must be dropping like flies in France... no wonder the FDA takes such a stand on killer cheese imports. And before anyone accuses the US of being a nanny state just because it doesn't allow unpasteurised cheese into the country, they had better hold their horses. No one can accuse the US of mollycoddling its good citizens against the dangers of runny Camembert, not when it's perfectly legal to buy firearms that account for 35,000 deaths a year. Irony -- like a good Camembert -- is delicious, isn't it? ®

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