Falkland Islands Museum & National Trust
The historic heart of Stanley
So, you want to post a parcel?
Written by good friend of the Museum & National Trust, Mr Colin D Young
There is nothing like facing the full force of Argentine bureaucracy to give you a strong sense of thankfulness for the speed and efficiency of our own Post Office. I am sure that anyone in the UK or the Falklands - even with a poor command of English — can send a parcel overseas with a minimum amount of time and trouble.
That this is not so universally was brought home to me rather forcibly in Buenos Aires when I was returning from the Falklands in the late sixties. I wanted to post a parcel home, it was not a large parcel nor was it a heavy one, in fact its basic contents were some good clothes the combined weights of which raised my suitcase into the airline ‘excess baggage’ category. So rather than abandon these articles I wrapped them up with some second—hand but nonetheless serviceable paper and string and bore the resulting parcel off to the nearest post office.
The man behind the counter there looked scornfully at my wrapping, said it would not do, and directed me to the official post office ‘wrapper-upper. This gentleman enveloped the whole thing in a large sheet of brown paper which was secured with yards of thick string and lots of lovely little red metal seals. This service cost 100 pesos. I then returned to the counter and was duly told that I could not possibly post my parcel in a post office but would have to go to a special department in the customs which was only open at certain times of the day. As it was now too late for me to go I let the matter rest till the morrow.
The following afternoon, having located the correct building, I wandered in and presented my parcel at the postal counter but was chased away to the customs section where I took a numbered ticket and joined the queue.
On reaching the head of the queue my parcel was seized and weighed by a small man (no. 1) with a Hitlerian moustache and a manner to go with it.
There was a breakdown in communications here as he wished to know whether or not the contents of the parcel were new and I was not apparently using the correct word to transmit this information. He started to raise his voice more than a little and eventually took a razor blade to my parcel, slashed off all the string, hurled it behind him and dug into one corner like a terrier at a rat hole. This established to his satisfaction that the contents of the parcel were indeed old and he issued me with a form describing the contents as ‘personal effects’. He then shovelled the debris of my parcel across to me and gestured violently in the direction of man no. 2 who seized the form, stamped it and snarled at me to hurry up.
By this time I was rather put off but man no. 3 came to the rescue and solicitously re—wrapped the parcel in a neat cloth cover which was carefully sealed - man no. 4 came into action now and weighed the parcel, explained to me exactly how to address it with indelible pencil and despatched me to the correct desk in the postal section with my parcel and form.
Here I met man no. 5 who was very pleasant: he provided me with two more forms to be filled in and even lent me his pen to do it with. One form was the usual international type but the other was about a foot and a half long and required the inscription of many names and addresses; so many in fact that I had to have two shots at filling it up.
I was then sent to a hole in the wall to meet man no. 6 who weighed the parcel - for the third time — and said it would cost five hundred pesos. I paid up and he stuck lots of lovely stamps on the foot—and-a—half-long form, practised his English by saying ‘very good’ and sent me to see man no. 7.
I now felt I was making good progress as was physically a lot nearer the exit and it seemed that all that was necessary was enough stamina to get round all the postal officials in Buenos Aires. However, my hope was short lived. I handed the parcel to man no. 7, who was also the last man in the chain, and he weighed it, of course, and after reading one of the forms demanded a ‘certificate de disinfestation’ as the clothes in the parcel were not new. When I stuttered out that I had none and did not know I needed one he thrust the forms and parcel at me with great contempt and peremptorily shouted for the next victim. All further attempts to communicate with this specimen were unavailing as he was a master of the brush off technique.
At this stage I felt like tearing up all the forms, throwing them in this horrible man’s face and running out of the building in a flood of tears, but the prospect of wandering around South America with this damn parcel hung around my neck like a dead Albatross was too much, and anyway I had paid for my postage.
Fortunately man no. 5 called me over to see what the problem was and listened sympathetically. He suggested a return to the customs department so I trudged dejectedly through and man no. 3 now asked me what was amiss.
On hearing my tale he said — “Oh tell him you made a mistake and they are new”. No sooner said than done, man no. 5 thought this was a great idea and gave me a new form and a seat to sit upon while filled it in.
Fortified by the conspiratorial attitude of his colleagues I once more approached man no. 7 and handed in forms and parcel with a brazen face. He spluttered at great length about discrepancies between forms and called man no. 6 who looked over his shoulder and made sympathetic noises. He also winked at me so do not think man no. 7 was very popular with his
fellow workers. The parcel was however accepted with a few more glares and snarls and I staggered out into the bright light of day. The whole operation had taken one and a half hours.
Strange to relate the parcel reached its destination.