Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sending Missives From the Front

As a kid, I was a mail hound.  I loved getting letters.  I had pen pals all over the place, and a good chunk of my allowance went into buying fancy paper so I could write them back and get more mail in return.  I still think getting mail is fun.  And now that we are in a warm place again, Mom has been on a Postcard Mission.

The girls and I sat down and made a list.  Some friends, some family, some school - anyone we thought might smile to get a colourful picture in their mailbox some misty, moisty morning a few weeks from now.  Then off to the Tabac.

The shopkeeper stared at our stack of cards.  "Vingt-cinq?  You want twenty-five cards?"
"Yes.  No.  Stylish, I forgot someone - go grab another card.  Vingt-six, s'il vous plait."

The kids like writing postcards, but they are curiously shy about giving out any information about what they have been doing.  Do they write about our visit to the aquarium?  Playing on the beach?  Walking through town?  Eating baguette?  Their favorite new cheese?  Playing hide-and-seek on the dock?  No.  You would think the kids were spies or soldiers behind enemy lines from their reticence.  Here is a typical card:

Dear Friend,
How are you?  I miss you.  My birthday is in six days!  Write soon.

Well, in all fairness, she did mention the one bit of news she cared about.
Mom, no one wants a postcard talking about our daily beach visits.

Next job: the post office.  We had scrolled off a quick ten cards in the park, so we thought we would buy stamps on the way home.

For you North Americans, a post office isn't always just a post office.  In many countries, the post office is also a bank, mobile phone shop, wi-fi provider, passport photo taker and bill payment center.  It is a lot of things to a lot of people.  So I wasn't surprised when we pushed open the door and entered a huge hall with two dozen kiosks and a "take a number" machine.

Stylish - who has an instinct for these things - shot a finger out and pressed the button.  "Ohh!" groaned her sister, "I wanted to do that!"  A slip of paper whirred out.  We were about fifteenth in line.  Not bad.  The girls roamed around looking at the display cases, our number was called, we bought our stamps, done.  Easy peasy.

Yesterday morning I left Erik having a coffee while the girls played with their friends on the dock.  "I'll just pop over to the post office and mail the rest of these," I said.  I arrived, took my number, and looked up at the screen.  Ticket 338 - Guichet 05.  I checked the number in my hand: 410.  Hmm.

No problem - I've done this before.  People inevitably get tired of waiting and, rather than toss their number in the trash, they leave it on the number machine.  I quickly traded down to 395.  Yes.  perfectly reasonable.  So I propped up an empty bit of wall.

And waited.

And waited.

I renewed my passport back in the spring.  The line was shorter than this.  The hall was swarming with people.  After twenty minutes I managed to snag a seat near Guichet 3.  I played with the baby next to me and waited.  I read all of the signs and practiced my French and waited.  I wondered why I had broken my cardinal rule of: "Always take a book," and waited.

My ticket had a date stamp of 10:23.  At 11:08, my number came up.  I hurried over to Guichet 11.

"Good morning.  I'd like to mail some postcards; I need sixteen international stamps."
The woman shook her head and said something in rapid French.
I frowned.  That couldn't be right.  "I'm sorry, I don't speak French very well.  Could you please repeat that?"
"It is Tuesday.  You shouldn't have a ticket.  You have to go to Special No-Ticket Guichet 14 to buy stamps today."  Her look told me that everyone in the universe knew this except me.
"Could I buy stamps from you?"  Like I did last time? I thought.
"No.  Guichet 14."

Rats.  Caught by Special No-Ticket Stamp Guichet Tuesday.  I walked the ten paces to Guichet 14.  There was one man ahead of me.  I had my stamps and was back on the street in less than three minutes.

And as I laughed my way down the street, I remembered: there is always a rule you don't know.
I'll just fly those cards home on my kite.


Anonymous said...

This story had me laughing. I love the French & their rules.

Your pictures are spectacular today.

Postcards-oh goodie!
Much love

Kate said...

Looking forward to a postcard. email me if there is an address to send you one too.

I like the Tuesday rule - so random. How could you not know! ha ha