Thursday, 4 July 2013

A post office without stamps

I've been travelling a fair bit recently and, along the way, have spent some time in one of my old stomping grounds.

Er...perhaps for the purposes of this piece, I should write "stamping" grounds. But that would be a little too clumsy a play on words.

And let's face it, I don't really want to push the "ouch" factor too far.

I was staying with friends in one of those picture postcard villages with to-die-for scenery and the proverbial steep history.

You're probably familiar with the kind of place.

Being the pure romantic that I am, I wanted to share the moment with some friends and family by penning my impressions and sending a few postcards.

Yes it's something I still do, although, given the paucity of cards I receive, perhaps I belong to a dying breed.

I know, I know. There's Facebook and Twitter to keep all and sundry up-to-date with what I'm eating, where and with whom.  And I'm most definitely socially connected if not necessarily adept.

Somehow though I enjoy the exercise of sending out a big personalised and individual "hello" to those I care for.

There again maybe friends and family don't quite see things the same way, as I have handwriting which looks as though I've been at the bottle from the early hours of the morning and is as legible to most (even myself on occasions, I hasten to add) as hieroglyphs.

Anyway, I had bought four postcards. Having written them, I of course wanted to send them.

What I needed, and didn't have though, were stamps.

Now, while the village didn't have much in the way of commerce, there was still a post office.

The only problem was, it opened on alternate days and didn't actually sell stamps. Or so my friends informed me.

A bank without money, I had heard of. But a post office without stamps?


My best bet apparently would be to try at the neighbouring village, 10 minutes drive away.

And that's what I did, arriving to see that there were just a handful of people waiting in front of me to be served.

Of course, I hadn't reckoned on the lone clerk behind the counter entering into animated and lengthy conversation with each and every customer about Mrs Whatsername's  latest "ailments", Mr Wotsit's problems with his car or Ms Thingamabob's exam results ("Didn't she do well? So bright.")

Each transaction seemed to last an eternity but finally, after more than 30 minutes and a hooray of hellos and goodbyes, it was my turn.

"Good morning," I said cheerily. "I would like four stamps please for postcards to Germany and Britain."

I received one of those disconcerting looks accompanied by a definite intake of breath, which made me wonder whether I had made some sort of unreasonable request.

" do sell stamps, don't you?" I asked.

"Of course, of course," came the reply as the clerk reached beneath the counter to pull out an enormous folder with separate sections for stamps of different values.

"It's just that I'm not sure we have the right ones available for Germany and Britain," he said as he slowly thumbed  his way through the binder.

"Let's see. You'll need 85 centimes for each postcard we don't have any 85 centimes stamps. We only have ones for 70 centimes and others for 20 centimes. So sorry. I can't sell you stamps for your postcards."

"Oh that's all right," I replied. "I don't mind paying an extra five centimes to send each card. Could I have four of each please." I was still in my cheerful customer mode.

There was a shaking of head, a sighing and a puzzled look followed by, "I'm not sure I can do that. You see, if I sell you stamps for 90 centimes and you only need ones worth 85...well it won't tally with the records I keep and I'll have to fill in the wrong amount."

Every purchase, deposit and withdrawal, it appeared, had to be laboriously entered into a ledger.

Computers didn't seem to have reached this part of the world yet.

"But you won't be filling in the wrong amount," I persisted.

"I'll be buying and using stamps for 90 centimes each, whatever the cost of sending each postcard really is. And that'll surely be reflected in the records you keep of your sales, won't it?"

There was silence, a pause for reflection as he processed the idea and finally a light bulb moment as he seemed to realise that what I had said made some sort of sense.

And although still not certain he was doing the "right thing", he handed over the stamps, entered the amount paid into his account book and wished me a pleasant day as I thanked him and made my way outside.

So I had my stamps and could send my postcards.

But had I just entered and left the parallel universe that is sometimes French village life?

No dear reader.

Before you jump to conclusions and think typically second-rate service so characteristic of many parts of France,  benvenuti in Italia!

You see. It happens elsewhere too. And somehow it simply adds to the charm of the't it?

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