I got a Letter this Morning, What do you Reckon it Read?

A good friend once told me I must be part Armenian, because I have a story for everything. Mutt though I am, I do not think this is true. Being Armenian, I mean; I dare not question the latter part. Today’s story involves the European postal system, whose very backwardness could inspire many more stories than the one I am about to tell, most of them of a more irritating nature. (The first of the postal system’s many backward ways is one I discovered the first time I tried to send a letter. While they will deliver directly to your door, they will not retrieve outgoing mail at the same time. I do not understand this. Instead, there are post drop off boxes, located around town and in a few lucky neighborhoods. My neighborhood is not so lucky.)

My story begins in France, although not by much. I am not very familiar with the French postal system, having been unable to even acquire the envelopes necessary to send letters while in that country, due to confusing and unconventional store hours. (Why would a convenience store be open from seven in the morning to six in the evening but take a four hour break after noon? I do not understand this.) I was, however, able to acquire postcards from one of the locations we visited, intending to send them to members of my extended family. Sadly, I miscounted, and upon my return, I found I had one postcard too few. This morning, I biked into town, and picked up a quaint little local one. The relatives I will be sending it to live in California, and I do not think they will be comparing cards with the rest of the family. (Actually, the postcard cost less to buy than it did to send – ,80 vs. 1,00.) Having filled this out and addressed it, I walked over to the nearby post office, having run out of stamps long since. I still had my postcard in hand. The nice man behind the counter greeted me in the typical German manner as I set this postcard down, and turned away to ask his coworker a question.

By the time he turned back, I had laid an additional eight postcards and seven letters on the counter.

He blinked.

I grinned.

“Zu Amerika?” I ask, a little nervous.

“Wie bitte?” he replies, a little shocked.

“Zu Amerika,” I repeat.

“Ah ja…” he says. “You write too much.”

Having not had any postage myself, he proceeded to apply it himself, running back twice to find more stamps. (Another of the postal systems backward ways is they still need to wet the stamps in order to stick them. Actually, I find this rather charming and old-fashioned.) Neither of us could keep from laughing at the veritable pile I had given him. From his reaction, I do not think he has ever had to deal with so many personal letters from one person before. When at the end I asked for an additional five stamps, he let out a long, amazed breath. I imagine this was the part where he realized my compulsive letter writing was not a one-time affliction, but an ongoing wonder. My final bill was just short of thirty Euro. (The European postal system, apart from being very backward, is also very expensive.)

So there you are, dear correspondents. If you did not receive a letter in the last week, you shall (hoffentlich) by the end of this. Armenian friend excluded. She is in Turkey, but I write her next.

Note: I do usually pay this much for postage. Today was a little odd because I had built up such a pile of unsent items. If this ever happens again, I will probably try to find a cheaper way to distribute my mailings, such as sending them in bulk to my home, and having my parents send them out again from there (and charging me later.) The reason why I do not usually do this is because it adds further delay to my letters arriving, and having to pay for American postage as well as German offsets the advantage sending them “cheaply” as a small package. I do not know of a better way to send hand-written letters via the post if I want my correspondents to receive more than one letter a month. If any of you have any bright ideas, please feel free to share them.

10 thoughts on “I got a Letter this Morning, What do you Reckon it Read?

  1. 1. The word you’re looking for in the second sentence of the second paragraph is “due”.2. <>30 euros!?<> You’re crazy. It almost sounds like they don’t want people sending letters with postage that high.3. If they worked straight through from 7AM until 6PM, then they would have to work more than a 35 hour work week!!!!!!!! The French/Germans would never be so barbaric!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!111


  2. I don’t know about France (though I’ve heard much about their non-practices in hard work), but in Spain stores deliberately close during the middle of the afternoon in order to let people take a proper siesta. Then, they proceed to stay open until far into the night.I wonder if that postal worker has some interesting ideas about Americans, given the types of people he might encounter in a job like that. ^_^


  3. I would almost understand this while siesta take-a-break-in-the-middle-of-the-afternoon idea, except that this is an indoor shop, all nice and shady and such. And it doesn’t stay open late into the night, either. Ah well.


