Wednesday, February 11, 2009

How We Get Packages

This is the second installment in my new series about "How To" in Romania. How things are done (or not done). How we go about simple daily activities. Observations about my new home and culture.

So, packages. The process in the States: packages are delivered to your home, whether by the postman or a mail truck. I don't know of too many exceptions to this process, unless you live in a small town and simply have to go to the post office to get all your mail/packages. Oh boy, that couldn't be further from the process here. Here in Iasi when you receive a package, you don't actually receive the package, you receive a little slip of paper (as the two pictured above). On this slip of paper, handwritten, is a notification that you have received a package and information about where to obtain it. I use the term 'information' loosely here, because the only information you are provided is a number. Again, it's handwritten, so it may or may not be legible. This number tells you which post office has your package. And it would not appear that there is any system to route your package to a post office near your apartment, because all the packages we receive go to random parts of the city, often 25 minutes by tram. That is after you walk to the tram stop and wait for the tram, anywhere from 1 to 20 minutes. What I don't understand is why they don't put an address for the post office on the slip. Presumably the vast majority of people who receive packages are people who are a) not from here or b) just moved here, so I don't quite understand how one is expected to know that #13 corresponds to a post office in Copou while #4 refers to one in Gara. Other than the fact that I live with people who already know. What if some day we get a number we've never had before? Should be an adventure. 

Further problems arise from this 'system.' What if you can't in fact read the handwritten number? What do you do? Where do you go? And what happens if you are out of town for awhile after you receive your package notification? Well my friends, I can tell you the answer to that last one. When you pick up your package, you are charged a nominal fee- usually 50 bani, which is essentially 15 U.S. cents. It seems silly to charge anything if you're going to charge that little. But then again, this is a country that is built on bureaucracy, so I suppose someone else is able to be employed to process all those 15 cent payments. However, if one leaves a package at the post office for an unknown amount of time (a week? 10 days?) the fee increases. When this occurs and to what amount I don't know, but I DO know that when I picked up my package after 10 days I was charged 5 lei. I'm sorry that I received my slip on a Friday at 3pm and didn't have time to schlep across the city before your post office closes at 4 and that your post office is not open on Saturday or Sunday and that I was out of town for 5 days, and then had another weekend, but seriously? And are you really counting the 4 days that were weekend (ie closed) days? Apparently if you leave it much longer than that, they start charging something astronomical each day. Kind of absurd. 

One more thing. I picked up my package on Monday, and then Weds I received a slip notifying me of a package with a memo line of URGENT. Not knowing a little quirk of the system, I naively assume I had another package. Except when I get to the post office and hand the woman the slip and my passport, she is all confused as she looks through her papers. Then all of a sudden she is speaking at me in Romanian. While my vocabulary has increased greatly, it's by no means able to comprehend the words coming out of her mouth. Then every other person in the office decides that if they all talk to me at once in Romanian, I might understand. Not so much. They are motioning for me to leave, one man says Monday, and the lady rips up my slip and throws it in the garbage. I walk out, mouth agape, not quite sure what just happened.

I later find out that if you have left your packages at the post office for a prolonged period of time, they are kind enough to remind you of this fact with another slip. However, sometimes even when you've picked up your package they don't seem to know about it and send you a slip. And given that the only information on the slip is the post office number- no information about who sent it, or any kind of routing number- there is no way to know whether the slip you have received is for a new package or a package you have already picked up. Thus creating confusion. And Americans looking totally stupid trying to pick up a package they've already picked up.

However, at the end of the day, I have decided that the confusion is worth the wonderful joy of opening a package filled with chocolate chips, Milk Duds, boxed brownie mix, and mouthwash, none of which I can buy here. So I will continue to go fetch my packages and in the process explore previously unknown territories in Iasi. Good times.

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