The Romanian post office is not the world's most reliable service. It is quite good at delivering mail within the country and often at surprisingly high speeds. It is also remarkably good (usually) at exporting post - a fairly large Christmas package sent to my parents' house a couple of weeks ago reached its destination in 6 days. But it really seems to have problem with mail coming in.
Postcards almost never make it to their destination - I have lost count of the number of postcards I have sent home when on some trip or other which have never made it. Is someone stealing them? And if so, why? Because they like the pictures? Is there someone, somewhere in Bucharest with my postcards and those of others like me plastered all over their apartment with which they attempt to convince visitors that they've either travelled very widely, or that they have loads of exotic wandering friends?
Letters, too, frequently go astray, and of the one magazine subscription I have from the UK, typically about one in four issues vanish. Parcels, though, never seem to disappear. This is quite odd, since I'm assuming the flaw in the system is that someone is actively nicking stuff (it can't all be getting lost - if it were there'd be a massive pile of undelivered mail down the back of someone's settee). Maybe, parcels, being parcels, and being eminently nickable are actually watched and are subject to greater outside scrutiny such that the odd light-fingered employee feels unable to siphon them off.
Perhaps it is this scrutiny that causes them to take so frigging long though. They never get here quickly. One box I received from the US took 10 weeks to get here from postmark to delivery. And it came by air, in case you were wondering. My guess is that it spent the majority of those 10 weeks in Romania, probably sitting in what I imagine is this dusty hanger in Bucharest called the parcel waiting room. Here, newly arrived packages, fresh off the plane and looking forward to exploring the sights of Romania - Bran Castle, Bucovina, the Danube Delta, Sighisoara, perhaps - are taken and asked to wait while a few minor bureaucratic details are taken care of. Their fresh faced exuberance at being in this fascinating foreign land is slowly ground into the dust as they become, with the passing weeks, increasingly disillusioned and bitter, offering up snorts of derision as new parcels arrive, eagerly looking forward to being let out in a few hours.
The Christmas presents that my family sent to us, for example, were mailed two or three weeks before I got around to sending one in the opposite direction, but somehow mine got there a week before their counterparts reached us here. Why, I have no idea. They did finally arrive though, all of them together, this morning. Maybe, there is in fact some kind of quota system whereby the sorting office in Bucharest waits until they have enough packages for a certain destination to make it worth bothering putting them on a train. "We have had this box for Miercurea Ciuc for months now, should I send it?" "Nah, wait until we have at least 5 packages for there before putting them all on together. You could easily spend 15 seconds sending that off on its own"
The really cunning thing is that you have to pay to liberate them from the post office. A little slip is stuck in your mailbox to let you know the box has come, and you must go to the Post Office and pick it up (as is quite normal in most places, especially those where a package cannot easily be left). When you go along, you have to cough up money to get it. This, I have to say, is much less usual. The sender has already paid a quite inordinate amount of money to his own post office to deliver this package to Romania, and that should be the end of the payment system. And in every other country I've lived (and I've lived in a fair few) it is. Not in Romania. Oh no. You have to pay the post office to collect the parcel. It's a great scam - I mean who's going to say no? "A birthday present for my daughter? No, you keep it.". I mean it's not like it's massive amounts of money - it seems to be a flat fee of 2.5 Lei per package (or 25,000 Lei as I still think of it, old-timer that I am) - but it's the principle of the thing. Perhaps that's why we never get any of the post cards: there's some office somewhere - the ministry of postcards - in which they all sit until such time as someone goes down and says "Have you got any postcards for me? And how much do you want for them?"
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