Post Office: in any language it spells

Frustration! I’ve been in Hungary four months now, and I was starting to feel like I knew what I was doing. But then I had to go to … the POST OFFICE! Today started out to be relaxing after weeks of travel and presentations and exams, etc. Then I had to run an errand to the post office to send my German receipts via registered mail. I had found out ahead of time how to ask for that: “ajánlott.” So far so good. My first mistake was to go to the main post office. I went in what I thought was the main door, couldn’t figure out what line I was supposed to be in (all signs were in mystifying Hungarian, of course), finally got to a window and asked about my mission and found out I was in the wrong part of the building. This seemed to be where people were picking up mail only. I had to go outside and around the building to another office, where the signage was equally confusing. After waiting in a very long line for about 10 minutes, I decided it was hopeless. I didn’t want to wait 30 minutes and find out I was in the wrong line again. (Have I mentioned that I am not a patient person? A personal failing, to be sure!) So I went to lunch and figured I could go to the smaller post office by the university afterward.

That did prove to be a good decision, as there were far fewer people. I approached the counter and was given a form to fill out for the registered letter, and a pen to fill it out with. I moved over to the desk and filled it out with said pen, then turned to return it to the woman at the window, only to find that she had closed her window and departed. Unsure what to do with the pen, I left it on the desk and got in another line. I paid for the “ajánlott” with no worries, then asked in my broken Hungarian for ten postcard stamps. The clerk asked if I wanted regular or air, and I said air. This resulted in 3 stamps for each postcard and an airmail sticker; yep, more postage than postcard. There’s hardly room left to write! Paid for the lot, and went to leave.

Suddenly the first window opened and the first clerk started yelling at me, “toll, toll.” I wondered if there was another charge I was supposed to pay–was there a toll for using the post office, perhaps? I looked at her blankly, and by pantomime she finally conveyed that she was asking for the pen back. Ooops! I looked over at the desk in panic and of course, no pen. I apologized and tried to give her one of the pens in my purse as a replacement. No, she wanted the one that said “Fanta” (this wasn’t an official post office pen, as you can see). She would not accept one of the “gimme” pens I had in my purse. But she did let me go. So, when you are lent a pen in the Hungarian post office, even if it says “Fanta,” be sure to give it back. Actually I have to admit it reminds me of the frustrations we used to encounter when I worked in the bookstore in grad school. I do know what it’s like to have all your pens walk away, and I guess I should have tried harder to return it. We took to taping plastic forks to the pens at the registers, so that people would not just walk away with them. If I’d known how to say it in Hungarian, I’d have suggested that to her. I do wish she would have let me give her one of my pens.

Time will tell whether my registered mail gets to Germany, but I hope it does. The receipt has a number on it, but no website, so I am at sea as to how to check on it or how I will be notified that it was delivered. The receipt says many things, all in Hungarian. So I guess I’ll just email and ask the recipient to let me know. Speaking of being at sea, I did find out why it took my last postcards three weeks to get to the U.S. Yep, they apparently went by slow boat. Today I paid a bit more for the stamps for air (375 forints vs. 330 forints, or $1.30 vs. $1.15). So I guess last time I didn’t make it clear that I wanted air mail. I honestly thought all postcards went that way these days.

Okay, enough grousing for one day. I just had to get that all out of my system. I did manage to accomplish what I started out to do, and I will hope that my letter gets to Germany. And I don’t think I’ll have to go to the post office again before I leave–big sigh of relief!

If I am being completely honest, the real problem, I fear, is my desire for perfection. If I wasn’t so afraid of getting it wrong, I’d go ahead and try to speak Hungarian more often. (This goes back a long way for me. My mother used to say that I didn’t talk until I was more than two years old, but then I used complete sentences.) When I do use my Hungarian and people don’t understand me, it frustrates and embarrasses me. So if I don’t need to speak Hungarian, I end up not using it. Therefore, I haven’t learned as much Hungarian as I could. And that is my failing. So I’ll keep plodding along in my last six weeks here, and try to force myself to speak as much Hungarian as possible!

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