Buying Stamps at a Paris Post Office

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Antony, 24 July, 2010

I was visiting a friend the other day who lives in Paris near pl. d’Italie. It’s an interesting neighborhood, with a large Asian population, and the ensuing restaurant selection that such a population brings. There are a couple of Vietnamese places that are favourites of mine, but one that opened up about a dozen years ago is my personal favourite because of its eclectic menu and even more ecletic name: Sino-rama (you know…as in Cinerama…get it?). It was at the local bureau de la poste near here that I had an interesting encounter the other day.

This is NOT a tourist area. There are no tourist hotels here that I know of, and really nothing that would attract a tourist from anywhere outside of perhaps an Asian family visiting Asian relatives who live in the area. And yet, as I went into the local bureau to mail a small package, there they were — an American couple. How do I know they were American?

In Paris, everyone’s in a hurry. Even if they have nowhere to go, most Parisians walk down the boulevards as though they need to get to the nearest bathroom before they burst open, even though most French men just whiz in the street, not necessarily with discretion, either. Yet, when it comes to lining up in banks, dept. store cashier lines, and government offices, Parisians must have some sort of natural Prozac that takes over, as they become the most docile, unfettered people in the world (usually), as they are ignored by the individuals whose job it is to serve them.

Americans, on the other hand, stroll Paris streets as if they are on vacation (which most are), and only go into this I’ve-gotta-get-through-this-before-my-bladder-bursts mode when in the aforementioned lines. The result of the attitude is, of course, that they are ignored as long as humanly possible, then finally waited on, then sent to the back of the line because of some oversight, malfeasence, or similar offense. Or, perhaps, it’s time to close for lunch. French postal workeres are noted for being amongst the rare class of workers that still, under union contract, enjoy a three-hour lunch. And if the bureau must close at noon for lunch, the window shutter starts to slide down at 11:59:55, precisely.

Now, the French understand all of this, because, it’s, well, French. But put an American tourist in the mix, attempting to buy a stamp for a postcard for Aunt Violet back in Bucyrus, OH, and well, it gets rather embarrasing for anyone who doesn’t have the good fortune to be French.

On this particular day, the whole scene erupted into a shouting match, although the Americans were the only ones doing the shouting. The postal workers all observed the scene with great indifference, further slowing down the process of serving (if one could call it that) all the rest of we patiently waiting customers, until the clock struck 11:59:55, precisely.

The windows all slammed shut, and, receiving dirty looks from other would-be patrons heading for their mid-day meal, the couple was left in an empty lobby.

This writer, package still in hand, and more than a bit ticked, decided that, out of the fear that they’d delay the reopening of the postal window later that afternoon and a teensy bit of compassion, explained that they might have a better time of it purchasing their stamp at a local bar/cafe around the corner, where they would be charged a slight fee, but in doing so, would be purchasing their stamps in the same fashion as thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, no, millions, of Paris residents do all the time.

After an appropriately thankful resonse they asked if I knew anyplace where they could find some ‘real’ coffee….

I need to stay home more often….

Jacques Legume
French-born Jacques Legume spent several decades living between the Northeastern US and various places in France. He enjoys (or is tormented by) a unique understanding of The French from an American point of view, and of Americans from a French point of view, the result of which has been a serpentine work history littered with creative exploits, including wallpaper embosser (ever wonder where they get this little ridges?) and forklift driver for touring rock bands.

Recently released from the Bercy Institute for the Sexually Insane, Legume currently lives in an illegally sublet slum welfare apartment in the Paris suburb of Antony.

Like all Frenchmen and most Tea Party members, considers himself to be an expert. About what is uncertain, but, well, he IS French, after all....

He is a member of Mons Pubis, a society dedicated to correcting the wrong committed by l'Academie Francaise for mis-genderization of the word for female genitalia, and founding member of DENSA, the largest, oldest and most unknown society in the world dedicated to intellectual mediocrity (members must fail by 98% or more the written entrance exam). He is single and has no known offspring.
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