A trip to the post office!

Post offices the world over–rejoice! You are not alone in your inefficient customer service staff yet amazing ability to deliver mail around the world for relatively inexpensive prices.

I work in fundraising so I deal with the insanity that is the US postal service regularly. For example: my organization has a nonprofit postage inditia which we stamp on all of our return envelopes to make it easier for folks to send money back to us. Whatever is sent back we pay for through an account at the post office which we put money in annually. Well, we had a lot more mail come in this year and our account ran below the regularly set limit, so the post office stopped delivering those mail items as opposed to sending us a bill or an invoice or in any way letting us know we were low. It took us a few weeks to figure out because the service is somewhat spotty to begin with and we don’t know when to expect an influx of mail. Anyhow, after two weeks we called and they said yes you ran out of money, no we did not send you a notice or invoice, yes you need to pay and we’ve been holding your mail for over a month. Needless to say it took us 5 minutes to pay the balance and add new money but another month to get our held mail.

I’m regularly amazed that despite gross inefficiencies like this that the post office is still able to miraculously do its job and send packages and letters all over the world with ridiculous accuracy on a daily basis despite being represented by a large section of idiotic customer service representatives.*

After boring you with a pointless and annoying work story I am just preparing you for the hilarity that was our trip to the post office.

We both have bought a few souvenirs for ourselves and our family and friends. The problem is our backpacks are already somewhat full with clothes and toiletries and items we need for the trip. We looked into FedEx/UPS etc but the cost was a bit too high to justify. So off to the post office we went. If there hadn’t already been a bunch of folks in line to explain the process we woulda been screwed.

First, you take your stuff to a shop next door to the post office and have him pack it for you properly–or up to code. Second you go up stairs and wait in line to get your passport photocopied and a customs form and third, you go to the post office to wait in line to get your package mailed.

So we decided to be efficient and since we were sending everything to Ryan, Kris would get the form and use her passport and I would get everything boxed up. The shop itself was maybe 10 x 12 and covered with various items to sell (shawls, wall hangings knicknacks, etc) and the two Tibetan men who run it, one at a sewing machine and another in the back. There are also 7 tourists with bags of stuff getting ready to pack/send in a frantic hurry because the post office stops accepting foreign packages at 1pm and it’s 11:30 am and of course everyone is leaving town.

The guy at the sewing machine is just singing and humming while he cuts, measures and sews canvas material to cover packed boxes and bags. The other quieter gentleman gets the sewn packages from him and uses a candle to cover the seams with wax to stop them from fraying. It’s an efficient system and they seemed used to the rush of panicked, uncertain foreigners.

The guy ahead of me is from Spain and from what I can glean from our stilted conversation he’s trying to start a business. He bought a bunch of stuff (equating to 2 large garbage bags full) and was sending it back with the hopes of selling it there and making a profit.

The gentleman at the sewing machine sews 3 sides with the machine, stuffs down the goods and seals the top by hand and he’s the quickest hand stitcher I’ve seen. His hands flew pulling the material closed with one hand and looping the needle and thread over and over and over again with the other to make a sealed package.

It was a joy to watch, especially because he was so friendly, cracking jokes, humming and giggling. Kris eventually came back with the paperwork, we got our sealed package and moved onto the next stage: waiting some more.

The post office is tiny and full of foreigners. Much smaller than the shop we were just in with twice as many people. It’s dirty, dusty, obviously hasn’t ever been cleaned and the air reverberates with years of desperate pleading with civil servants.

There are 6 men begins the counter. 2 are having tea, 3 are shuffling papers and the 6th is at the counter assisting the foreigners mail their stuff home. There are 2 tibetan monks, 2 folks I couldn’t identify, 1 British girl, 3 Aussies, 2 Spaniards, and 2 Swedes in line with us waiting.

The process seemed simple enough:@ weigh the package, type the address into the computer and get a barcode which you then affix to the package and write with permanent marker the code just in case it comes off. Despite the apparent simplicity each person took a ridiculously long time.

At 12:30 they shut and locked the door behind us so no stragglers tried to get in–which makes sense but it amplified the hopelessness of waiting to unparalleled proportions (I would compare it to going to the DMV on North & Clyborn to renew your license on a Saturday afternoon). The fun thing about the situation was the sense of camaraderie that developed between everyone and the stilted English conversations we all tried to have utilizing colloquialisms that don’t translate very well.

The other amusing thing that happened was with the Spaniards. As I mentioned previously they had two huge bags. They presented one to the guy who immediately said no I can’t send that it’s too big. The spaniard replied with the guy next door packed it so I don’t see how it’s wrong. He should have told me. I do not want to repay to have it repacked. The postmaster points to our package and says you need to be that size (whew for us). The Spaniard says if he has to have them repacked he will but he’s pissed about it and thinks its unfair since the other guy packed them. So instead of arguing with the Spaniard the post office guy leaves the building and goes next door ostensibly to yell at the packing guy. He comes back 5 minutes later and the Spaniard stories the nice approach by saying the second pack is smaller–he then lifts it and the whole post office erupts in laughter because while it may be a smidge smaller it’s still probably 30 gallon size. There is more arguing but eventually the postal guy gives in but warns the Spaniard that it could very easily get sent back. He took his chances and the postal guy had him come behind the desk to fill out other forms just in case.

After that everything went off without a hitch, package mailed and Christmas shopping completed. Let’s just hope it gets there in time. 🙂

*I said large portion being fully aware that there are extremely smart and talented people who work at USPS in a customer service position who do an excellent job–I just haven’t dealt with them.

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