Mister postman look and see
Is there a letter in your bag for me
I been waiting a long long time…

So many days you passed me by
See the tear standing in my eye
You didn’t stop to make me feel better
By leaving me a card or a letter

…or my insurance card, or my enrollment papers, or my international SIM card, or the letter from my mom, or my Amazon package, or my debit cards, or anything else, for that matter.

This morning, I decided to make good use of the beautiful fall weather by teaching a lesson, then running to the post office to demand answers (I’ve pretty much given up on demanding my mail by now), then running back home to teach another lesson, then filling out a missing mail claim (a two-page, carbon-paper form that has to be filled out separately for every single missing item, which wouldn’t be a big deal if “every single missing item” didn’t mean “every single piece of mail I should have received since moving to this country”).

 ~*~*~*~*~* AN INTERLUDE *~*~*~*~*~

Things Russia Does Right:

1. Mail.

I once encountered a website full of humorous, fictitious Russian book titles. One of my favorites, of which I unfortunately can’t find a picture, was called Around the World in 80 Days: A History of Mail Routes between St. Petersburg and Moscow. “But wait,” you protest, “this is a list of things Russia does right.” And to you I say, Exactly. Russians know that their mail system is completely ridiculous, so they don’t use it. “But don’t their grandmothers send them birthday cards?” I have asked Russians that very question, and the answer is no. They send e-mails. Because Russians know, and I am learning, that the fewer people you trust to help you get things done, the likelier it is that things will actually get  done. While a birthday e-mail lacks the poetry of a birthday card, a birthday card lacks delivery, which pretty much trumps all.


Ok, back to Germany, the land of a very effective propaganda machine that has spent decades crafting a totally undeserved reputation for efficiency and organization. Since I have gotten here, I have received exactly one piece of mail, and it only arrived because because I had it addressed to my roommate instead of to myself.

For my current predicament to make sense, you need to know how German apartments work. They have large apartment buildings with an entrance for each stairwell. Each stairwell has a street number, and within each stairwell is a row of mailboxes. There are no apartment numbers; instead, you write your name once on the doorbell and once on your mailbox. Then, theoretically, the mailman, who rides a yellow bicycle with yellow saddlebags, can come in and drop your mail off.

The enemy may seem innocuous, but don’t be fooled. Under the fluorescent, weather-proof exterior lies the power to ruin absolutely everything. 

I wrote my name on the mailbox about a week ago, but failed to write it on the door (the paper is under a cover that I didn’t know how to remove). I figured that didn’t really matter unless I had guests, since the name on the mailbox provides all the information necessary for the postman to, you know, do his job.

Unfortunately, this is a land where “all the information necessary” and “all the information required” are different, and ignorance of this fact often has devastating effects. This is how I found myself at the Hermannstraße Post branch, inquiring after my mail. Here’s what I discovered:

Exactly one delivery attempt will be made. Always.

If the mail is “undeliverable” (I take issue with the use of this word, as it implies that an honest effort was made. “Undelivered” is more like it), it will be sent to a holding center in Hessen. If the mail has a tracking number, and if you fill out the two-page document, it is sometimes possible to retrieve the package. “If it was sent with a tracking number, you can put that number here, but whether it ever turns up or not…” the woman behind the desk shrugged.

If your mail does not have a tracking number, there is nothing you can do.

If you do not know that you were supposed to receive mail, there is also nothing you can do. There is no notice that a delivery attempt was made, and there is no way for you to request that information.

I asked the employee if she was joking. She said she was not.

She handed me the form. I asked her if I could report all of my missing items on one form. She said no, and asked me how many I needed. I said five. She raised her eyebrow. I glared back, left, and somehow managed to lose the forms on the way home, which is fine, because I don’t know any of the information on the form other than my name and address anyway.

And that is the story of how, after significant stress and personal expense, nothing happened.

The observant (and probably liberal-arts educated) reader may at this point be thinking, “But Kate, you made a mistake. You started a list before and then stopped after just one item.”

That wasn’t a mistake. I was finished.