On Friday I decided to send a couple of Christmas postcards. Going with the theory that if you've written me, I'll write you. So I headed to the local post office. I stood in line for fifteen minutes waiting to buy stamps. When I finally got to the front of the line, I asked the (at most 25 year old) girl for stamps, for a certain number of post cards to America. Her exact reply was, "What?"
So I repeated my request, carefully pronouncing my words and mentally checking my grammar. Her response was, "You aren't speaking Russian! I don't speak your foreign language! You can't come to the Post Office and..." She was interrupted by her senior colleague, who said, "I understand him very well. He needs stamps for postcards to America."
It was slightly humiliating to have this Russian gal yell at me (and point) so that everyone in line could know that, yes, there was a foreigner in their midst who is a poor student of phonetics.
So I waited as the senior postal worker counted out the right number of stamps. I handed the younger postal worker a 500 rouble note ($20). Unsurprisingly, she asked, "Don't you have smaller bills or change?" I said, "No, this is all I have." She seemed to not believe me, as she refused to complete the transaction until I had looked in my pockets.
Having proved that I had no other money, she grumbled and gave me my change.
I then went across the street to the cathedral to buy the Christmas cards. After a couple of minutes, I finished buying my postcards and was headed for the door. I was stopped in my tracks by the babushka who had sold me the postcards. She said, "You shorted me 60 roubles!" Too say that I was embarrassed, wouldn't well enough explain my emotion. I, of course, gave her 60 roubles and apologized. It was really her mistake, but it was awkward none-the-less.
I headed home feeling sort of dejected.
When I got home I showed my hozaika (host lady) the post cards that I had bought. All she said was, "You need to buy envelopes."
I replied, "But they are postcards..."
"Of course! But not in Russia they aren't!" she said.
Now, feeling as though nothing could go right, I decided it would be best to seek my Russian girlfriends help in sending the cards (and in buying envelopes).
We agreed to meet at 1800 in the city center. Having finished writing all of the letters, I met her at the agreed time.
We headed to the post office. Sure as could be, the young, rude postal worker girl, from earlier that morning, was the only person on duty. So we waited in line for a time before the girl "helped" us.
My girlfriend asked for ten envelopes for America. The girl said, "There are only eight envelopes. Come back next week if you need ten." My girlfriend told the clerk that eight would suffice.
The clerk said that each envelope would be 8 roubles (32 cents). I said, "That can't be! They are normally 1 rouble!"
So my girlfriend asked the clerk if perhaps these were not the right envelopes. The clerk responded that my girlfriend knew less about the post office than her foreigner boyfriend. And that yes, these were the right envelopes.
The young clerk then sold us more postage, as I was now sending "cards", not "postcards".
So I began addressing the envelopes. When I completed addressing the envelopes, my girlfriend took them back to the postal clerk. Now an older woman was at the desk. She said, "These aren't the right envelopes."
I said, "That woman sold them to us" pointing at the young postal worker sitting at the end of the counter.
The young worker's reply was simply, "Oh! I forgot!" as she smiled.
It was at this point that I asked my girlfriend the Russian for "witch" (its "ведьма") . Having learned this new vocab word, I expressed my view that the witch at the end of the counter should have to pay for the new envelopes. My refering to the witch, as a witch, seemed to upset my girlfriend. I think that the demonic employee enjoyed it.
The elder clerk said that, because we had bought the wrong envelopes, we could simply cut-out, and paste-on, "Par Avion" stickers.
So the next ten minutes were spent cutting-and-pasting.
Having completed all of this, my girlfriend, again, took the letters to the elder. It was then that we learned that the younger clerk had also sold us the wrong stamps. I owed the post office another 7 roubles.
By the time the escapade was over, more than an hour and a quarter had passed in the post office.
What did we learn? Witches do exist. They work at the Vladimirskaya Pochta.
Russian customer service...