You’ve got mail? In Slovakia? Ah, lucky you, you’re edging closer to your spiritual awakening. You’re in for a real Zen Buddhist exercise. Start chanting your Dharma mantras before you enter the building. It’s usually painted a bright yellow. I believe this color induces meekness. Although yellow is also a dominant color in roary casinos so this might not be entirely true.
In front of you there are almost always long rows of stooped old people. By old I mean old enough to remember Tiger tanks passing in the streets.
Apparently old people get a lot of mail. Pen pal greetings from Okinawa (people get very old there, in part because they keep their brain elastic by learning Slovak to write old people in Bratislava), thank you cards from Jewish families they used to hide in the garden shed anno 1943, obituaries, and drawings from grandchildren all over the world, because Slovaks emigrate to get better postal services.
Over here people still go to the post office to pay bills, not everything is so automated as in Belgium for example.
When I go I usually take along my imaginary companion Poke A Honda. She’s half British, half Vietnamese, but studied in India and the South of France, she loves tea and meat pies and dresses better than Anita Pallenberg in her prime. To pump herself up before she makes a dance to the post office, she dances to Clean Bandit by Rockabye.
The old people usually ignore her, because, well, she’s imaginary, but they do look at me, because I start to look kinda drugged with impatience like a not so clean bandit, kinda like this:
It’s also never quite clear who’s part of the queue and who isn’t, because some of these people mistake the post office for a kaviaren, which is a Slovak coffee house, and those creaking (the bones) chatterboxes (the toothless mouths) go yap, yap, yap yapping away.
When it’s finally my turn I have either been shoved in all directions, poked in the ribs with a walking stick or -worse- those pointy sticks for langlaufing some of them carry around till way into late Spring.
Nothing can prepare me for what awaits me on the other side of the yellow divide though. If you want to add pictures to the wikipedia article about either sloth or burnout then please hurry this way. I know these people don’t even earn mildewy peanuts, but the speed at which they move makes you wonder if you’ve accidentally had the wrong kind of hubova polievka (mushroom soup). Their speed is one thing, but the expression on their face has been copied from an execution squad on a particularly drab day.
One of these diligent clerks has smiled at me once.When she saw on my Slovak identity card that I’m a foreigner and wanted to sell me some kind of mobile phone deal that lets you call international numbers -supposedly- cheaper. What for? I know you are transported to the 1990’s as soon as you venture across the threshold of a Slovak post office, but I have skype. I try to explain the concept of skype to her, but the clerk claims it’s more comfortable to call on your mobile. Yeah, maybe it’ll give me something to do when I’m waiting around in the post office, but still, I respectfully decline.
I go there near daily, because I order books through Amazon. Little yellow papers arrive and I have to take those to these bunker like structures where piles and piles of packages arrive.
I call up Poke A Honda (I mean, I create smoke signals on my balcony, she’s sort of old fashioned in some ways) and we go. She orders shoes online, so we are post office buddies. You need a support group for this kind of enterprise.
When it’s finally my turn -which always coincides with the point at which Poke A Honda comments that I should shave my beard- I slip the yellow papers under the glass frame. The glass frame is to prevent certain uncivilised individuals from spitting in the faces of the clerks in an impolite effort to instill any accelaration in them.
The lady dissapears and Poke A Honda looks at me with her smoldering ember eyes. She has the manners of a someone brought up in a strict boarding school somewhere in India, but when the lady doesn’t come back after five minutes she’s considering this kind of scene:
Instead she calms her nerves by dancing to this little tune:
And it’s good this is happening only in my imagination because sexy moves like that can still get you banished from the Slovak Republic for inciting men to hormonal upheaval.
The lady behind the counter reappears and gives me a hateful glare. One of the yellow papers is ripped and she can’t locate the parcel. I grab Poke A Honda tight with both arms because her long nails might even penetrate the glass divide and I start singing this song to soften the clerk’s bureaucratically frozen heart:
She instantly promises to turn the place upside down in the most frantic manner if I only stop singing, so I do, and in less than a minute she’s back with my copy of The Confederacy’s Postal Service (1861-1865), a failed nation that -seriously now- had a fully functioning postal service even though the country was entirely in ruins.
In all fairness, Slovakia went through the most disruptive kind of changes in a relatively short period of time. The stifling yoke of communism has been lifted for less than 30 years and it’s not realistic to expect the same quality and speed in services as you have in the west. And all in all the whole ordeal has a certain charm. IF you’re not in any kind of hurry, that is.
Ok, perhaps this was gibberish, but it relaxes me after a day of teaching and now I’m going running. Poke A Honda does not run, so I’m running with Cannot Eat Onions Before Running.