“Neither rain, nor snow nor gloom of night (I added “nor flat tire”) stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”
George Carlin also had some interesting things to say about weather.
I had heard that mantra often when I was growing up, and it was usually in connection to my mother’s rationale as to why the mail carrier sometimes trudged through several feet of snow to deliver our mail. It turns out that the U.S. Post Office has no such official motto, and that noble creed is only found on the New York General Post Office building, and it was inscribed there by one of the architects of that building from the works of good old Herodotus. Remember him? It goes back to 500 B.C. and the Persians and their network of mounted couriers. Yes, the dauntless delivery of the mail goes back that far.
In France, La Poste is a system that subscribes to that principle of heroic inclement weather delivery service. But La Poste has only been around since 1988. That’s not to say that that is when mail delivery began in France, but that is when the current development of the organization of les facteurs (postmen) commenced. Before that there was the group PTT (Postes, Télélegraphes et Téléphones), the French public administration of the postal services and telecommunications, and it is a name that some (older) people still use. It was split into La Poste, now the second largest employer after the government, and France Telecom. The original Post borrowed its name from the Italian Posta and began in 1760 to serve Paris (la Petite Poste de Paris). Later, other villes followed suit, and by 1829, even les petites villages started receiving mail delivery.
There is a big central mail processing center in Grenoble, but the brunt of the delivery falls upon les facteurs who deliver primarily on leurs vélos (their bikes). All across town, I come upon this fleet of sunny yellow-painted bicycles with their front baskets, rear packs, and side panniers. They can be seen traversing all kinds of surfaces including snow and ice-covered sidewalks. Over 400,000 km are covered on bike per day by postal workers in France. I think that they are doing their part in lessening pollution. But, I’m not sure what they do about flat tires.
La Poste has undergone some transformations of late, evolving into a place not just for mailing packages and letters. In January 2006, une filiale bancaire (a retail bank) was developed called La Banque Postale. You can bank, borrow, invest and insure yourself there—a French version of the Guinsu Knife. Their motto is “Customers first, and the Bank Second.” (I know, not very catchy, but if you’ve been to France, it’s a step in an interesting direction.) They have 9.9 million active customers throughout France, making them one of the largest banks here. With their numerous convenient locations, unconventional French hours (they are open on Saturdays), and less expensive service rates, they garner a lot of business.
Another transformation is the service at the post itself. In recent months, the buildings were renovated, and the focus is on customer satisfaction and image building. When you enter the post, you are greeted by a customer service person who is stationed in the lobby and who has often helped this French-language-challenged person mail her packages and letters. I will say, though, that the price is not cheap. I sent our daughter, Beth, some fluffy bulldog slippers for Christmas for which I paid 10€ and cost 20€ to ship! They have also gotten into bureaux-boutiques that offer mailing products, such as envelopes, mailing boxes, and collector items. Interestingly, there is also a museum in the 14th arrondissement in Paris. Looks like La Poste Musée would be a good field trip for the philatelist or history buff.
La Poste doesn’t stop at the business of delivering the mail and serving as a bank to French residents. They have also involved themselves in the support of La Route du Rhum,a transatlantic single-handed yacht race, which takes places every four years in November and was last run in 2010. The course is between Saint-Malo in Brittany, France, and Pointe-à-Pitre in Guadeloupe, France. It runs a total of 3,510 milles marin international (one mmi = 1,852 meters). The embedded link tells you much more than you want to know about the magnanimity of La Poste. Click on “La Banque Postale” in the headings. I guess even in France there is hype.
When I wander through the streets, I often come upon lone bicycles, propped up on the side of a building sans bicyclistes. I sometimes photograph these seemingly abandoned vélos (bikes) outside a brasserie (café). Where are their riders? They are on pause-café (coffee break) No. They are not stressed by their jobs!
*In the United States, the USPS delivers mail by bike in only three places—Sun City, Arizona; St. Petersburg, Florida; and Miami Beach, Florida. Not much chance of snow there. By the way, mail moves extremely fast in France.
pause-café: coffee break