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You’ve Got Mail………….

November 4, 2009

Have you ever been to a Post office in Delhi? Walk with me stand in line with me as I share my experience today.mailman on bike

I needed to mail a few things to locations around Delhi, which is unusual. Most people here have drivers and so, more often than not, we just send our drivers off with the things we want delivered. And we sit all comfy cozy in our pjs while our driver maneuvers thru traffic and crowds and runs many of our errands for us. It’s lovely really. And yes, it is absolutely amazing that it is actually more practical to have things hand-delivered than to use the mail system. But such is life.

My driver, as fantastic as he is, does not speak great English, so today I wasn’t confident that I could properly explain what I wanted done. You might think – really – your driver wouldn’t understand the simple instructions of “take these packages to that post office and mail them”. Really? Yup, really! It does not mean Khan is not a smart guy – in fact, I think he’s pretty smart – but it does mean that I did not feel confident that I could explain exactly what I wanted done and that it would get done.

And isn’t that lucky for you – because now you will know what it is like (at least what it was like for me) to go to the post office in Delhi.

First a little background – forget what you might know about the American mail system. It’s a wee bit different here. For example, there really aren’t mail trucks. There are mail bikes. Yes, that is right – bicycles. The postman rides through the neighborhood with mail strapped on to the back of his bike. It’s not exactly the Pony Express – but it isn’t quite FedEx either. You kind of cross your fingers and wish upon a star. Sometimes it works amazingly well – sometimes, not so much.

Knowing that I wanted these packages to arrive sooner than later, I decided to go to to one of the Head Post Offices – rather than one of the smaller offices that most neighborhoods offer. I believe there are 7 of these “head” offices in Delhi. I went to the one near JorBagh. By going to the larger “central” post office, I am hoping that I could cut off about two days of transit time from the smaller branch to the central processing branch. We’ll see how well that works out.

Before I headed over to the post office, I tried to look up on-line some information about their hours, locations, processes – you know, find out when to go where and what to expect when I got there. I never found a website that showed the hours. Just a few sites that would tell me the postal codes for the post office locations. I am not sure how it is helpful to know what the zip codes for the actual post offices are, but if you need to know, you can find that on-line. Other than that, you won’t find too many other (helpful) details. At least I did not.

So, I took a chance that they would be open today (Wednesday) at 12:30ish. They were. I walked in and looked around. There was a small window in the entrance way – but that seemed too easy – so I headed further back to the larger, busier area. There were several lines but I didn’t see any signs that explained what they were for. And there were no “take a number” stations. So, I got in the shortest line thinking that at least if it was the wrong line I would waste the least amount of time waiting. I am wicked smart like that.

In the way that I am very used to, I created and then stood behind that imaginary line that westerners like to draw on the ground to politely wait their turn. Respecting the privacy of the person in front of them and all that jazz. However, four people went up to the counter in front of me. One at a time, looking at me first, completely dismissing the fact that I might be in line, and then waiting for their own turn – now ahead of me. Interesting, right?

In the U.S., I would have very quickly pointed out to them that I was in fact in line – I would have explained to them that the line starts here – behind the imaginary line – behind me – I would have asked how they didn’t know about “the line” – I would have reminded them that everything you need to know you did learn in kindergarten – and I would have reclaimed my “next in line” status.

But I am not in Kansas anymore and I really was not sure what was going on. I really, truly could not bring myself to believe that all those people just cut in front of me. I let myself assume that they were all related – that they were there together.

But the seemingly new line was a wide line with people adding out to it from both sides. It was not the line I know and love – single file, straight back behind the leader of the line. It was becoming clear that a new line was forming down the width of the counter rather than behind me and the shortest line had now become the longest widest line.

Then I heard. “Pssssssst.”

And then, “Excuse me ma’am,” and this woman is laughing a little bit – not really at me – but, okay actually, at me. She said, “If you want a turn, you are going to have to push your way thru to the front of the line. Go ahead and get up there.”

Me: So, all those people just cut in front of me?
Her: Yes, I am afraid so.
Me: You don’t think they are related? Here together.
Her: No. I really don’t.
Me: Is that really what just happened? They ALL just cut in front of me?
Her: Yes, you’ll need to get up there. What are you here to do?
Me: I want to mail these packages.
Her: Speed post or regular post?
Me: Uhhhhhhh
Her: Speed post is faster.
Me: Then I want speed post.
Her: You are in the wrong line altogether – move over here.
Me: Thank you so much!

Personal space in India doesn’t mean the same thing as it means to me. Actually it doesn’t mean diddly squat. There is no such thing. The line was 6 people deep, but we were all within 3 or 4 feet of each other. It was a postal line sandwich. Smooshy. Twins aren’t that close to each other in the womb. And it’s still hot here so sometimes people still smell a little fragrant from being outside. Holy, standing on top of me, batman. But at least I am in the right line – I know what to ask for – speed post – it’s all good, right?

How did you know it was not? Did you read ahead?

Apparently that particular line closed at 1:30p. Good to know – except they never announced it – never put out a sign indicating who would be last. The guy just finished with the person two ahead of me and got up and walked way. And it was frankly 1:26p. Not yet 1:30p. There was still time to help me for stamp’s sake.

Then my little post office angel came over again, still snickering. Not at me, okay, yes, she was still laughing at me. But that is okay – you can laugh at me all you want if you are helping me with this process. Laugh away.

