Thursday, June 26, 2008

Do you tip your postman?

So one day, not long after I moved into this building, I got a note, telling me I had something at the post office, and that I should come get it. Visions of sugarplums or at least a care package danced in my head, and off I went. Not to the post office, per se, but to the post office offices. I stuck my head in the door, saw a giant carrel-farm and found a woman standing in the dingy doorway of about a 15 X 15 room full of boxes. Sure that my mother had unexpectedly sent some US-based delicacy to me and that it was just then gathering dust, I waved my piece of paper in the air, and asked the woman if she could find my prize.

About ten minutes and a lot of box shuffling later, she emerged from the grimy package room empty handed, and somewhat apologetically. No package. What about under my middle name, I suggested? (me only having one last name has led me to be called Mrs. Barbara (my middle name) on more than one occasion.) Back she went into the room, and she came back again, shaking her head no.

Curious. Why would the postman come all the way to my house to leave me an index-card-sized piece of paper correlating to a nonexistent package? We puzzled it over, the woman and I, until a teeny 20-watt lightbulb went on over her head. Into the carrelfarm she went, paper in hand, and she returned with a flat envelope bearing my mother's handwriting, the words proudly block-lettered in English "PHOTOS, DO NOT BEND." And they did not. But then again, they also did not deliver.

So the woman handed me the envelope, and I looked at it. I said to her, I don't mean to seem ungrateful, but why do you suppose that this envelope, which clearly could have been slid under my door or placed into my pigeon-hole mailbox would be here at the post office office and not at my apartment?

Silence. Then words.

Well, she asked... Have you tipped your postman?

me: What?

her: A tip, extra money, some pesos. Have you ever given that to your postman?

me: I don't even know who my postman is, I've never seen him. I'm supposed to tip him?

her: People usually do. You're supposed to pay him for every piece of mail he delivers.


Okay, this is new information. I was not aware that the postman worked on a piecework basis. I thought he was a government employee with a salary, and then he, you know... delivered the mail. I seldom receive mail, since it is widely believed that a courier is a better way of sending correspondence within Chile, and any bills I get normally come by courier, if not by email.

But I'm game, and far be it from me to stand in the postman's way of having a decent standard of living.

me: How would you suggest that I tip my postman?

her: You could give the tip to him when you see him.

me: But I never see him. I live on the sixth floor of my building and he leaves the mail at the front door. Plus I work.

her: What about your nana (maid)?

me: I don't have a nana.

her: (incredulous that a foreigner sweeps her own floors) Could you leave it with the concierge?

me: Ummmm, he's not always there, and to be honest, I'm not sure how much I trust the guy to give the postman the cash.

her: Well then, I don't know.

me: Let me ask you something. Is my mailman going to hold every piece of mail I get hostage until I start tipping him?

her: I guess it's possible.

Then a dim 20-watt lightbulb went on over my head, and I took out a 500 peso coin (about a dollar these days).

me: Can I give this to you, and then you give it to him?

her: No.

me: What about if you leave it in his carrel? I could write a note. Then he would know it was from me and deliver my mail in the future.

her: Not possible.

me: What if I go to his carrel and leave it there?

her: Can't be done, you're not allowed in there (pointing to the carrels).

me: So what you're telling me is that the system is set up so that every time I get a piece of mail, my postman will ferret it away here in the carrel farm until such time as I miraculously find him and leave him a tip, and I can't leave him a tip unless I see him because you can't leave this coin on his desk, and neither can I, not even as a special exception to the post office office rules?

her: that is effectively the case.

So I said thank you, took my 500 pesos and bought a diet coke and enjoyed the walk home looking at my beautifully unbent pictures of my then five-year-old niece.

I've checked with several other people who live here in Chile, and they report that yes, you're supposed to tip your mailman and that yes, it's tricky to find him when you live in an apartment building and that no, I shouldn't worry about it too much. Which I mostly don't, but then I saw this post guy today in the little plazuela by my house and I thought of the six pieces of mail I've gotten in the past two years and felt slightly guilty. And then I drank another diet coke. It's a vice.


Anonymous said...

No wonder the companies prefer courier service! I have never tipped a postman. I was reading some tipping site for the US and found that I'm very deliquent. I've never tipped our maintence people, the postman, or delivery people. We did tip our movers because they asked for a tip. We are just not that smart, I guess.

Anonymous said...

Previously, the postman delivered the letters in your hand and you gave him for Christmas a pair of socks, Mr postman was someone very dear before internet, and now do not expect much, or accounts under his door. because Mr postman buy their own socks, a 3 per thousand.

Anonymous said...

How wonderfully, annoyingly Chilean.

Re 'la nana', when I first moved into this building, everyone kept asking me who I was going to get to clean. I don't know who was more surprised. They were horrified I was going to do it myself and I was equally appalled that they thought I wasn't capable of cleaning a small one-bedroom flat by myself.

Abby said...

My consjeres tip the postman for me and then charge me on my gastos comunes. They give them 60 pesos per piece of mail. I was really impressed with this system, because it's so efficient and so, well, un-Chilean. I asked if I could leave more of a tip, and they said I could tell them how much but the standard is 60 pesos. Also, I could tell you this in 10 minutes when I meet you for lunch. Haha.

chilena said...

It's not right and it's not normal here in Chile that the postman holds the letters if you don't tip him! Just so you know...
It's true you are supposed to pay a small amount per letter, but what people usually do is to agree on a monthly amount, and the postman usually charges you every 3 or 6 months. That's when you live in a house and actually see your postman. When you live in a building it's more complicated, since the concierge gets the mail. Sometimes the postman leaves you a little receipt to remind you, along with your letters, but even if you leave the money for him with the concierge, I'm not sure he'll actually get it... So I think postmen have just given up in the case of buildings.
In any case, not delivering the letter is unacceptable (and strange. I had never heard of it); the woman at the post office was wrong. That's only supposed to happen when the letter is certified. In that case, you have to sign for it, so if the postman doesn't find you at home, he leaves a note for you to pick it up at the post office. Could it be that since the envelope had photos, it was sent as a certified letter?
If not, that shouldn't have happened. The postman HAVE to deliver it anyway. It doesn't matter if you have tipped him.