La Poste is not USPS (March 7, 2007)

Sometimes living in Lausanne feels like being between the cogs of a great clockwork. A lot of things you take for granted, are just different. If you make a mistake, you slip right into the gears of the machine, and everyone around just shrugs and says it was your fault.

Today I learned that a package I have awaited over a month was delivered while I was in the U.S. Good news, I thought, I have been needing that computer part. When I went to the post office to pick up the package, though, they said they had already returned it. They had only held my package for seven days!

This delivery policy--this standard delivery policy of La Poste--means that it is impractical for me to use the public postal system to receive packages at my Swiss apartment. This policy alone means I have somewhere around 60% chance of receiving a package: there is a 50% that it arrives during a month I am in Switzerland, and an additional 10% chance that it will arrive just before I return to Switzerland but before they bounce it back. On top of this problem, the mail here is slow and is prone to damaging your stuff, anyway.

I do not mean to just grouse about the system. The folks here like it well enough, and so fine.

The interesting thing is, in the U.S., it would never occur to me that delivering a package to my home might be a tricky procedure. This problem hit me out of the blue. In the U.S., any domicile better than a cardboard box is set up to receive and hold small packages for you. You can get things mailed to you, and you just do not worry that the post office is on a hair trigger to bounce your package. In Lausanne it is different. Delivering a package here requires care and attention to detail, and bounced packages are just part of how the system works.

The superficial similarity of the USPS and La Poste masks important differences. As just one example, this difficulty with packages means that services like ebay are trickier to use.

Lex Spoon