Letters from abroad

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March 9, 2006

Letters from a broad features letters from Mills women who are currently studying away from Mills. This week we have another letter from junior Michelle Ma, Public Policy major. Michelle is studying journalism in London.

I went to the post office last week.

You can do anything at the post office here. You can buy travel insurance, change currency, cash checks (or, I should say, cheques), buy flowers and for all I know buy illegal drugs. In fact, you can do pretty much anything at the post office except actually send mail.

Well, that's not entirely true. You can send mail at the post office, just not the way that you'd normally do it in the United States, where you wait an abominably long time in line because there are only two windows open, shove your letter at an overworked, underpaid postal worker, pay the money, and then run away. My experience at the South Kensington post office went something like this:

I waited in an abominably long queue (line) of course, because it's in the postal service contract somewhere that the queue must be as long as possible, and since you can do anything at a post office in Great Britain, I was preceded by roughly all of London, wanting to deposit money in their bank accounts or purchase auto insurance or whatever.

Fortunately, the post office publishes its own completely free magazine called Sorted!, which is really the only intelligent thing to do when there are consistently queues (lines) going out the door. The magazine, which was of the size that you could comfortably tuck into your purse, if you are the tucking-things-into-your-purse persuasion, cheerfully advertised all of the amazing things you can accomplish at the post office, and even more that you can do online. I wonder how much it cost them to print.

When an electronic voice finally directed me to window number six, please, I thrust my postcards up against the plexiglass window that presumably protected the poor employees of the Royal Mail from angry pensioners driven mad by the 45 minute wait in line and babbled that I wanted to send these to the United States.

"That'll be 47 pence each. How many do you have?" he asked.

"Er," I said, because I hadn't counted; I'd assumed that I'd hand him the postcards, he'd count them and then tell me the total. I rather awkwardly shoved the postcards under the plexiglass wall via the tray that was meant to be used for money. He counted them, then handed them back, telling me that there were seven. He then proceeded to sell me seven stamps and also gave me seven little Par Avion stickers. I paid him and wandered away from the post office, quite confused and disturbed. So the post office doesn't send things for you? You have to find a post box? But what if you're sending a very large parcel that won't fit into the eensy slot of a post box?

So, I adhered the stamps and little stickers in the comfort and privacy of my own flat (the stamps were the old-fashioned kind that you have to lick, much to my nostalgic delight) and then went out in search for a post box, which are rather large and red and distinctive (I'm sure you can find a picture of one using Google Image Search). Naturally, one was nowhere to be found and I had to walk quite a long way before I spotted one. Now, of course, I see them everywhere. I suspect they move.

I had to go back to the post office the next day to send yet another letter, which was when I discovered that you can leave your things at the post office to be sent. You affix your stamp, then simply deposit your parcel or envelope in an unmarked pile on one of the counters. I confirmed this with the postal worker behind the counter (who gave me a rather strange look, as if I were from another planet, which perhaps I am) and then stacked my envelope delicately on top of the others. I hope it gets to its destination.


Letters from abroad was published on March 9, 2006 in Opinions

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