Monday, January 19, 2015

Are you sure you don’t run a travel agency? Have you checked?

There are various ways of contacting me, including the option of sending me something by snail mail to a PO box. It normally works very well: whenever I am in Aschaffenburg, I drop by the post office conveniently located by the railway station and collect my mail.

At least, it normally works very well, and this is the problem with German efficiency. It’s very efficient as long as everyone plays by the rules. The moment something unexpected happens, the system just collapses.

I found a large, white A4 envelope in my PO box, but addressed to some other company — a travel agency of some kind. The PO box number, number was mine, so presumably there are three possibilities:
  1. The sender typed the wrong number.
  2. The company had mistyped its own address.
  3. The PO box I am now using once belonged to this company, and the sender doesn’t know that the old address is no longer current.
No problem: I wrote on the envelope something to the effect that box number 100629 does not belong to the company addressed and pushed it through the hole in the wall labelled “Incorrectly posted items” and thought nothing of it.

It is, I know, hard to believe, but there are countries in the world where post office workers would read that, and either post it in the correct box or send it back. At least, that’s what happens in less efficient countries where things are expected to go wrong from time to time, and people just deal with it.

Not so Germany. In Germany, Things Cannot Go Wrong, so the drone behind the scenes saw the white A4 envelope, looked at the PO box number in the address, and posted it in the box with that number. Because That Is The Number, and therefore That Is Where It Goes.

The next time I went to pick up my post, there was the white A4 envelope waiting for me. So I took my trusty pen, and wrote in big letters, “DO NOT POST THIS IN BOX 100629! THE BOX NUMBER IS INCORRECT!” And to make extra certain, I struck through the PO box number on the address and wrote, “This PO box number is wrong.”

I don’t know if I’m missing something here, but it seems quite clear to me. Imagine, then, my dismay when I went in today and found the white A4 envelope waiting for me. The postal drone had not only returned it whence it came, but next to my frantic attempts to alert him to the wrongness of his actions had drawn a big question mark. Not only that, I also had a new A4 envelope, but brown, addressed in the same manner: to a travel agency I had never even heard of, but with my PO box number.

So I went round to the front, where the counters are, queued up and, when it was my turn, stepped up and presented exhibits A and B and explained the problem in words of one syllable (which, in German, is quite a feat).

“I see,” said the clerk, plainly not seeing at all. “And who are you?”

I didn’t honestly know how to answer that question. This is the problem in Germany: people’s brains aren’t wired up to cope with things not going to plan, so they have a little nervous breakdown. I showed him some of the post that was for me, and I showed him the key to my box, and what else was I to do?

Fortunately, the clerk had managed to reassemble enough of his scrambled brain cells to start functioning rationally, and led me back to the PO boxes; there he disappeared behind the scenes to see what he could find out. Which turned out to be nothing, judging by the question he asked when he finally resurfaced: “And you have nothing to do with this company?”

I suppose he was just double-checking, but why else would I have been complaining? No, I assured him, I had nothing to do with this company.

“Is it possible that you registered this company recently?”

No, I assured him I had done no such thing, and probably would have noticed if I did. My problem was that I was getting post that wasn’t actually for me, because it had the wrong box number on it, and no matter how many times I returned it, it just landed straight back in my box and I wanted it to stop.

“Maybe it’s not the same item; maybe it’s new post coming in.”

I pointed to the two large A4 envelopes he was still clutching. The brown one was new, I explained, but the white one has now been put in my box three times.

He capitulated. “All right, leave this with me. I’ll write them a note.”

I expressed the hope that this would be the end of it.

“Oh yes. After all, you did write on the envelope, so there’s no way it will be posted back to you.”

We shall see. This is beginning to feel like Groundhog Day.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I'd be interested to hear whether that really was the end of it.