Of the many daily frustrations encountered by expats living in faraway places, none is more absolutely appallingly confoundingly bizarre as the mystery of international mail.
In the US, we are all used to the rites and rituals of collecting and sending personal mail. It’s relatively simple. Lick the envelope, slap a first class stamp on it, drop it in the mailbox, and it will be in the hands of your addressee in a matter of a couple days.
With some minor differences, the postal system in Reunion is the same. Yet, don’t forget that Reunion is part of France, so strikes, nonsensical business hours, and general capriciousness are all fair game for unexpected delays. Refer to this December post for evidence.
But what happens when the two systems collide, when they are forced to interact with each other, dare I say, cooperate on deliveries between them? This is the aforementioned “mystery of international mail”.
Here are some examples of my correspondence with the outside world via post. (All mail from Reunion goes through Paris.)
REUNION –> MAINLAND FRANCE takes under a week.
VERMONT –> REUNION takes 2 weeks for letters and packages of all shapes and sizes.
REUNION –> VERMONT normally takes 2-4 weeks for postcards, or 6 weeks if you are a very important acceptance letter to a summer employer.
INDIANA –> REUNION takes 3 weeks for letters, 5 for packages containing Christmas gifts.
REUNION –> INDIANA averages 2-5 weeks for postcards and letters.
PERU –> REUNION took only 14 days.
REUNION –> PERU took just under a month.
REUNION –> YEMEN never made it.
These are the curious little inconsistencies that make mail an ongoing adventure. But don’t we have to wonder where exactly our mail goes when it “goes” across oceans? Why do some things inevitably take weeks longer to get somewhere? What differentiates a speedy letter from a lethargic one? And what happens to mail just never shows up?
In general, I have it good. Friends of mine in other parts of the world have long since given up on mail to or from their respective countries.
Right at this moment however, French postal workers are on strike citing discontent with the “general dehumanization” of their service. Sorry, but get over yourselves. I think we can all agree that the mail is still a very “human” process. If there were fewer humans involved (especially French ones), our mail might actually get places efficiently.
No offence, Alex Blair. I’m talking more about France than the US.
Anyhow, here’s a song to remind us of all the humans in postal uniforms around the world. The song is about the guy on the Mafate route in the interior of the island where there are no roads and villages are accessible only on foot. Warning, French/Creole ahead.
One last little curiousity this topic reminded me of: Saint Expedit, the patron saint of Reunion. I promise it’s related to mail.
According to Wikipedia:
Saint Expédit has a significant folk following on the French island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean. Stories about the origin of his veneration there follow the typical formula: a mysterious parcel marked with expedit arrived as an aid to instill pious virtues in the people. However, another version of the story maintains that Expédit acquired his name through his expeditious help in placing vengeful curses. Decapitated statues of the saint are often found, the defacement inflicted in anger for a request not carried out or in order to break an existing curse.
Road-side altars dedicated to Saint Expédit can be as small as a box containing a small statue of the saint, or as large as a hut, containing multiple statues, candles, and flowers. In all cases, these altars are painted a bright red. Also common are ex-votos thanking Saint Expédit for wishes granted and favors received.
In Réunion, the cult of Saint Expédit takes the form of a syncretic cult, mixing Roman Catholicism with other beliefs from Madagascar or India. Saint Expédit is a popular saint, revered by Reunionnais regardless of age or religion. It is difficult to say how many people visit the island’s ubiquitous altars, since the worship of Saint Expédit is considered taboo – people do not generally visit the altars in the open. Even so, the altars are widespread on the island and obviously well-tended.
Apparently they were unfamiliar with “expedited” mail.
And that, my friends, is how far away Reunion Island is (from both the rest of the world and from rationality) but I still love it.