Monday, June 24, 2024

And just like that, the Mexican post office strikes again!

Mailing a package with Mexico’s postal service is always an adventure. You walk into a Correos de México post office with a box properly addressed and ready to go, confident you will get in and out of there quickly.

“You want to mail this?” asks the post office clerk.

“Well, yes, of course!”

“Sorry, it’s not wrapped.”

“Not wrapped? It’s taped!”

Mexico's Postal Palace
The postal service’s main office in Mexico City, known as the Postal Palace, opened in 1907. Mail service here often seems stuck in that era.

“Tape is forbidden. You need to use wrapping paper and string.”

Six months later, you walk into the same post office with a box wrapped in brown paper only to discover that wrapping paper is out, string is no longer allowed and tape is in.

I once walked into a post office in Jamaica with a coconut, upon which I had stuck an address label and a stamp.

“Sorry, this coconut needs to be wrapped.“

“This coconut has already been wrapped by Mother Nature,” I replied, “No box could give better protection.”

In Jamaica, I actually managed to convince them to send my coconut au naturel, while in Mexico, I don’t think I’d have a chance. However, what I need to send by mail here is not coconuts but books.

The first few times I mailed off a book, it was in a sturdy brown envelope. No problems with tape, wrapping paper or string; off went my envelope without a hitch. Then one day, I walked into our local post office, ready to send another one.

Disculpe, what is inside this envelope?”

Un libro [a book].”

“Very sorry, señor. A book cannot be mailed in an envelope. You have to use a box.”

While I appreciated Correos’ concern about the fragility of books, I found I now had a problem.

A check of several shops suggested that nowhere in Guadalajara could I purchase a box close to the size of the book written by my wife Susy and me: Outdoors in Western Mexico. All the boxes were much, much too big.

As a result, I became a box maker, handcrafting custom-made boxes for people in far-flung places who, for some reason, wanted a book about hiking near Guadalajara — with the understanding, I should add, that the book would take at least a month to arrive … about as long as it would take a burro to carry it to the border, I calculated.

One day, something unbelievable happened. We received a book from a friend, sent from right here in Mexico — via Correos, mind you — and it was in an envelope! Off we went to the post office, envelope in hand, where we were told, “You are wrong. This book is not in an envelope, señor, it is in a sobre acolchado (bubble-wrap envelope). Con esos no hay problema [those are not a problem].”

“It makes perfect sense in Correo-speak,” I told Susy.

So ended my box-making career, happily, and our next book went to the post office in one of those “non-envelopes” lined with bubble wrap.

This time, however, we were told that the price of sending books had suddenly increased. “It will now cost you twice as much,” the friendly clerk told us, “but you will be happy to learn this new price includes tracking.”

The book had been sent on February 9, so the next day, I fired up the computer, went to correosdemexico.gob.mx and entered the tracking number.

internet meme about Mexico mail
The postal service’s reputation for slowness is the subject of several internet memes. This one says, ‘Me waiting for my package from Correos de México.’

“No information can be found about this item,” was the reply. At the right were options, including one for “online chat.”

“OK, let me see if I can chat about this,” I said to myself. So I filled in all the boxes on my screen with the requested information and pressed “send.”

Instantly, everything I typed vanished.

I tried again: same result. But then I noticed a tab saying, “I would like Correos to call me.”

Although I was by now exasperated, I was still plenty stubborn, so I typed in my phone number, and this time “send” worked.

Now comes the part you may not believe: exactly one minute after I pressed “send,” our phone rang, and, yes, it was an employee of Correos — it really was! — asking me to explain my problem. Once I got over the shock, I told my story.

“When did you send your package?” asked the Correos rep.

“Yesterday.”

Paciencia, señor. It takes two days for the data to enter our system.”

“So I should check it tomorrow, Thursday?”

Bueno … mm … better if you check it next Monday.”

I did and got the same old “no info” message, not only on Monday but also during that entire week and the one following. There was no sign that my package had ever been mailed. However, 13 days later, on February 22, the tracking site suddenly announced that my parcel existed and was now in Mexico City. Hallelujah!

Unfortunately, from then on, the website tracked the book lying around in Mexico City all the way until March 5, when it finally went off to the United States. Then, after only four days in the U.S., the book was delivered to the addressee in Oklahoma. Time for another hallelujah!

So my package took a full month to go from Jalisco to Oklahoma, and, thanks to tracking, I know that it spent 25 days of that month languishing south of the border.

Recently, the number of volumes in our series of books increased to three, just a wee bit too heavy and bulky to squeeze into an envelope, no matter how many bubbles it has. So we were forced to go back to using boxes … but should we use wrapping paper, string or tape?

We decided to go to the post office with all of the above, figuring we surely had every angle covered, but that’s when we ran into … the Abbreviation Sanction.

It all began when the Correos lady pointed to my name in the return address. It said, “J. Pint.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked.

letter carrier in Mexico state
Don’t blame this Mexico City postal employee for your slow delivery. She’s just an innocent letter carrier.

“My name,” I replied, puzzled.

“Your name is jota [the word for the letter J]?”

“No, it’s John.”

“A-ha!” she cried like a cat pouncing on a mouse: “¡Una abreviación! ¡Está prohibida!”

“Abbreviations are not allowed?”

“Of course not; you have to rewrite the whole thing again.”

All this struck me as odd, but the next time I took a package to the post office, I double-checked the return address to make sure that it had no abbreviations of any kind. This time, however, the Correos lady pointed at the label showing the addressee.

“What’s this: Charlotte, NC?”

“Charlotte, North Carolina, but NC is the U.S. Postal Service-approved, two-letter postal code, whose use is obligatory in the U.S.A.”

Por favor! This is Mexico! How do I know NC is not Corea Del Norte [North Korea]?”

“Gulp!”

With that, the wily señorita had put me in my place. I certainly wouldn’t want my books going off to Charlotte, North Korea!

Addressing my next package, I tried to avoid abbreviations which, I soon realized, lurk everywhere, not unlike the masked superhero The Shadow. Some are so familiar that we hardly think of them as abbreviations: Mr., Dr., Jr., but, I am sure that not one of them would escape the eagle eye of Correos!

So, here’s the reality of mailing a package in 2022.  Imagine you want to send a missive to the following address:

Mrs. R. Bumstead

1622 UNESCO St.

St. Pauls, NC 28384

USA

Kim Jong Un altered photo
‘What am I supposed to do with these?’ If you use postal abbreviations, who knows where your package may up — maybe Korea, said one Correos de México clerk.

Be prepared to rewrite this address as follows:

Mistress Rhoshandiatellyneshiaunneveshenk Bumstead

1622 United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization Street

Saint Pauls, North Carolina 28384

United States of America

In my mind’s eye, I can see that package being returned to sender by the U.S. Postal Service with the admonition: “Address too long! Please use abbreviations!”

However, paso a paso, step by step, I am learning all the requirements, prohibitions and various tricks involved in sending a package via Correos de México.

Yes, I know just about everything, except the name of that infinitely patient, slow-walking burro that apparently still carries our mail all the way up to the border.

The writer has lived near Guadalajara, Jalisco, since 1985. His most recent book is Outdoors in Western Mexico, Volume Three. More of his writing can be found on his blog.

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