A post on La Poste; not terribly exciting perhaps when I still have stories about Operatic restaurants, journeys to remote parts of the French Confolentais countryside, and the fact that another Bébé Têtard is due next March.
I’ve just returned from a trip to the post office, and between here and the supermarkets, I find it a good way to observe Parisian cultural behaviour in ordinary everyday mundanity.
I say mundane, but I’m usually guaranteed of seeing a little drama unfolding every time I pop out. I went quite early to La Poste, hoping it would be quieter, but it was as busy as any other time. With only two people in front of me, I thought my chances of a quick go and return were good; however there was nobody manning the desks, and all the staff had changed (they like to swap them every few months). The woman in front of me had a small jiffy bag, and found a staff member to whom she started giving some serious grief about how she was going to send this without using Chronopost or Collisimo (expensive, French postal services that La Poste like to enforce upon people). After five minutes somebody arrived at the desk to serve the lady in front of me, but then in walks an old lady who looked like a Hollywood wind effect fan had been switched on permanently in front of her face. All the old people seem to have plastic surgery here; I prefer wrinkles and white hair – you can never really cheat the effects of time, and even if you can postpone the aesthetical for a decade or so, I think it’s good for the soul to have a more carefree, devil-may-care attitude. Anyway, this woman obviously thought her noble upper-class birthright granted her privilege to jump the queue, and so that’s exactly what she did. The staff member behind the desk had disappeared again for some time, and the middle aged guy behind me started mumbling and ranting under his breath (which happened to be down my ear) about having waited ten minutes already.
I had a big item to send recorded, and plenty of stamps to buy, so I knew he wasn’t going to be a happy chap when it came to my turn! Indeed, when eventually I got served, and he saw I had much to do, the cursing started again. Then Bébé Têtard started throwing an almighty tantrum, filling La Poste’s auditorium with cries that reverberated throughout, and this in turn simply exasperated the man’s impatient rants further. The staff member looked totally stressed out, and asked for his patience, as I took Bébé Têtard out from his pushchair and tried to appease him. I made it out eventually, but with another white hair to add to my head.
Incidentally I do have the magical ‘carte pro’ available to somebody with a business, but the dedicated desks are rarely manned. They do allow you to “jump” the queues at times, although in some post office layouts, it does give the appearance that you’re jumping the queue without authority. One woman tried to have a go at me when I first moved to Paris, but I just waved the magical card: ‘Carte Pro mam, step back’, and felt her scolding resentment upon the back of my head as she slithered back into line.
One of the worst incidents of impatience at La Poste happened a couple of years back, when two pompous business men in suits got fed up of waiting in what was a long queue. They raised their voices to such a level that I could feel the spit of one chap on the back of neck. They started yelling about taking court action against the staff, and all sort of ridiculous stuff that didn’t seem to impress anybody, though they seemed to think they were speaking on behalf of everybody in the queue. Then one of these guys barged his way through the card stands sending them flying, and started hammering his fist down on the desk, shouting abuse at the postal workers, who reacted with indifference. Just after my turn had finished, rather than going to desk when their turn arrived, one of the guys picked up a set of prepaid envelopes and declared he was taking it as compensation for his lost time, then walked out, without paying.