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Hungarian Post Office

Dangerous men in front of the Parthenon

Dangerous men in front of the Parthenon

I’ve navigated the post office in other countries before. That being said, the parcel I sent home from Crete, heavy with already-read books, souvenirs, clothes I can’t use and filled notebooks, has still not made its way to my brother in the three weeks since I sent it.

It’s the notebooks that worry me. Sorry about the souvenirs, guys, but it’s only the notebooks I care about. The t-shirts that say “Greece!” the coasters in the shape of Minoan artifacts, the erotic playing cards, are almost not worth the cost of shipping. But the notebooks…oh, those are a loss, brothers and sisters, an immeasurable loss. Never again will I send a notebook by poast.

My Greek was much better than my Hungarian is. The first post office I try says they can’t help. At least, that’s what I think they’re saying, but it’s hard to say for sure. They direct me, as best they can, to another post office a few blocks away, one capable of sending parcels, I guess. I find it after half an hour and frequent consultations with the map. I’m already behind schedule for the day from the moment I get into the office.

Two things abour this post office: they seem to sell lottery tickets and candy bars in addition to the usual fare of stamps, post restante mail, and passport photos, so it’s somewhat busy with a crowd of desperate lottery addicts in need of their daily fix. It’s also populated by people younger and more attractive than me, and some are even better dressed, wearing only the most casual suggestion of a postal uniform, a slight white button-down t-shirt they somehow manage to wear ironically, like rock stars.

After a few minutes wait, I say “parcel” in Hungarian to the girl behind the counter, who is so attractive I’m convinced she’s danced for me in a strip club somewhere. She points me to another window. I say “parcel” again and point to the laptop backpack that has been doing duty as my portable bag, and is now fraying at the edges under the strain of the unfair load I’ve demanded from it. This clerk points me to a wooden door, a sort of side room to the little lobby you have to ring a bell to be buzzed into. I fear I’ve done or said something wrong, and I’m being led into some secret compartment where I’ll be tortured for information.

It’s just another clerk, who looks at me from behind his perspex security glass. Why this guy gets his own tiny compartment, I have no clue. It’s getting close to 11am, I’ve got elaborate plans to actual see some museums today, and the 38 degree heat is starting to make me edgy. I managed to explain what I need, and he hands me a flat box, which he slides awkwardly through a slit in the perspex.

The box is one of those origami designs that are supposed to fold up into a container so secure that even the most sullen mail carrier can’t destroy. However, I’m absolutlely terrible at these sorts of things (Spatial Imagination: FAIL), and besides, the size of the room we’re in is only slightly larger than the box itself, and it looks as though you might need to fold the contraption in N-dimensional space in order to make it work.

“No good!” I scream at the guy behind the counter. “You need at least four dimensions in order to get this thing to fold properly. I only have three!” At least, this is what I try to say, but only manage “Fold-no possible-is Klein-bottle-like N-space dimensionality” in Hungarian. He patiently tries to explain how to fold the thing using a blackboard and some Lorentz Field translations, but of course he’s behind the Perspex and can’t just fold the damn thing for me. Finally, I leave the tiny cubicle to try to fold the box in the lobby, which has more elbow room.

But the lobby has since filled up with lottery addicts. I manage to get the box folded, only to discover that its somewhat smaller than the bag I want to ship home. Desperately I try to jam the damn thing in there, but to no avail. I go back to the clerk, buy a larger box, try to remember the steps I used to fold the first box (Up, up, down down, left, right, left, right, A-B-A-B select start). The exertion of struggling with the box has worn me down, and I’m sweaty and gross from the heat. Finally, the bag is in the box, which is securely fashioned shut. I get back in line, go back to the only clerk who speaks any English, and try to explain that I want to send it to the US.

A problem arises on the issue of the return address. I don’t have one. He shouts “hotel” through the Perspex again and I try to explain that I can’t remember the name of the damn hostel, much less its address, it was just the third one I tried at the end of a long night. Good luck explaining that one. We stare at each other. I try to ask him if he can just put down the address of this post office. No comprende. We shout at each other through the glass, trying to come up with solutions while we’re both getting more frustrated. Finally, I pull a map out that has the names and addresses of some hotels. I put one down at random and he takes the parcel.

I try to pay with my credit card, and he asks for the pin number. “It doesn’t have a fucking pin number,” I say wearily. “It’s a credit card.”
“Have to have pin number to pay.”
“Oh for fuck’s sake,” I hand over my ATM card and use the pin for that, hoping they’re not going to charge me some ridiculously usurious fee to complete this transaction. The cost comes to about $75, at which point I realize it makes no sense to ship any of this stuff home. But I’ve come this far, goddamn it, and I’m going through with it. I pay, we both breathe a sigh of relief that the transaction is over. As I put the receipt in my wallet, I see the small business card I took from my hostel, complete with name and address.

Oh for fuck’s sake…

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