Bravely Resisting Irrelevance

10 Jan
Nottoman

Nottoman: This is not an ottoman. It's a chest of drawers. But you probably would have believed me if I'd said it was.

The Post Office is a bit like an Ottoman. An ottoman is an item of furniture named after a formidable past empire, but much like the Ottoman Empire itself, not too many people know what it is. One suspects that mention of the Post Office might soon also be greeted with ‘What’s that?’, and if you do find yourself able to remember what a post office was, you might find yourself wondering what it ever was for.

I just got back from the post office, which means that I’m cross. They have a long history of making me angry. I mailed a CD to my brother as a birthday gift, which they left lying around in the foyer of his communal apartment block. He found only the wrapping. I tried to import The World’s Coolest Fly Zapper TM for my birthday two or three years ago, and they first notified me that it had arrived FIVE WEEKS after they received it, 10 full days after they had returned it to sender. Their resolution of my complaint is still pending. My parents made my daughter a birthday poster last year. I’m not sure what it was like when it was in one piece, because being too big for the mailbox they merely tossed it into the garden and my dog utterly shredded it.

Then today… I went in last week to get a quote in preparation for today’s visit. I supplied accurate weight and dimensions. I brought a sample to demonstrate what was needed. I got the quotation and left happy for once. So today I brought the parcel in — having received payment already from the buyer — only to be told that it is too long. After expressing my disbelief, the post-office man explained that it is absolutely impossible for the post office to mail something longer than 1 metre (my parcel is a cylinder of 1.1 m in length). He assured me that there was nothing that could be done, because they can only take parcels with length and girth ‘of a maximum of 2m combined’, which is the world’s unclearest way of saying 1×1 m.

Remarkably, that immediately suggested a way around the ‘nothing can be done’ issue, for which I have Pythagoras to thank (or at least the guy who invented triangles), because by putting my little cylinder at a slight diagonal, I pointed out that it would increase the width slightly, but decrease the length. Post-office man said, “I understand what you’re saying, Sir,” not understanding me, “but the parcel can only be 1 m long, and yours is 1.1 m.” So I drew him a little diagram that looked like this:

Being a visual learner, he got my point this time. So excited by my suggestion, and so eager to make their catalogue of mistakes right by providing extra-mile service, he said, “OK, but then you need to put it in a 1 m box.” Because I obviously have those at home. And he sent me away.

If my industry were facing irrelevance, I’d be putting a whole lot of time into innovation and service, so that people don’t actively go out of their way to find solutions other than me. Congratulations to the South African Post Office for standing around like a dinosaur watching a meteor shower.

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2 Responses to “Bravely Resisting Irrelevance”

  1. Ingrid January 10, 2011 at 5:37 pm #

    Oh how I wish I would have been a little fly, there at the post office, to listen to you explaining the slight increase of width with the slight decrease of length… oh how I wish… 🙂

  2. Ingrid January 10, 2011 at 5:39 pm #

    …oh and I know what an ottoman is, although in French we slightly evolved the name and it is now called a ‘pouf’ (pronounced ‘poof’)

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