Visiting a post office has always been an exciting experience for me - as exciting as sitting on a cactus with cotton pajamas on and at the same time being spotted by the next door bull dog that sees me and starts chasing for no good reason. (Cactus or Bull dog - which is more exciting is a matter worth researching)
Have you ever visited a town post office in India?
It would usually be a large hall where everyone would be seated - from clerk to branch manager. Usually, the branch manager is the only soul who gets some privacy behind a cubicle. There would be large ceiling fans, and only half of them would be running, and they would create a nice orchestral music. The ones that are not running would have cobwebs and dust, implying that the last time they ran - it was Mrs. Indira Gandhi who was the PM.
There would be a separate counter in a corner to buy stamps - and for some unknown reason it would always resemble a cage, fully fenced all over, with a small semi-circular opening to transact with the clerk inside. I always wondered why this guy received so much security. Most times the counter would be empty. You can either try enquiring the nearby clerks the whereabouts of this guy or you can just bang your head in a wall nearby - both give the same result. Although sometimes, I have to caution you, it is a wise practise to stand on your heels and peep inside the counter really deep. The clerk might actually be sitting inside, almost invisible for outsiders.
In another corner would be the sticky table - a table with gum all over it, kept for public use. You can see people rubbing their fingers here and there on the table trying to locate a wet spot, and in the process the entire table gets sticky. And believe me, you will always find a wet spot. I've never seen people complaining that there is no gum left. They somehow manage to "extract" gum. Of course, there are others who wholely rely on their tongue for adhesive matters.
My experience with postal clerks too has mostly been not-so-memorable. Whenever I had approached them, they either hated me for disrupting their tea time or lunch time or wrapping-up time. And when I went on other times, the post office was usually closed. So, it has always been a challenging process.
In US, I understood that post offices can be extremely different - I mean, extreme in the other direction.
Clerks are too lovey-dovey here. They greet us as if we are entering a wedding reception. "Helloooo there ! How you dooooooing !". The first time I heard this - I thought it was some kind of joke - until I heard the same greeting in the nearby counter. It was like standing in the middle of fairy land. So good to be true. But then, I got used to this lovey-dovey-land, for I too learnt the art of greeting "How you dooooing !".
However, one extraordinary postal clerk stands out in my mind.
She is the "Happy Lady" (I just named her so), who works in the USPS branch (United States Postal Service) near our house. She must be in her forties. She is one of the rarest human beings I've seen in my lifetime. Let me narrate one of the many incidents.
A guy comes to her counter to buy few 42 cent stamps. With a blackberry in his hand, a blue-tooth in his ear, a big bushy moustache, a shining "minor" chain around the neck given by his father-in-law , a glittering gold watch, an ID card stuck to his shirt - well, I couldn't be wrong, he had to be a desi. She gives him a big smile with the usual lovey-dovey greetings, takes out 3 different sheets of stamps, lays them out neatly before him, and says, "Wow, look what we got! Lovely stamps...huh? Which one shall we go with? The pretty one with the US flag, or this gorgeous one with Christmas bells, or this really funny Santa Claus with Reindeer?" She blinks with all excitement, eagerly waiting for his selection.
This poor guy who had never bothered to take a second look at stamps all through his life - all of a sudden starts wondering if he has been missing something in his life, and starts looking at stamps a bit seriously. He thinks to himself, scratching his head, "What the heck! Why do I care what picture is on them? They are all the same price!". (I told you I can't be wrong, he is a desi)
She is not ready to give up. She adds, "Aren't they all lovely! My favorite would be the Christmas bells. Wow, I love those shiny silver bells... and see.. they even reflect the light from the fire place".
The guy is even more puzzled. "That is a silver bell?", he is wondering. Obviously, he hasn't been paying attention to the metal of the bell. "And where the heck is the fire place? Reflection? What reflection?". His brain is still catching up.
People in the queue look with eyes wide open - listening to this rare piece of conversation - and eagerly wait for his decision. It is clear that they didn't come to the post office planned for this. Now, this puts this guy under pressure. He is almost sweating.
She suddenly gestures as if she remembered something, "Hey guess what, I have some more stamps back there with snow flake and dinosaur pictures. Do you want me to bring them as well?".
Now, this definitely shocks him. If he doesn't act now, he might end up listening to how pretty the dinosaurs are. ("Look how cute the Stegosaurus is smiling! Look at his lovely rugged scales and claws!")
His brain senses the forthcoming danger, gets into the "fight or flight" mode, pumps all the adrenaline it can, and quickly rushes for a decision. He blabbers, "Err... anything is fine... I think... Christmas Bells... yes... lovely... shiny...fire place... please give that".
"That's great! You bought my favorite!", she shouts so happily and claps. Just when he thinks it is all over she comes back, "Now dear, how are we going to pay? You can give cash, or you can swipe your credit card....zzzzooom..in this slot, or you can just write me a nice little cheque or you can...". Well, he has already taken out cash, and hands over the exact change. As he walks to the door, I can see that he is still recovering from the shock.
Few minutes later, as I walk out of the door, I hear the Happy Lady saying to someone, "Wow, this cute package is going all the way to Wisconsin! That's a lovely place! I bet it is snowing out there, dear... isn't it? And I am sure Santa really needs a sleigh if he is visiting Wisconsin! Ha ha!". She laughs with real happiness (no faking), thoroughly enjoying her joke. Then she adds, "Would you like some stamps, dear?".
I quickly reach for the door. Different parts of the world; just how different can they be!