I love mail. I love getting mail. Postcards? Love em. Letters? Love ’em. Packages? Love ’em. Very little compares to the feeling of opening a potentially full mailbox. Even the repetitive disappointment of grocery circulars and credit card applications never dampened my enthusiasm.
What I have less love for is actually visiting the post office. After several harrowing trips back home (and expensive ones–I once spent $70 dollars mailing a Christmas gift. OKay, so I didn’t spend it–I was on commission for my mother–but I was offended on her behalf) I approach post offices with as much trepidation as I do mailboxes with delight.
However I believe that I have a responsibility to other people’s mailboxes, and if I want my mailbox to be full, I ought to do what I can to fill others’.
All that long buildup to say that two weekends ago I went to the Korean post office to mail a few packages and letters. A quick word about the Korean postal service: it’s INSANELY cheap to send parcels abroad from here. Roughly $7 a pop to send boxes to France and Oklahoma, and just a few dollars to send a very thick letter to Connecticut. So IF you want to mail something to a place Korean post regularly delivers, you’re golden.
That IF proved all too significant two weekends ago, when I came to the counter with three packages: one to Oklahoma, one to France, and one to the Republic of Georgia. The Republic of Georgia, as in the small but stalwart nation to the south and west of Russia. Which nation, sadly, no one at the Korean post office had ever heard of.
“USA? State?” hopefully queried the Desk Girl.
“No state. Country. COUNTRY of GEORGIA. Near to RUSSIA,” helpfully over-enunciated Colleen.
*Head tilt and smile* (Korean for “You’re obviously crazy, and I’m so sorry about that, but I still have no idea what you’re talking about”)
So then I drew a map on an address label.
“Look, see? Korea yogi. Russia yogi. Georgia near Russia. Yogi. YOGI.”
Eventually we figured out that the regular post does not go to Georgia, but that the package could be shipped there (“eventually” here meaning “with the assistance of three postal workers, Google, and the delighted security guard who took it upon himself to repeatedly insinuate that I was mailing all of these packages to my various boyfriends worldwide. Foreign women are so trashy”). By that point I’d run out of time and cash, so I decided to return the following week better prepared.
So this Friday I went again to the post office. When I walked in the girl behind the desk looked up, saw me, and cried “Georgia!” because that is my nickname there now. She was so happy to see me back, guys; I have never seen a civil servant more devoted to their job. She was CRUSHED when I didn’t mail the thing the first time around, and now that she had me back she was not. going. to let me go til that package was MAILED.
But. For the super extra special premium mail that my innocuous parcel warranted there were evidently special rules. The special rule? No food. Not even the handfuls of slightly-weird Korean hard candies I was using as packing material. Okay, no sweat. I was only sending those as filler, really, and because it’s always fun to see what other people eat. BUT. This was the kicker. Hidden under an innocent accessory was the ONE thing Leslie in Georgia actually wanted me to send her: ground nutmeg. One of the teachers here is retired Army, and he has access to the store on the base, so when Leslie asked if I could send her nutmeg for her American Thanksgiving, I knew Army Teacher could supply the wherewithal. And he did, and that precious spice was just inches away from being discarded like the toasted rice hard candy before it.
So when the Helpful Desk Girl and her Bloodhound instincts shoved the protective veil aside and unmasked the nutmeg, I kept a cool and nonchalant appearance, though inwardly I quailed. She held it up, wondering. “Food?”
I make the Korean sign for “no,” (forearms in an “x”). “No eat.” Technically this could be true since you DON’T just EAT NUTMEG. I mean COME ON.
“No eat? Not eating?” Was I paranoid, or did she sound suspicious? I decide to give them nothing.
“No, no eat.” She waits, clearly expecting me to say more, then shrugs and sets it aside to continue tabulating the remains of the rapidly dwindling care package. Every thirty seconds or so she picks the nutmeg back up and attempts to read it, finally turning again to me with a plaintive, “What is?”
It is at this point that I realize I am sweating bullets. I can’t help it, guys. Breaking the rules makes me all kinds of uncomfortable. I hate being In Trouble, and I can only imagine the contempt of the Korean Post Office if they only knew the shenanigan I was attempting to perpetrate. But Leslie’s Thanksgiving keeps me strong, and what I say next may or may not have been a miracle:
Her face clears of confusion, but only momentarily. “Health? for health? Not eating?”
I nod and repeat “Health. Not eating. Health.” Oh how calm I sound. I envy myself. Oh, that? that’s for health. It’s not even a big deal. You can do whatever you want with it. Burn it, for all I care, I’m THAT COOL WITH EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW.
Further box tabulation. This is a small box, people. We’re talking 5x6x2. It’s not like I can fit that much in there, even. Then to my horror I realize the Desk Girls are trying to GOOGLE the nutmeg. I breathe a prayer of thanks that the label is entirely in English, because it came from the Army base. No help there, Koreans!
Desk Girl looks up again. “Health…perfume?”
I nod. No matter what she’d said at this point, I would have nodded. Sure! Why not. Nutmeg health perfume. Exactly.
They are filling out the label. They are about to close the box WITHOUT THE NUTMEG.
“AH!” This from Desk Girl.
“I know! It is–is–AIR FRESHER!”
Yes. Air Fresher. It certainly is. I couldn’t have said it better myself. I appear to be delighted. “Air freshener! Yes, yes. Air freshener health perfume.” And as she writes “air fresher” on the customs form and slips the nutmeg inside just as the last strips of tape affix label to box, I take a deep breath and smile. These postal workers are just so helpful. AND now I have a purseful of hard candy.
As I walk out they call after me. “Ann-yong-hi ga-se-yo, Georgia!” Goodbye to you too, good buddies.