Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Warning: The Post Office May Be Hazardous To Your Health
Yesterday, I was at the post office, trying to get my business done before the next huge blizzard which was to start yesterday evening. As you can imagine, the place was pretty much packed with a lot of people doing the same thing.
Now, the Italian Post Office is the place where you do a lot of things. You pay your telephone, electric, and water bills there. You might have a bank account there. You can actually mail things there as well, although they do not always have stamps. In fact, requesting stamps can send them into a treasure-hunting frenzy. Normally you buy stamps at the tobacco store. Makes sense, doesn't it?
There is a "take a ticket" system at the Italian post office. It functions in a very interesting way. If you have to mail a letter or a package, you get one number. It begins with the letter P. If you have to pay a bill, you get another number and it begins with the letter A. Then at our post office, there are also H numbers and F numbers but I don't know what they are for because I never had H or F business to do at the post office.
The problems start when you have both P business and A business -- if you have to both pay a bill and then mail a package, for example. The P service desks are equipped for you to pay bills, but they won't do it if they are busy. The A bill paying service desks will NOT send a package or give you stamps.
So you can see. If you pull a number to stand in line for P services and for A services, you are setting yourself up to get screwed. Because just when you go to pay your bill, your letter mailing number is bound to get called. Then they will skip you because you did not come running fast enough because you are paying your bill and then you have to pull another P number and wait your turn, again. It's a big crap shoot, the Italian Post office.
But that is the scenario on a good day, a normal day. When a snow storm is coming, and people are edgy, it can get worse. A lot worse.
First of all, I made the mistake of going yesterday at about 11.45. What does this mean? It means 45 minutes away from eating Mama's pasta. There is nothing more overwhelming than a pack of hungry Italians, all trying to get something done at the post office. The air was humid in there yesterday from the crowd. The board with the numbers was blinking like Las Vegas. People were starting to yell. One Post Office person was circling the crowd, yelling back at them. When I got in I pulled the number P132. I looked up at the board. They were only up to P94. I knew it was going to be a while. I sat down.
After me came a petite elderly woman, well dressed. She pulled a P number, looked up at the board, and sighed. Then she started to maneuver and work the crowd. She made her way over to me, looking over my shoulder as I sat waiting. She started talking to me. I never register what people are saying to me right off the bat if they are strangers -- since I had not opened my mouth yet, she had no idea that I was not Italian. But she was speed-talking. Speed-talking. I focused on her lips, my brows furled. I suspected something foul was going on. Just as I had that thought, she grabbed my number P132 from my hand and gave me her number P136 and kept moving -- looking to better her P132 position.
This has happened to me before. Little old ladies in Italy look nice, but don't mess with them, they have been through the war and they know how to not have to wait in line.
But I tracked her down. Started talking to her -- in English. She looked at me in horror, as if to say, who is this nut case. I told her, in Italian, to give me back my number. I kept looking at her in the eye. Finally she rolled her eyes to heaven and pressed my number back into my palm, with a curse! A Curse! I felt a little idiotic, but for heaven's sake. She had tried to swindle me out of my number P132. And in the world of the crowded Italian small town post office, that's a high crime.
I finally made it to the service desk, where my favorite postal employee looked like he was ready to drop from the stress. The people were still flooding in. I had to send a second registered letter to the criminal geologist from the story two posts ago. He gave me the paper work, and asked me to step to the side while filling it out so that he could help the next person.
Next person happened to be P136 little old lady from hell. Who started in on me again. But my favorite postal worker had seen the incident out of the side of his eye and chastised the woman in a very nice way for trying to swindle me, a helpless foreigner, out of my rightful position. Not a very nice reflection on Italy, he told her, winking to me at the same time.
She looked at the paperwork I was filling out and told me that if I did not put my return address on the form, that I would not get notice of the registered letter having been delivered. She smiled at me sweetly, with daggers coming out of her eyes. I seriously think she wanted to kill me.
I need to bring my favorite postal worker a bottle of wine for Christmas this year.
When I left, at 12.30, the lit-up board had completely stopped functioning and all the As and the Ps and the Fs and the Hs were up in arms. I escaped with my life, only to have to confront the next battle ground, the Italian Grocery Store Before a Snowstorm. But that's a story for another day.
By the way. Two and a half feet of fresh stuff and it's still falling.