Things Haven’t Changed Much

In 1955 if you were in Italy and wanted to make an international phone call, you had to go to the post office and get on a waiting list. The mails did seem to work a bit better though. A postcard sent to me at my NY address was forwarded to me at American Express in Rome, where you picked up your mail when abroad. It came from Padua where a fellow student was continuing his studies in art history.  We were no longer an ocean apart and ended up celebrating Christmas together in Italy!

In 1955-56 when I was traveling around Europe, I used to send my kodachrome film to the US to be developed. The resulting slides would then be sent to my parents in Massachusetts where they could share my experiences. I don’t think I lost any films although over the years some of the packages sent from the US to me in Italy never arrived or were returned to sender. And  Christmas cards! Those were the days when you sent real paper greetings, hopefully in plenty of time for them to arrive. Sometimes they did, and sometimes they didn’t. Just to be sure, a friend had sent hers in October – and guess what – they arrived at destination in a little over a week. Christmas anticipated!

Several years later, to be precise in 1958, my husband Mario and I wanted to send a thank you package to my parents who had seen to shipping my belongings from New York to Italy. Shouldn’t be hard we thought.

We bought the presents and put them nicely in a box – open – and went to the post office to get the various papers and have them finish packing it. There we found out it would also have to be taken down to customs, which is on the plain below Perugia. Since it was the weekend and we wouldn’t be around on Monday Mario asked one of his friends to take it down. Lord knows what happened there. No it has to be in a stronger box someone told him. So he put it in another wrapping and took it back. It has to be opened, said another. Unfortunately the same man was never there. Oh that’s right, the first time they told him to pack the box one way. The second time another. The third time he was told they would have to open it. And they did. The first box, the second box, and all the insides were taken out – which we had carefully packed so that the cookies and sugar animals etc. would reach my parents in as much of one piece as possible. Lord knows how they were repacked. Never again. 

Were things any better when mail was going in the other direction? A couple of years ago, before Covid, my great grandniece Michelle wanted to surprise me with a birthday present. She carefully packed a special book, filled out the forms for customs and sent it off. Time passed. No one knew where the package had ended up. Finally, news came to me from customs in Milan. With another form to be filled out. And customs to be paid. (except I thought books didn’t have to pay customs). We filled out the form, sent it back and were told that the deadline had passed and the package was being sent back to the sender.

Here is the itinerary as documented by Michelle.

“I sent the book off at my local post office towards the end of January 2020. Oddly enough, it somehow ended up at a military base in the U.K.!!! Then to the Chicago distribution center and back to Dallas. Well, I received the book in the beginning of March and took the package right back to the same post office to see what had gone wrong. None of the post office workers could understand how or why it was sent to a military base, and while at first they told me I’d have to pay for shipping again, they eventually waived the fee, I filled out the paperwork again and off it went. That was March 5th, 2020. Well, fast forward to around June and apparently that was when you had received notice from Milan that you’d have to pay a customs fee, which again, books aren’t supposed to pay! By September, I got a tracking update that the book was back in Chicago and was being delivered to Dallas the following week. And on September 14th it arrived on my porch with a sticker that said “Non reclamato”.  A little beaten up and having traveled back and forth across the world (in the midst of COVID at that!), I was just relieved that I had it back in my possession. And of course, it’s even better now that it is with its rightful owner.“

No, things haven’t changed much. Even if supposedly your package can now be tracked and registered. And there were several other attempts at sending packages from there to here, which frequently failed. Although from here to there were generally more successful.

3 thoughts on “Things Haven’t Changed Much

  1. I remember arriving in Rome for the first time!! My parents requested that I called them when I arrived. I remember asking someone from the airline at Fiumicino, where a phone booth was available to place an international telephone call. I was greeted by an astonished look!! I was told in Italian “per una telefonata internazionale è necessario recarsi all’ufficio postale!!”!! I was confused!! Even though I was fluent in Italian I thought I was being misled!!

    After a six hour post flight journey, involving three bus rides, a taxi ride, lugging around 2 heavy bags, hunger, frustration, and asking at least 100 persons for directions I arrived.

    I will never forget the wonderful words I heard there “per gli Stati Uniti d’America cabina quatro”!!


  2. Such extraordinary difficulties with postage! I thought at first that you were going to be comparing the problems of the pst with the amazing ease of communication today but sadly not so – other than, of course, through the electronic world of the internet. Such as this, here and now!


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