08 April 2010

Language and Culture at the Post Office

Today I was very proud of myself.  I felt quite accomplished.  Why?  You might ask.  Well, I'm going to tell you...

We received a package slip yesterday in our mailbox.  Package slips always bring us great joy because we love getting packages.  Here's the process to which we have become accustomed:

1.  Receive package slip in tiny mailbox.
2.  Fill out back of slip.
3.  Walk 30 minutes to post office or ride bus 15 minutes to post office.
4.  Wait.
5.  Have lady finally find our package and sign a bunch of papers.
6.  Return home.
7.  Enjoy contents of package sent with love.

Now we know that it's very important to whom the package is addressed.  We have learned to ask people to please put both my name and Thomas' name in the address so that either one of us can pick it up.  The ladies at the post office are very strict about this. It doesn't matter that we're married or that there is probably no other person with the family name of Slawson in their passport living in St. Petersburg, if my name isn't on the box, they won't let me within 10 meters of that package.

So here's what happened today:

1.  I filled out the slip that had Слоусон, Т on the front (which would stand for Thomas' name), knowing that my name should also be on the box and thinking from past experience that there would be no problems.
2.  Strolled with Isaiah to the post office--a new one for us, which is much closer!  Less than 10 minutes later I found myself in a newly renovated post office, waiting in line.
3.  At last it was my turn, and here's where it gets interesting.  I shall now turn to prose style for the conversational effect:

I told the girl working at the counter that we received a package and gave her the slip with my passport.  After looking at everything for a few minutes, she said that she couldn't give me the package because my name started with a K (in Russian), not a T as was written on the slip.

Yes, I realize that.  That is for Thomas, my husband.  But I know my friend wrote my name on the package, too.  Please go look at the package.

She left a little disgruntled and returned, I can't see your name.  The package is closed.

Look, I know my name is on that box, please go check again and look at the package.  What do you mean it's closed?  Look at the address.  The address isn't inside the package.

She returns with her supervisor.  I at this point I had texted Thomas to tell him I was having issues.  I then had the same conversation with the supervisor who told me the package was closed and she couldn't see my name.  Thomas calls and asks to talk to her.  She explains to him that since my name isn't on the slip or on the package that I can't pick it up unless he comes and fills out some form that will give me permission to pick up his packages for the rest of the year.  She hangs up on him.

While being forceful but amazingly still keeping my cool, I ask one more time for her to please just look at the address because I know that my friend put my name in the address, too.  She leaves in a huff saying, I'll show you the bag.

Bag?  What bag? I think to myself until she returns with the box wrapped up in a great big white bag tied with a zip tie that has a tag attached to it with Слоусон, Т clearly typed on the outside.  She seems victorious and is about to dismiss me from her presence.

Then I realize that I can see through the white bag and detect the label where the address is clearly typed out.  I ask her to put the bag on the counter, and I show her through the bag where my name is clearly typed out for all the world to see.

At this point, the most amazing thing happens.  Rather than getting even more upset with me, which is what I feared would happen, she got mad at the Moscow post office people (or whoever it was that initially received the package and tagged it improperly), and she became my friend, laughing and joking with me.

I realized at that moment that I had begun to learn how to "work the culture".  Rather than just getting upset and confused, I stood my ground and was able to stay calm and prove my point.  Her final response to me was the best part.  I hadn't soured her for future interactions.  In America I probably would have been perceived as incredibly rude and demanding; but in Russia I was doing what was expected.  The trick for me is to keep the balance in my temper.  Not having grown up in this culture, it is very easy for me to get personal in such situations, but Russians really do't take it that way.

So, I left the post office with a package and a spring in my step and excitedly told Thomas about my victory when I got home.


Cheryl (Copper's Wife) said...

Yeah for you!!!

schupack said...

wow, great work! I'm pretty sure i would have lost my cool

lsak said...

Yay for you!!!!

Shannon said...

Great Job!!!

Vanessa Greer said...

how in the world could you see your address through that jumbo sack?! Praise the Lord for helping you keep your cool and yet not get pushed around!

simplebeauty said...

I love this story! Just love it!! It helped explain my sister in law to me just a tiny bit better. Sometimes she says things about theology or politics and I take them so personally (b/c they are to me) and she just blow is off! It's the culture thing!

I'm trying to catch up on blogging but I think I will just be playing chase with it all Spring long. Our weather in Kansas is lovely! And my sister in laws mother is coming from belarus to see her new grandson :O) So I get to meet her and I'm so excited!

Blessings to you and your family!!