Saturday, June 27, 2009

Doesn't Matter the Country: I Hate the Post Office

I think I missed paying my last phone bill.

I suspect this because RosTeleCom, the phone company, has been calling me lately. It is an automated call, and I know if I don't listen to their recorded message all the way through, they will keep calling me.

Which is a good thing because I want them to call when The Spouse is home so he can confirm my suspicions.

Not that it helps me much. Without the bill, I'm not sure how to pay.

See, the way it works is that RosTeleCom sends me a little piece of paper in the mail every month. This piece of paper lists the long distance charges I have incurred for the current month.

It says nothing about last month: if I paid the last bill, if my balance brought forward is zero. Nothing.

Each month is a complete transaction in and of itself.

I know this because we lost a piece of paper a while ago. Eventually, when I tried to make a long distance call, I found it would not go through. Although I had paid the bills that came after the lost one, I had no idea what to do about it until Ros TeleCom kindly sent me another copy of the missing bill.

So the other day I decided to double check our mail box.

We store things in the mailbox for the landlords, and now and then Man Friday comes and takes them away.

So I took everything out. And, because out mailbox is sort of wedge-shaped, reached waaaaaay into the recess.

There I found a crumpled piece of paper.

But not from RosTeleCom.


It was from the Post Office.

Let me preface what follows with two pieces of information:
1. I know it is my job to speak the language of my host country. No denying. Any failure to communicate is my fault. And efforts by the local populace to help me anyhow (and this is generally the case . . . people take pity on me all the time) is gravy.
2. I have been treated badly by post office employees all over the world. I had a clerk I dealt with regularly in Taiwan who used to spot me in the line, sigh audibly, and lay her head on her desk.

But I digress. We've had these receipts before, and I can read enough now to see that this was notifying me that we had received an envelope, and that it was addressed to both me and The Spouse. The last time we received the same configuration and our collective hearts stopped and we did not breathe until we collected said envelop and discovered it was our Economic Stimulus Check from the US Treasury. We had been fearing all sorts of awful news from people like the IRS.

I showed the crumbled piece of paper to The Spouse last night.

"Are we expecting anything?" I asked.

He thought about it.

"Oh! I know what this is," he sounded upbeat. This was good. "It's from Pani Babka." (Scroll down through this archive and read about Pani Babka if you are interested.)

Aside: Pani Babka, which is Slovak for Mrs Grandma, was our lovely neighbor in Bratislava. As a further aside, you should know that Pan means Mr. and Pani means Mrs. Except when it is plural. The plural of Mr. or, gentlemen, is pani. If you are still hanging in here with me, you should also know that there is no Russian word for either Mr. or Mrs. If you want the waitress's attention, you basically call out "Girl!" It's very unsettling to me.

I don't know how long this notice has been in my mailbox because I cannot read the date stamped on it. I do know there is a limited amount of time the post office will hold a piece of mail before returning it to the sender, and it is surprisingly brief. I adore Pani Babka, and don't want her offering to appear rejected.

So I just came back from an unsuccessful trip to the post office. I did not cry. But I almost did.

I knew that I had to take the receipt to a second part of the local post office that has its own entrance. I looked carefully at the sign to make sure they were not closed for lunch. Seemed they should be open for business. So I went in.

I peered through the little glass service counter window. There was a young-ish woman at the back of the work space, sitting at a computer terminal. She said something to me which I interpreted as "Go away, we are closed for lunch."

I mimed that I could not hear her. She repeated it. She did not get up.

I figured maybe she was closed for lunch. So I went next door to the regular part of the post office.

There, another woman sat at a desk some distance from the service counter windows. She, too, appeared to be actually working on something. Another potential customer had followed me into the first part of the post office, apparently had also been rebuffed, and now followed me into the regular part of the post office.

I found this somewhat reassuring.

Seated Woman said something to both of us, but did not stop what she was doing. Then First Woman appeared, having travelled to this section of the post office through "the back." She looked at me and the other guy and said again what she said the first time I met her. Then, sensing she was defeated by my stupidity, she sighed and took my receipt.

"You have to go to the other side," she said, keeping the receipt and returning to her first position through "the back."

I figured I was supposed to follow her. So I went out the front door of the regular part and re-entered the second part of the post office (or where I started). She stood behind her counter, examined the receipt, gave it back to me, and told me "You have to fill out the back with your passport information," and walked away.

Shit. That's right. I remember this now from last time. Okay. Will do.

But when I look in my purse, neither of the two pens I normally carry are there.

"Um . . . a pen?" I say. But she ignores me. It is part of her evil plan to make me go away and leave her alone.

Surely the main part of the post office has pens, right? I mean, have you even been in a post office or bank that didn't have pens on chains at all the windows and at those counters where you fill out your documents before getting in line?

Well, not here. I should have known better.

So I gave up.

I went to the grocery store and came home, defeated.

I'll go back later this afternoon with The Spouse.

Update: I met The Spouse for lunch and he filled out the back of the form in Russian. We went to the post office. He handed the woman the piece of paper.

"Where on EARTH did you get this?" she asked him.

"Our neighbors gave it to us yesterday," he lied. "It had been in their mailbox."

"Well, it's OLD," she said, actually laughing good-naturedly. "See the date stamped on here? It's from last year."

[Sound of me smacking my forehead, Oy!]

This would be the notice from the IRS last summer to come get my Economic Stimulus Check. When I realized that we never got one, I filled out the appropriate forms to get them to send me a check again. This explains why I had to do that.

She was very nice. Now we can be friends.



Jen said...

Many (many) years ago, I sent a parcel from Florence to Sydney.
I feel your pain.

Kugo said...

Okay, how do you not stand in the middle of the post office and not scream? This would drive me crazy.

They don't have online bill paying services in Russia? Am I just asking for too much now?

The Expatresse said...

No online payments . . . it is possible, but complicated and you can't do it for just anything. There ARE these machines around town you can feed money into to pay for things. I use them for my mobile phone and our internet.

Aunt Becky said...

CRAP BALLS. I forgot to go to the freaking post office today. CRAP.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like typical post office nightmare to me.
It is your problem so, you are conditioned to fear them.
I have the same problem, I am scared to death of post offices. That is why any time it is possible I go to the Mailboxes Etc or anyplace like that which is available around me.
Last time I was trying to send a mail to my son in London, the man at the counter gave me a declaration to fill - the alarm goes on in my head (must be something engraved in my brain from being USSR citizen years ago) - I refuse to fill the form - I send plenty of packages and never was asked to fill this form. I am not going to do it now!
The man does not speak English very well, so he brings out a piece of cardboard with a slit in it and trying to push my envelope through it. It does not fit. What am I suppose to think?
My thought is - make a bigger hole.
It goes on for a while, ... you get an idea

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