Did I get scammed? Because I’m an expat, a foreigner? I’m not sure. It was a sparkling spring day in Armenia, where once upon a time I sojourned for a good number of years as an expat.
How exotic is life in Armenia? Well, you tell me. It was an ordinary day and I was running ordinary errands, one of which was going to the post office. Just like you might do in Centerville, Virginia or Paris, France. Here’s the tale I wrote about that adventure:
Urgently Needed: Smiles and Excitement
Today I have a card to send off to America. Since the goddess of sunshine is shimmering her blessings over the town of Yerevan this spring day I decide to take a walk and avail myself of the services of the little post office in my neighborhood. My few words of Armenian should be enough, especially since the card is a simple piece of mail with the USA part of the address also written in Armenian. By me, yes. Here it is: ԱՄՆ. Interesting alphabet, right? It has 38 letters and to give you an idea what it looks like, here is the translation of “The Armenian Alphabet”: Հայկական այբուբենը. So there you have it. And in case you are interested, this alphabet was invented by Mesrop Mashtots in around 405 AD. Here a statue of the famous man:
But I digress! It is so easy to do when talking about alphabets, don’t you agree? So, onward!
The post office is a drab little store front room, but the women behind the small counter offer a bit of color. One is a matron with pitch black hair and neon orange lips, the other a younger type with bleached blonde hair and big lips outlined in dark red and painted in with a pale pink. They look at me soberly. I offer them a cheery barev dzez and they return it with unrelenting seriousness.
I slide the card in its square envelope toward them. “Amerika,” I say for good measure. I might as well just say it for the sake of making a sound. The older lady—the one in charge, I think—picks it up and studies it for a few moments, frowning in deep concentration. Then she shows it to the bleached chick who also studies it.
“Amerika,” I say again. They nod, acknowledging they understand. Then they study the envelope some more, talking to each other in grave, concerned tones. What could possibly be wrong? Have they never seen an envelope with an American address on it? I am mystified by their behavior. Fortunately there is no one else in the post office waiting to be served. Maybe I am the only one who’s been here all morning and they are making the most of it. Maybe this is the most excitement they’ve had today. It must be very boring sitting here all day with nothing to do but boil little cups of muddy coffee on a hot plate and stare at the sunny streets beyond the grimy window where everybody else is frolicking in the sunshine, or so it must seem.
Finally, after much pointing and discussing, the boss lady turns to me and struggles out a few words in English while pointing at the envelope. “Address here,” she says, pointing to the lower right hand side of the envelope. “Your address here.” She indicates my return address in the top left corner. I have no clue what she means. My return address is sitting nicely right where she is pointing. I nod, and point to it.
“My address, here in Armenia.”
She nods her approval, points at my friend’s address neatly printed in the middle of the envelope and then indicates the far lower right corner. “Here,” she says.
Aha, now we are getting somewhere. I, Miss Footloose, who has addressed thousands of cards in her lifetime—Christmas cards and birthday cards and Mother’s Day cards—and sent them from and to all corners of the planet without ever any complaint or problem…..
I have somehow failed to satisfy the Armenian postal lady behind the counter in this tiny post office.
What to do?
I can refuse. I can snarl my discontent. I can jump up and down in anger and make a scene. Yeah, well, life is too short. And my card would never make it to Amerika if I do. So I smile. There is a shortage of smiles in this room, and I have plenty. Then I offer up a helpless look, putting myself on their mercy. Do I have to go home and find another envelope and then come back again?
But no! Boss lady hands me a new envelope, conveniently available, points to the exact location for the two addresses and indicates a table behind me where I can fix the problem. Fortunately I do not have a plane to catch.
Not going postal in Armenia
Like a good girl I write the recipient’s address all the way in the lower right hand corner, as instructed. It looks quite silly, but who am I to make fun of this? I am a guest in their country. I’ll write the envelope the way they want it if that makes them happy. Happiness is nice. I’ve got lots of it and I’m willing to share.
I show the finished product. They both study it briefly and nod. They are satisfied. The boss lady tells me what I owe for the postage. And for the envelope—she taps it to indicate I have to pay for it.
I have to pay for the envelope. I feel a tickle of suspicion, shame on me. Have they just craftily scammed me by saying I hadn’t addressed my own correctly? Or were they just messing with me to have some fun? Nah.
I pay. I smile. They smile, which is not nothing.
I walk out into the sunny spring morning, walk down the street, laughing out loud to myself. People are staring at me. I’m a crazy lady.
* * *
I love ‘little’ stories about minor incidents in expat life. Not all adventures are major crises or calamities. Tell me one of yours!