Friday, September 4, 2009

Boogie Wonderland

So, we've been overseas for four years now, have worked in four different countries, and have had the ofttimes dubious pleasure of dealing with four different postal services. I would therefore be remiss if I didn't offer a long winded few observations on Turkey's postal service.

Not unlike Poste Maroc in Morocco, the post office here - the PTT with the promising, if not probably erroneous, motto of "everywhere on time" - is pretty much everything except a place to buy stamps. And although it may try to be "everywhere on time", it is nigh impossible to find a freaking mailbox in this country - at least in the cities I've cast my shadow in, and those are the only ones that really count. I did eventually find one mailbox in Istanbul - one, mind you - and that was only because special mention was made of it in a guidebook. I suppose the government is worried about those baby-skewering Kurdish terrorists blowing up letter boxes, but their marked absence here is no less a pain in the ass.

Having said all of this, we've had three parcels sent to us since we've gone the way of the Turk and all three arrived in record time - less than a week from the Centre of the World (Italy) to the sawed-off little backwater of Izmit. This almost makes me want to hang my head in shame for mocking the PTT's (albeit mockable) motto. Almost.

But truth be told, so far, our mail karma with the PTT hasn't been too too bad (if you don't count letters that never arrived home, the inability to buy stamps, post letters, and the overwhelming dearth of mailboxes).

Indeed, we had been
warned by colleagues that the PTT never leaves pick-up notices for parcels and that, after a reasonable amount of time has expired since the package was sent from home, one should just go to the post office with fingers crossed and make polite enquiries. One colleague went to pick up a parcel and although it was on the clerk's desk in plain view, the clerk wouldn't release it until he had stamped it, and advised our friend to return the next day. Our first two parcels were left on our doorstep and the third, which arrived day before yesterday, made its presence in this country known by a card left near ("in" would have been nice) our mailbox.

So with notice and passport in hand, we headed off to the PTT. We had already been to the PTT before in a rather futile attempt to buy stamps and a second equally futile attempt to post an already stamped (bought the stamp in Istanbul) post card (there are no mailboxes in Izmit - did I mention that?). Off we went, opened the door and were greeted by about 338 people milling about a very long dark dismal and decidedly unsigned post office - which more closely resembled a corridor (but a very long dark dismal and decidedly unsigned one).

The automatic number dispenser - which normally assigns numbers based on what you want to do at the post office (i.e., pay a bill or heaven forbid, buy a stamp) - offered us no choice, so we pressed the button and looked forlornly at number 303. I say forlornly because the customer currently being served was number 965.

Not really having the patience time or energy for any of this, Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad suggested that I make a reconnaissance tour of the very long dark dismal and decidedly unsigned corridor to determine whether any one of the 338 people there were actually conducting business which might entail the purchasing of a stamp or the retrieval of a package. They were not. Everyone seemed to be clutching a bill of some sort. In fact, I would later learn that, at the PTT, a customer can:

* pay a credit card bill
* deposit money into one's bank account
* buy/receive money orders - either a postal order or through Western Union
* exchange foreign currency
* pay every utility/phone/cable bill under the sun
* pay all manner of traffic/motor fines
* pay "illegal crossing fines" - I have no idea what those are unless they actually ticket pedestrians here (which wouldn't surprise me as we are an inconvenience to motorists)
* pick up pension & welfare cheques
* pay insurance premiums - and I think, purchase insurance packages
* buy internet packages including one called e-kolay which just sounds like a lethal bacterium to me
* buy train tickets
* make purchases from the Culture Center Corporation (don't ask, I don't know)
* apply for a Qualified Electronic Certificate (don't ask, I don't know)
* buy cable and wireless phones

and, I think (although I've never seen it):

*buy stamps

So it shouldn't come as any surprise that no one was there to do anything of a postal nature. Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad decided to take matters into his own hands and assumed the rôle of Gormless Non-Turkish Speaking Foreigner by jumping the line and shoving our pick-up notice in the face of the First Unfortunate Free Clerk he could find. Our queue-jumping - pretty much the norm here, automated numbers notwithstanding - didn't faze
the First Unfortunate Free Clerk at all and, amazingly, he called for an English-Speaking Clerk to assist us. An English-Speaking Clerk soon materialized and - in stellar English - said: "come".

We gladly followed him out the door, onto the street and into an unmarked doorway where we were led
down a very long dark dismal and decidedly unsigned corridor (at this point we figured we were in a PTT building) to a flight of stairs and told again, in perfect English: "3" - by which we assumed meant the third floor. T
he English-Speaking Clerk disappeared and up we went. On the third floor we found a letter sorting room which had lots of letters but no parcels.

In the middle of its ceiling hung a silvery glittery disco ball.

A Helpful Woman approached us and we were led to a desk. She handed our notice to a Helpful Man who had before him a very large manifest in which, with my help, he found
Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad's name. And as luck would have it, the one and only parcel in the entire department was sitting directly behind his desk on a bookshelf. Now it so happened that both my name and Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad's names were written on the parcel, but only my name appeared on the delivery notice while only Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad's name appeared in the shipping manifest.

This, naturally, caused much confusion
as this is Byzantium Turkey after all, the cradle of red tape bureaucracy. We produced my passport and his residence card and although the Helpful Man was satisfied that it was indeed us, he didn't know which document to use as identification and was loath to release the parcel. After a tête à tête with the Helpful Woman, he broke all rules by opting for my passport, and we took gleeful possession of our parcel, thanked everyone with a surprisingly sincere
teşekkürler, and skipped off with our parcel - gobsmacked that:

a) it had arrived so quickly, and
b) we actually received a pick-up notice for it, and
c) it was actually there, and
d) the PTT - unlike my friends at
Poste Maroc - hadn't opened the box, pilfered through it and pocketed the choicer of its contents, and
e) we couldn't get Boogie Wonderland out of our heads for the rest of the afternoon.

... and not a little curious if, at 5:30 when the last of the 338 customers is sent on his way, the downstairs lights are turned off and the doors ar
e locked, up up up on the 3rd floor of the PTT parcel depot, whether the curtains are drawn and the disco ball is turned on and a Donna Summer album is put on the turntable and several pairs of roller skates taken out from behind one of the mailbags.


Snowflake said...

Did you ever consider that there wasn't much worth stealing in your parcel?

This Cat's Abroad said...

Five boxes of Egyptian shisha tobacco and all that COOL ALNG stuff?!! Are you serious????

Unknown said...

That is so cool that you and this cat's not a broad have found a new place to hang out,,,,I’m sure this cats not a broad still has his beige leisure suit he can wear. Disco like there is no tomorrow.

What's it like to wake up in OZ every day,,,

The pale observer said...

Post offices in Turkey may have alot of similarities to those in Sub-Saharan Africa.. although I still think you're better off!!

Great writing - great posts.

Found you through Life in the Expat Lane.

I'm a Canadian living and working (and writing) in Ghana for the past 13 years. Would love if you'd pay me a visit there too! :)

Holli in Ghana

Rose Margaret Deniz said...

I have more stories than I can recount from the PTT, but I will say that being a foreigner is a plus because they know me now. Especially being the foreign bride of a family that has lived in Izmit for years, somehow my mail and packages find their way to me even in places I don't live (minus 3 incidents involving flower essences (considered pharmaceutical, Zip-loc bags (who knows), and nursing tanks (too racy??). Your story sounds familiar, and I've probably haunted the very same PTT many a time.