  4. Just chanced on your blog and it’s interesting and entertaining.Why is the postal system backward? – I thought it was rather backward that where my wife comes from (Texas) they have to have a box out by the roadway which can get knocked down by passing boy racers. Here in UK the postman comes (on foot or bike in town) and puts the mail through the letterbox in your door or rings the bell if it is too big. In some very rural areas a postman will take letters from you.I do wonder how the price of sending mail from USA to Germany compares with that of sending from Germany to USA, especially with USA having just abolished Surface Mail.Best wishes and I look forward to snooping on your German experiences again.


  5. PeterinScotland: I can’t comment on the Scottish postal system, only the ones in France and Germany (and I guess Italy as well) where I have been. Maybe you are graced with a wonder of efficiency. My experience with sending letters is that it costs forty-two cents to send a letter in the US (and I assume to Canada or Mexico), and maybe about twice that much to send a letter overseas. In Euros, I am paying 1,70 Euros to send a letter, which comes out to over two dollars in American money. If they just abolished surface mail, I guess its news to me. I mailed letters to my friend in college every week through May of this year, so it would have to have been since then. (Although it seems to me that enough companies still use surface mail it doesn’t make much sense to abolish it.) My friend was pretty close, so it only took one or two days for a letter to reach her, and it takes about four or five days for my parents and friends to reach me in Deutchland. But for me to reach them, I seem to have to plan six to seven days, possibly eight. I’m not quite sure. Furthermore, I am used to having my outgoing mail picked up at my mailbox while my incoming mail is being dropped off. It seems to me that this is the most convenient way to do things. The postal worker is already at my door, so it really is no extra trouble to pick up my mail, while it is more work to have to drive around town to all of the other postal boxes. This bothers me less now that a brand new drop off box has been installed around the corner from my house, but before it was quite a bother. Your comment about the boxes near the roads makes me laugh, though. I must admit, where I lived out in the country, I had probably a half-mile walk to my mailbox, but I usually checked it whenever I went out in my car, so it wasn’t a problem. We also never had to deal with people knocking our mailboxes over with baseball bats, although that is not unheard of. Still, in the city, I understand most people do have their mailboxes on their houses like over here, so we aren’t entirely backward in that respect.Oh, and France was another matter entirely. I don’t understand why an air-conditioned “convenience” store would take a midday siesta. Ah, and Italian postage stamps don’t stick.


  6. Oh no it wasn’t baseball bats, it was people managing to drive cars into the post the mailbox was on.Funnily enough, this morning I was reading in my Open University course about how there were two traditions of building in the British American colonies, one originating in New England and the other in Pennsylvania. As it migrated inland, the Pennsylvania tradition retained brick-built row houses much longer than the New England tradition, which tended to turn to wooden houses much sooner, and to build them in the middle of a plot of land. It was this New England tradition that influenced much of American house building, and which I’m guessing leads to the difference in postal tradition too from UK – here in UK mail is delivered on foot or by bike and therefore the postman is not going to want to pick up more mail as he goes round, whereas in USA post vans seem to be almost universal, which would be almost forced on them by the way houses are located. I’m not sure of the exact range of locations of post boxes in continental Europe as I’m only really familiar with Holland and a little of Hungary.


  7. Ah! See, that would totally make sense… if the postman didn’t drive a car anyway.I think jerks with baseball bats are more common, or at least more interesting. I hear about that more, anyway. But now you mention it, I do remember someone crashing into my streets row of post boxes once, but that was easily fixed. Seeing as we don’t have our postman coming on bike or foot, it makes sense for ours to be placed near the road where it is easiest for the postman to reach… Which means that the postal system here is even more backward, because they do drive by car, but have to pull into every driveway to jump out and fetch the mail. Bother. The only thought I had was that maybe they have a communal drop off box so that they can pick up post more than once a day without having to go to every house. But my post box only lists one pick up time, so there goes that theory.


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