Friday, July 23, 2010

Italy and the US

At one time in my life, I lived in Italy. Now, in Italy, there is no such thing as writing out a check to pay for your phone bill or electric bill. You would receive the bill in the mail and then have to go to the bank or the post office to pay the bill in cash or with a debit card. You may wonder why someone would be paying bills at the post office and it's because the post office in Italy, like other European countries, serves for more than just mailing letters. Post offices also perform the basic functions of a bank. I often thought of those functions as equivalent to a basic passbook savings account at a bank. So, for this reason, you would have to go to the post office and pay your electric bill and telephone bill there. The post office also was where the senior citizens went every month to get their pensions from the gub-mint. As a result of all these other things going on at the post office, mailing letters wasn't the main reason that the majority of the people happened to be at the post office.

So, as you can imagine, the post office was a very popular and busy place. On days when I planned on paying my electric or telephone bill (water was paid at a different bank), I would make sure that I arrived at the post office about 30 minutes before opening time so I could get in line. Usually, when the post office opened, there were already 10 to 15 people waiting to do business. If I didn't get there early, I could wait for an hour very easily just to complete a 2-minute transaction (In Italy, paying bills was quick and easy. Waiting was the hard part).

Why am I telling this story? Because it seems that for all it's problems, the local Italian post office where I used to pay bills is looking more efficient today than my local US post office. I have gone into my local post office and seen twenty people or more standing in line and there would be one postal employee behind the counter "slowly" helping these people. You would think that the post office would have more postal employees behind the counter at the busiest times (they do, they just aren't there to help you), but since it's a quasi-gub-mint agency, efficiency is not a word in their vocabulary. Although both the US and Italian post offices have long lines, at least the Italian post office has a reason since the Italian post office does so much more. Oh, the joys of public employee unions. I can hardly wait for healthcare to kick in.



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