Posted by: Marco | October 10, 2010

Postal, hmm, service

I have never shouted at a postal clerk before. Not until last Monday.

It all started when I had to pay a cellphone monthly plan bill for the cell phone that died 10 days after purchase. Without a French bank account, a French address, or French credit card, the phone company called SFR wouldn’t accept payment except by money order or wire transfer. I tried every means possible to pay this bill. Not wanting to give them any more information about me than necessary I opted for the money order.

Enter the Postal Service: La Poste. In our little town of Langensoultzbach, we have a post office. It is open 2 hours a day; either from 9 to 11 am or from 2  to 4 pm. On Saturdays, it is open from 9 to 11 am. Not bad, considering the size of the town. I went to La Poste on Saturday morning, just after buying a baguette and the local newspaper. As I entered La Poste, I noticed the post office was smaller than our rental apartment’s kitchen. Hmmm. I wondered whether they could process a money order (called “un mandat- poste” back in Canada). I pressed on hopefully. “Non, monsieur. Je ne peux pas vous offrir un mandat. Il faut aller à Woerth pour cela. Désolé.” Oh, well. Woerth is only a 3km bike ride away. The money order could wait until Monday.

On Monday, we rode our bikes to a Maginot Line bunker just outside the town of Lembach, a town about 5kms north of our village. While in Lembach, I decided to visit the small post office there. I asked for directions at the local bakery (do you see the trend?). The baker gave me directions but warmed me to hurry as the post office closed exactly at 5pm. It was now 4:45pm. We sped down the main street in search of the almost-closed post office. We walked through the door at 4:50pm. The clerk didn’t seem pleased to see me.

“Puis-je avoir un mandat-poste?” I asked, not certain that this post office could process money orders. “A what?” he barked. “Un mandat-poste”, I repeated. He looked baffled…and surly. I said, “You know, I hand you cash and you give me a cheque.”  A dim light glimmered, “Ah, un mandat!” Hmmm. This was not going to go well.

He glanced at his watch. It was now 4:53pm…seven minutes until closing. “You should come earlier if you need something like this. I close at 5pm.”  “Désolé”, I said, sincerely. He handed me the form which required me to fill in an address. I didn’t know the postal code of Langensoultzbach, so I asked him. Big mistake. “What do you mean you don’t know the postal code of the town you live in?” I explained that we were tourists and that we were merely renting a place. That didn’t seem to make things better.

Once I had filled in the slip, he started typing information on a computer. He needed my birthdate. He needed that postal code. And then, almost like magic, the computer crashed. His demeanor went from unpleasant to rude to angry. He started shouting at me for causing him to work late and that the machine would take 20 minutes to be up and running again and that I shouldn’t come when he was about to close.”

This is when I shouted, too. I said “You close at 5pm,  I came at 10 minutes to 5. When the doors are open that means you are open and you have to serve your customers.” I grabbed the money order and ripped it up. “I have never had such bad service. You can close your doors now, because I’m leaving to find a post office that offers good service.” With that Anique and Owen, who had been watching this exchange in amazement, and I left La Poste.  I was thoroughly exhausted with trying to pay this d*%@ phone bill.

The clerk will retire soon to a cushy pension, a reward for all his years of courteous service.

Carpe annum,


Epilogue: On Tuesday, we went to the Woerth post office, where I asked for a mandat and got one in 5 minutes. No problem.


  1. Welcome to Europe! This is an extreme example of many experiences we have had over there. There are lots of nice people but they tend to stand out in the crowd.

    If you want nice, friendly, and helpful go to NZ.

    • NZ is a little far from here. Maybe for the next sabbatical. 🙂
      This was really the only example of a BAD service. Mostly, we have had friendly and courteous help. The real frustration has been dealing on the phone or trying to get someone to answer a phone….when my phone is working, that is.

  2. When I was in Rome, I waited over 2 hours in a line at the bank. Once I finally got up to the teller, she closed her window right in my face, forcing me to go to the back of the next line, to wait another 2 hours.

    Frustrating then, but funny story now, as usual.

    • Luckily, this was a 10 minute inconvenience that we laugh about immediately after. 4 hours is a whole other story. I have easily wasted 4 hours trying to solve my cell phone issues. I now have a car rental payment problem – my visa card has been debited twice. I foresee hours fun and games trying to get my money back…:-)

  3. That made me laugh out loud. I had lots of similar stories. The funny thing is that at work I found the people completely frustrating but outside of work they were super nice and I had tons of great experiences. I am sure there is a great social/HR study to be done!

    Although I have similar experiences talking to Bell Canada……

    Keep the stories coming…

    • Seems lots of folks have had similar stories…we had several other replies. We have really battled the phone companies here also…SFR and Orange. They are set up so that there is really no way to contact them. I guess we have discovered why!!

      How are things at Nortel? Has Nigel given you any indication on where you might end up? Have any other logistics folks gone over to the buyers?


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