Friday, 6 December 2013

A Canadian postal poser

I try to keep a positive attitude towards the task of sending out the Christmas cards. After all, it's an opportunity, right? An excuse to reach out to friends and family... I keep telling myself this, as we receive fewer cards, and more emails, and as the cost of wishing people well rises inexorably.

So, part of the process is working out what stamps I will need. Generally, I write and send cards according to the distance they have to travel, starting with Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore, then England, then the States, then the West Coast of Canada, followed by the Prairies, and finishing with Ontario and the very few cards we send within Hades. This year, I drew up the list, counted the stamps left over from last year, and worked out the five-cent and ten-cent stamps required to cover the rise in price. Then I figured out the rest according to category, wrote down the figures, and made my way to main Post Office where they seem to be particularly congenial and more importantly, actually seem to know what's going on.

I smiled brightly at the lovely lady and explained I would need three five-cent stamps, four ten-cent stamps, three packages of overseas stamps, about a dozen US stamps and six packages of Canadian stamps. She offered a choice of Christmas designs for the US and Canadian packages, but nothing for the overseas stamps. I was disappointed but said nothing as Christmas designs often sell out early.

A few days later, I was in a coffee shop setting about the business of addressing envelopes. I started with the overseas addresses first and did a double-take. I had three packages of over-sized stamps. Oh, the stamps were the usual size, but the postage ($1.34) was not the $1.85 I need this year for destinations that are neither in Canada nor the United States. I was nonplussed. For one thing, I'd never encountered these kind of stamps before and wondered what on earth I had said to receive them.

It took me a few minutes to figure out what had happened. Nearly everyone I encounter who works at a post office in Hades is francophone. Fluently bilingual of course, but francophone by birth. Somehow, this lady misheard "overseas" as "over-sized", mainly because the stamps are officially labelled "international". I think of the "international" rate as "overseas" because anything sent between Canada and the US is also international, right?

I made another trip to the post office and explained the problem to two bemused and amused old hands (fluently bilingual francophones, of course). One of them cocked his head to one side and mused: "Hmmmn. Overseas. Over-sized. Overseas; over-sized... I can see it, I guess."
"I should have said 'international'," I sighed.
"Foreign!" laughed the guy, who looks like he plays in a Beau Dommage cover band at the brasserie on weekends.
"Well, the US is foreign, too!" I pointed out.

The other guy made me produce my receipt (understandably) and some ID (rather more mystifyingly), then carefully worked out the price difference before picking out three packages of --- "International!" we chorused, pointing at each other for emphasis.

As I pocketed the stamp-books, it occurred to me that this was probably something that could only happen in Canada. Still didn't get a Christmas design. They had just sold out.

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