The Search for a PO Box

Since moving to my new place last year, I discovered quite early a need to rent a post office box.  Where I live, I don’t have an actual mailbox, so anything that comes usually ends up at some point or another at my landlord’s store across the street.  Though I haven’t seen my phone bill in about 9 months, that’s usually not a problem.  When I had to order about 30 books for our summer class, though, things got… tricky.

The post office sends a notice (called an aviz) for every single package that comes.  An aviz is small, easily-lost, barely-identifiable, and often illegible.  Sometimes they would end up in my landlord’s store…  Sometimes they would make it to me from there…  Sometimes, they would… disappear.

It doesn’t help matters when you’re ordering from Book Depository.  Book Depository is seriously awesome.  They deliver books worldwide without charging for shipping.  But… they send books out individually, one at a time.  One.  At.  A.  Time.

This doesn’t work when you’re ordering about 30 books.

And it doesn’t work when the post office writes a small, easily-lost, barely-identifiable, often illegible notice to tell you a package has arrived… for every single one of those 30 books.

And it doesn’t work when every single one of those 30 notices for those 30 books only sometimes arrives at your landlord’s store and then only sometimes arrives at your own door… at some unidentifiable point in the future.

I had a few weeks of headaches trying to track down books and still ended up with a number of missing titles.  (But in the end Book Depository was super helpful, returned the money for the missing books, and even refused to charge me for a few because of all the trouble.  So, cudos to merry old England!)

This is why I started to look for a post office box to rent.  I’m sure this adventure will some day end happily, but I’m still in the process of discovery right now.  To better illustrate my adventure, below is my step-by-step guide to the procedure, not at all intended as advice but rather as a description of how things have occurred.

1. Find the word for “post office box” in Romanian by going to Google translate.  When it gives you such suggestions as “post box office” and “cutie po”, ask your bilingual Romanian friend instead.

2. When your bilingual Romanian friend tells you “oficiul poştal” be polite and don’t tell him he’s wrong.  You know very well that this word means “post office,” and there’s no way you’re going to show up at the post office asking if you can rent out the entire building.  Besides the obvious difficulties, you just don’t have that kind of cash.

3. Return to step 1, trying a variety of English phrases: po box, post office box, P.O. box, postal box, post-office box, postal box…  Eventually, you discover the “magic” entry; you type “PO box” and out pops căsuță poștală.  It looks promising–căsuță means “little house” and poștală means “postal”–so you carry with you to step 4.

4. Search online for “căsuță poștală” or “căsuță poștală bucurești” if you happen to live in Bucharest.  Check if the websites that present themselves seem to describe what you’re looking for, a mailbox you can rent that’s located at a post office.  It looks good.  🙂

5. Return to your bilingual Romanian friend and verify with him how to say “I want to rent a post office box.”  When you suggest, “Vreau să închiriez o căsuță poștală,” he gives the thumbs up.  Bingo!  Now we’re cooking!

6. Now, go to the post office near you, the big one where you’ve seen lots of things that look like medieval post office boxes on your many other trips.  You leave in high hopes.  Despite the sometimes deficient customer service skills of the employees, this post office is your favorite; it’s one of the fastest, least busy, and most well-organized in all of Bucharest, possibly in all of Eastern Europe.

7. Discover previously-mentioned post office has burned to the ground, along with all the post office boxes and all your hopes and dreams of an easy solution and a bright future for mankind.

8. Leave the premises in surprise and shock without thinking to read the varied collection of posters notifying customers of other post offices and which ones will be handling which services.

9. Return a day later when you suddenly remember the posters plastered around the charred remains of the old post office.

10. Try to make sense of the posters.  Assuming your level of Romanian comprehension is decent, you will understand every single word and yet not know what any of it means.

11. Turn to the guard standing within the skeletal remains and ask him for help in your best Romanian.  Although he seems annoyed to be drawn away from his iPhone, the guard graciously points out the appropriate poster and directs you to another post office.  Thankfully, you’re familiar with the street he mentions, so finding this particular office shouldn’t be a problem.

12. It’s only 2:30, so you make the 10 minute walk to the other post office.  Surprisingly, it’s easy to find and marked by a big red sign fully visible on the outside of the building.

13. Enter the main door and stand looking about in bewilderment as you try to discern where exactly is the post office that was announced on the outside.  All about you now is nothing remotely resembling a post office, and not a single living human being.

14. When a man suddenly exits a door, you ask him quickly, “Este o poştă aici?  Is there a post office here.”  When he nods, you notice the sign on the door he just exited.  It reads “poştă (post office)” in clear letters.  Try to make some comment about not having noticed the sign but stumble over it horribly in Romanian.  Resign yourself to mumbling instead as you open the door and enter the world’s tiniest post office.

15. Wait in line for 30 minutes.  Thankfully, it looks like it’s not a very busy day.  There are a full three people working, only five customers in front of you, and only two slightly mixed-up lines.  During this time, enjoy yourself as one customer angrily opens the window, exclaiming “It’s too hot in here” and then another angrily closes the window, exclaiming “It’s too cold in here.”  The battle ensues.

16. After your 30 minutes, you get to the front, so you ask the cashier about renting a post office box.  Listen politely as she informs you that your favorite post office in the whole of Eastern Europe has just burned down and with it all the hopes of humanity.  She then informs you of what you had most feared, that they do not have any boxes for rent at the particular office in which you’re currently standing.

17. Ask if there are any other possibilities and then thank her politely when she suggests you check the other office at Gara de Nord while also explaining, “But it’s very small, and I’m not sure if they’ll be much help.”

18. It’s late, and you’re tired of thinking about post office boxes, so go back home to recuperate for tomorrow.

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4 responses to “The Search for a PO Box

  1. It would be so much fun to get you a smart phone so you could visually record these adventures 🙂

  2. writinghertravels

    Hello Ben, I also live in Bucharest and came across your blog post while trying to figure out how to get a PO box. Thanks for sharing your experiences – I’ll let you know if I have any more success!

    • I really should write an update to this post. I ended up finding a PO box a few months later! And it turned out to be a much easier process than I had feared after my first few attempts. Now, having a PO box hasn’t completely solved my disappearing mail problem but it happens a lot less frequently now than it used to. Let me know if you need any help getting a PO box; it really shouldn’t be that hard to get one, but Bucharest has a way of complicating everything.

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