Excuse me asking, but are you planning your summer holiday yet? And if you are, are you considering coming to my lovely adopted country, Spain? If you are, might I give you a small word of advice? If you are planning on sending postcards home – and even in these days of digital communications, a postcard is lovely – please, remember to buy your stamps in the same place as you get your postcards!
No, I haven’t gone mad. There is a reason for the advice! You may well be surprised to learn that here in Spain you cannot buy stamps in the Post Office. Or the supermarket, for that matter. In fact, if I am quite honest I generally avoid the Post Office (“Correos”) at all costs.
Why? I think it may have something to do with the name. In Spanish, the post office is Correos. Not, you will notice “the” Correos. Simply, Correos. It stands alone. Thank God. The Post Man (or I suppose, in this politically correct age, I should say Post Person) is also Correos. I have no idea what the Spanish for Post Box is; it doesn´t matter in the least – I haven´t found a single post box in our town anyway. Not even outside the Correos itself.
And that is symptomatic of the whole problem with Correos.
Even if all you want to do is post a reply paid envelope, you have to actually go into Correos to do it. And stand patiently in a queue; none of this “Could I possibly just hand this in at the counter” business in our Correos, thank you very much!
We all got quite excited a couple of years ago. Notices went up. A machine – you know the type; take a ticket and wait your turn – was installed. Was it possible, we wondered, that Correos might be about to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st Century? Well, no. The notices are still there, although now sadly faded. The machine is still there, together with the counter announcing the next number (ominously, this has room for three figures). But to date, nobody has yet got around to putting any tickets in the machine, so it is still normal practice in our Correos to hover anxiously, keeping a careful eye on anybody slipping in behind you and trying a little nefarious queue jumping. Not that anybody would ever try it twice; they would be very lucky to survive one attempt, never mind about two.
Which brings me to the point of the affair of the stamps. Another strange thing about Correos is the fact that they do not sell stamps. That´s right; the Post Office doesn´t sell stamps. Don´t even think about asking for them in Correos; it´s not going to happen.
Some weeks ago, I stood behind a German lady who was trying to buy a book of stamps in our Correos. Her Spanish was excellent, but as the conversation between her and the man behind the counter started to go round in circles, I could see she was beginning to think she had slipped into some obscure language. Icelandic, possibly.
“Good morning. I want a book of stamps to send letters to Germany, please.”
“Ah. You don´t sell stamps in books. Just three stamps, then, please.”
She looked around helplessly, as if to check that she actually was in Correos. No, she hadn´t wandered into Mas y Mas, the supermarket next door, by mistake. She returned to the attack.
“These are just normal sized letters. I need stamps for them.” She added hopefully.
“We do not sell stamps.”
I could see her mouthing his words to herself, as if ensuring that she actually understand correctly what was being said.
“But you are Correos!” She burst out in disbelief. The Correos official inclined his head fractionally.
“We are Correos.” He said proudly. “If you wish to post a letter, you must bring it to us. We will then weigh it, and frank it. But we do not sell stamps.”
He sat back with folded arms. As far as he was concerned, the conversation was at an end. The German customer turned away, a broken woman.
And that is absolutely typical of Correos. I hate going there. Anything too big to get in the narrow slot to our buzon box results in a note to pick it up from Correos. You have a limited time to collect, depending on the type of mail. A single day outside the limits, and the item is returned to the sender. And it´s no good, no amount of begging or pleading will persuade Correos to give you a clue as to what the item was, or who it was from. I know, I´ve tried. They simply do not keep a record of returned mail, and that´s all there is to it. So go away and stop bothering them.
And our Correos really would prefer to speak Valenciano. Valenciano isn´t, as many foreigners assume a Spanish dialect. It´s a language on its own. It does have elements of Spanish, but there is also French in the mix, and – I´m fairly certain – something approximating Italian. Especially when it´s delivered at break-neck speed, I find it totally indecipherable. It could be – may well be – Welsh, for all I understand of it.
Now, Correos know perfectly well that very few foreigners can come to terms with Valenciano. Politeness forbids them from speaking to us extrangeros in the language, but it never, ever prevents them from chatting amongst themselves and to fellow Pegolinos in Valenciano. In fact, “chatting” is completely the wrong word for it. They have intense, lengthy conversations, punctuated by much arm waving and laughter. Often, the Correos official will break off to have a long conversation on the ´phone; in Valenciano, of course. I swear I can see them giving us ex-pats in the queue sideways glances; they are probably taking bets on which one will break and walk out first.
So there you go. If you fancy spending quite a long time getting very frustrated, I can recommend a trip to the Correos ….