I think the most challenging thing that I have faced so far in Moscow is mail.
How does one get one’s mail? What name/letter is it organised under? Who do you talk to when you can’t find something? And why does no one related to this issue speak any English? It’s all a big mystery.
I was waiting for a package because my awesome mum had sent me something to ‘get me going’ in my new life.
Like I said, she’s awesome.
So these questions were fairly pressing, and I didn’t really know what to do about them. In my first week I used my very rusty Russian to speak to/at a caretaker, who managed to understand me enough and explain to me that when I get a parcel, I would get a small slip of paper in a mailbox to tell me that it had arrived, and then I could pick it up.
In the subsequent days, I realised that this information, while useful, still meant that I had to check two different mail boxes each day, because I didn’t know if they would transliterate my last name to start with a ‘с’ or a ‘з’. Just a few days ago I had the answer: apparently all my official documents will start with a ‘з’, but my mail will be organised under ‘с’. OK.
So then I had a flimsy slip of paper.
After a broken conversation with the security woman, I had learned that I had to walk to the actual post office to collect the parcel- they didn’t have it in the dorm. And I had to bring my passport.
Slightly baffled by this turn of events, but reassured that I would at least also learn how to send mail, I marched myself to the next post office, only to find a nine person queue ahead of me. I soon learned that each person that walked in would ask ‘who is last?’ remember that person, and then be free to wander/ sit around the post office in a scattered fashion, resembling a crowd rather than a queue. After this happened a few times, I summoned all my courage and asked a lady if I was even in the right queue.
She said I was, but unfortunately, as I had not asked ‘who is last’ before waiting, I had not actually signalled my intention to join the queue… as I discovered when I walked up to the window when I thought it was my turn.
After a lot of fast-paced Russian, and my best confused face, the lady thankfully let let me go first (at this point I had waited for around 45 minutes, and discovered that apparently Russians still have to pick up any parcel or package in person, and then give their passport details to prove they have picked it up- what a hassle!).
Nevertheless, it turned out I was in the wrong queue anyway. I was sent around the building to a metal door which opened to an empty hall and led to yet another small window, where a young man tried to explain to me what details I had to fill out on the back of the form in order to get the package. After giving them my name, passport number, address, and signature, I then finally received my box…
which had clearly been opened.
It turns out that the box had been relieved of about half of its contents, including gummy bears and dried fruit, which I imagine is partially due to the customs banns on imported food. Disappointed, I decided to ask everyone to avoid sending me parcels, and only mail. I also spent a lot of time thinking about the possible implications of this bizarre system, and the amount of control officials still have over the day-to-day life of citizens by forcing them to pick up mail and monitoring who picks what up, when.
And then today, another slip appeared in the mailbox- without a collection number or address.
The mystery continues…