Her: They just closed the window. You’ll need to move to the next line over.
Me: You are kidding right? That line has a lot of people in it. Can they explain that I have been waiting?
Her: No – it closed at 1:30p. Just turn around and hand your envelopes to the man at the window behind you.
Me: There are at least 10 people in that line.
Her: Sure, sure – it’s fine – just do it. Push your way through. Hand him your envelopes.

So that is what I did. I effectively cut in front of about 10 people and handed my things to the man behind the window. No one complained. Actually I recognized most of them. They had been in my line but they moved when they realized the first window was closing. But none of them told me. No, that wasn’t very nice.

The guy in the new window was kind of laughing at me too – in a “you’re a dingbat and I feel sorry for you so I am going to help you” sort of way. Again, I am good with that.

The post man took all my envelopes and asked me if I wanted speed post. Of course, I do, I said very knowingly, – I think I was (not) very convincing that I knew what I was doing.

He stuck stickers on all the envelopes. Then he weighed them one by one and typed in a good portion of the address onto his computer as toΒ  where it was going, calculated the postage, and printed new stickers. It took about 10 minutes. The people in the line behind beside me all waited patiently, some had their mail out to be processed, but most just waited.

The total bill for about twelve 9×12 envelopes loaded down with flyers and invitaions – $3. I marvel how that entire process can only be worth $3. I am not going to question it – but I am going to wish I may, wish I might, wish upon the first star I see tonight – that the mail actually gets delivered.

As I walked out, I once again saw my little angel. She was still smiling and I thanked her profusely. Thank God for the kindness of strangers.

23 Comments leave one →
  1. November 7, 2009 3:57 pm

    Holy crap! I’m pretty sure I would have lost it, even with that sweet woman telling me what I needed to do. And to think I complain about going to our post office because there’s only on-street parking πŸ˜‰

  2. November 7, 2009 5:35 am

    Well written.
    Agree with you completely. There are people here who are insensitive, but there are also angels who would help you out. πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€
    That’s what I call Indyeah!!!
    But one small suggestion for you. If you want important packages to be delivered within time and also have a tracking mechanism, use the courier services like Bluedart, DHL and DTDC. They work amazingly well here.
    But again, India Post works well, if you can rely… πŸ˜€

    • November 7, 2009 6:12 am

      Hi Chiranjib – thanks for coming by – I can usually find someone who is helpful, it helps that I look a little out of place. πŸ˜‰

  3. Kim R permalink
    November 6, 2009 9:35 am

    Wow, what a hilarious ordeal! Maybe I should have mailed you your Christmas card last September!

  4. mama bear permalink
    November 5, 2009 4:38 pm

    Few other places you need to visit (without an assistant) are:

    Railway station, Airport, bank

    You will be able to finish your book very quickly.

    • November 6, 2009 3:13 am

      It is going to take me a lot to get to the train station – the airport I have been to – the bank, not yet – I have so much left to do!

  5. Nancy permalink
    November 5, 2009 4:16 pm

    Love living vicariously through you. I know how much patience you must be mustering. Not your natural way. πŸ™‚ Good for you.

    • November 6, 2009 3:12 am

      who me? not patient? I know not of what you speak my twin impatient friend. 😎

  6. November 5, 2009 2:58 pm

    LOL sounds a bit like what I have gone through at the DMV here at times. You must get in the right line. LOL.

    • November 6, 2009 3:12 am

      yes it is just like the DMV – except no numbers – numbers are a beautiful thing!

  7. lisa permalink
    November 5, 2009 11:42 am

    loved this – you are too funny πŸ™‚

  8. November 5, 2009 11:06 am

    that was damn right on!! The first time my mum visited me from India and I took her to US post office, we were standing in line and there was at least two feet of space between me and the person ahead of me and my mum whispered in my ear “what are you doing, move or someone is going to take your place”
    Indian post office experience description of yours is right on the spot!!

    • November 6, 2009 3:11 am

      that is pretty funny – I cannot imagine doing this in reverse – being used to no official line then standing a few feet back and waiting – she probably told that story over and over when she got back 😎

  9. poupee97 permalink
    November 5, 2009 4:37 am

    HIlarious! And fairly typical. πŸ™‚

    • November 6, 2009 3:10 am

      It would have been fair less funny if that kind woman had not helped me – she was really very sweet to take time to point me in the right direction!

  10. Vikas permalink
    November 4, 2009 10:57 pm

    Lol nice post..
    you really have a way with words..

    your analysis of mail system is spot on.. but I find speed post to be pretty reliable in my experiences.. with transit time comparable to USPS ground.. and yes infact they do pickups and online tracking too !!
    IMHO thats amazing value for the price they charge..
    IF you need overnight delivery then u can ship with DHL/Blue dart/DTDC etc all of which have offices in delhi..

    heres the postal service site you were looking for..

    you can track your speed post here..

    and yeah thanks to you i found this amazing service they offer now where you can email letters to them and they’ll print it out and home deliver for a nominal fee !!

    • November 5, 2009 3:23 am

      Hi Vikas and welcome – thank you so much for the links! It is absolutely amazing how inexpensive it was to mail these packages. How can it be done for so little? Cheers!

  11. November 4, 2009 12:22 pm


    I am spitting my wine and cackling with laughter. You described that so well! I could feel, smell and imagine I was there!

    Next time, girly … just drop them off here … Kushal will do it for you!

    • November 5, 2009 3:21 am

      It is really hard to explain life here – it can be so different – next time I will send Khan. hee hee


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