Magnificent Ruin

Sending three postcards out of the country, …


… that is the plan.

I enter the post office. A friendly women helps me to get the right ticket from the machine. Then I wait for my code to appear on the board that rules the hall.

My turn. I walk to the assigned counter and face a woman that looks serious and seems somewhat annoyed by my presence, but otherwise remains silent. My Italian is negligible, so I state my request in English and hand over my cards to make my intentions self-evident.

She takes the cards and checks them, one after the other. Well, the side with the picture on it. For each card she takes about two seconds. Is she assessing their worthiness? Finally she flips the cards and takes a long look at the other side, the one with the address.

She ponders for a while, looking at her computer screen. Then she slides the first postcard through a mailing machine, and drops it into a slit at the side of her desk. She ponders again … same procedure, … and once more.

She ponders for a while. Then she speaks for the first time. A single-digit number. Her tone suggests that it has been the result of considerable consideration and not a combination of standard pricing and simple math.

I hand her the money.

She refuses to take it. Instead she points at a tray that is part of the counter and stretches over its whole length. I took for ornamental what now appears to be crucial for the transaction. I drop the coins. She takes them.

“Arrivederci!” Her words sound rather harsh, and she immediately turns to her screen, the money still in her hand. I feel slightly offended. No use of a cash register, I notice. Then I hear myself say “May I have a receipt, please?”

She looks at me, apparently incredulous that I haven’t disappeared into thin air. I elaborate in English, and then try some Italian. While I talk she does not move, not a muscle in her face.

Two seconds of silence.

“Arrivederci!” she says. An exact repetition of my first dismissal.

Getting angry? Being amused? Considering the stakes I settle for amused … and leave.

It happened in a major post office with about eight counters. Is it a cultural misunderstanding, or is it the echo of the Venetian Republic drowning? … Is it my own ignorance?

A few days later in another post office. It is the same procedure but a smile and a friendly gesture make all the difference. This time it feels right.

It’s the little things that confuse.

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