Going Postal

Several months ago, I needed to mail a book to a friend. Not having a plethora of packing supplies in my office, and being tight on cash at the time, I put the book in a box I had lying around from my last mail order, and taped it with scotch tape. It was a pretty shotty tape job if I do say so myself, but I figured I could reinforce it at the post office. I was running out the door to a doctor’s appointment, I had a headache, and I needed to get the box in the mail ASAP.The line at the post office was long. Like forty-five minutes long.When I finally got to the counter, the gentleman behind it — a sixty-something Chinese man — asked me if I wanted to send it First Class or Priority Mail. I’m the first to admit I don’t know the difference between those two, considering I only need to go to the post office about once a year. But I didn’t care if the book took two weeks to get to the east coast — it just needed to get there eventually. So I asked, “What’s the cheapest way to send it?” His expression changed and he looked annoyed. “What’s in it?” he asked.”A book.” “You can send it media mail for four dollars.” “Okay, I’ll do that. Do you have any packing tape I can use?” His expression changed again, this time to anger. “No, we do not have any tape you can use. The post office is a business and we can’t just give things away. There’s some over there you can buy for three dollars, but there’s none for free.” He kept ranting. “The post office loses money all the time on cheap mail and giving things away. If we don’t make money, we can’t stay in business and mail your letters.” His face was turning red. “This is a business just like any other business. You can buy the tape or you can send it like this, but we do not have tape that you can use for free. Nothing is free.”I listened quietly and threw in the occasional “okay…,” trying to slow him down and let him know I heard him. But he went on for what seemed like forever, and I had to stand there and bear the attack. What an awful man. So grumpy. How could he treat me like this? Doesn’t he know I waited in line for so long, and that I’m late for my appointment? I was all ready to buy some tape when he took the box out of my hands and tossed it roughly into the bin behind him. I was too shocked by the whole experience to argue.On my way out, I called my friend. “I sent you the book… but the box is barely taped, so I hope it’s still in it when it arrives. Long story. I hate the post office.”So why am I telling this story? Because this morning, I had to go to the same post office to pick up a package. The same man was behind the counter, and i froze with fear when I saw him. But he was helping a very quirky elderly woman in a red sweatsuit, and he was smiling. Laughing. “Do you need stamps today?” “Oh, yes! Please show me what you have! I love your stamps!””Well, we have the superhero ones. Have you seen these yet?””Oh, those are darling! Look at the detail on their faces. I hadn’t seen those before! Give me two books of them! What else do you have?”She probably bought five books of stamps, and made him feel incredibly important in the whole process. He had the biggest grin on his face, and kept laughing at her exclamations of appreciation. I was next in line. I marched up with a smile and started by asking how he was doing. He kept grinning and laughing and talking about all the stamps she bought. I think he literally skipped to the back room to grab my package, and you should have seen the beam in his face when he asked me, “Do you need any stamps today?”I smiled and laughed. “No, I’m still working through the last ones you sold me!” He didn’t sell me my last set of stamps. But he believed he did, and it added to his sense of pride in his sales. He straightened right up, smiled, and said, “Alright, you have a great day.”It’s amazing. Truly amazing. The effect you can have on people when you show them you care about what matters to them. I have a lot to learn from that quirky old lady. I wonder if she gives lessons.

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2 Responses to “Going Postal”

  1. Jennifer Says:

    Oh, wisdom… thy name is appreciation. It’s funny how we know this, and yet it is so much easier to get all offended at people. I have to go to the Post Office myself today (ugh) ~ I’ll take this lesson with me!!

  2. Stephen Says:

    I’m the first to admit I don’t know the difference between [Priority Mail and First Class]…

    Priority Mail is a scam. I can’t locate a link at the moment, but some postal watchdog group did an experiment a couple of years ago proving that First Class is sometimes faster, and almost never slower, than Priority. My experience backs that up: I don’t pay for Priority, but my First Class packages consistently arrive within 2–3 days, such that the only faster service would be Express (overnight).

    On the other hand, you can order Priority Mail boxes from the USPS website, totally free. The catch is that you’re supposed to pay for Priority service when you mail them — but who said you have to mail them? If you’re planning to move, or you just need some boxes for Christmas, get ’em the Matthew Lesko way.