Wednesday 21 October 2009

Going Postal in Greece

The phrase “going postal,” for those readers of this blog unfamiliar with American culture, has its roots in a series of violent incidents by United States Postal Service employees. The most serious of these occurred in 1986 on Oklahoma, in which 14 people were killed and several wounded. In popular vernacular, “going postal” refers to someone who, goaded beyond his endurance, breaks out into violence.

It’s a feeling that anyone standing in one of the seemingly interminable lines which afflict Greek public administration is familiar with. The last time I visited the Geraka post office (ELTA), there were literally 30 people in line, served by 2 postal employees who, while making every effort to be helpful, probably would have lost a footrace with a snail.

And yet, yesterday, Christine and I had an experience in the ELTA Post Office at The Mall which contradicts all previous experience. We visit this branch often because (a) it rarely has more than 2 people waiting in line; (b) parking is easier; and (c) there are convenient outlets of Cosmote (for paying bills) or Eurobank (for other transactions) right next door.

Yesterday afternoon we were sending brochures for a training/consultancy programme I’ll be delivering in Cyprus on November 10-11. There were 57 envelopes to send; each envelope cost precisely 1.42, and required four stamps: 2 x 50 cents; 1 x 40 cents and 1 x 2 cents.

To my vast surprise, after watching Christine and me struggle with the stamps for about 5 minutes, two of the three staff in the room came over and started to help us separate the stamps from the sheets, stick them to the envelopes and prepare everything for mailing.

I was astounded. This was a simple, spontaneous act of kindness which one sees all too rarely in the public sector. As a result, we were finished in about 20 minutes rather than the 40 minutes it might have taken.

Unfortunately, besides my profound gratitude expressed at a personal level, there is probably no chance these employees will be rewarded for their effort. “Customer” feedback is, as far as I know, unknown at ELTA. If anyone knows of any way for me to send a formal letter of thanks to ELTA, please let me know.

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