No stamps, this is the post office

9 May

I’m really starting to think that a pre-requisite for becoming an employed member of the ranks of front-line postal clerks in Italy, or at least here in Rome, is significant past professional experience either in the fine field of incarceration facilities (a.k.a. prison guard) or perhaps unsuccessful completion of a court-ordered anger management class.

What the hell is WITH Roman postal clerks?!?

Right. I came here 11 years ago, so yes, this should be old news by now and it’s certainly not new ground. I’ve faithfully hated Poste Italiane for quite some time. Exhibit 1: unbelievably laughable delays. Exhibit 2: local, yet logistically impractical, holy alternative.

In any case, I just want to keep you informed on good ol’ PT’s progress and evolution since those previous posts. Or rather lack thereof.

Today at the Largo Argentina post office, I had to pay two bills and buy some stamps. Since this post office is large and semi-evolved, they have a number system. All that usually means though is that you get a piece of paper during your 50+ minute wait. Today, amazingly, there were only two people ahead of me in the “P” number line.

Because, you see, when you go to the number machine, you get choices:

1) Poste Italiane bank account holder? Push here. Apparently you get special treatment. I think that’s an “E” but not sure.
2) Just need to do financial services (i.e., pay bills?) Push here. You get an “A”
3) Just need to send something? Push here. You get a “P”

However, allow me to note, that you can also push for the “P” and pay bills. It is written right there, in fine italicized print.

I approach when P196 is called. I go up to the window and present my two bills, half daydreaming. Next thing I know, I see the postal clerk lady’s head start spinning around like in The Exorcist, and she roars out at me:


Here’s me: “Wha?? Cosa?”

Then, super snide and seething—yes, seething—she says in broken English, “You need A number not P!!!!”

Oh my God. Now not only am I being barked at, I’m being reprimanded like a five-year-old who snuck candy and doesn’t even speak the local language.

Me, in my best academic and polished Italian possible: “You see, I have to also buy stamps. And on the machine it states that if I have postal business to do, like buying stamps, then I can also add in financial business, such as these here bills.”

She: “Oh. Well. You didn’t tell me, so how was I supposed to know?!” Clearly. Kindly file this under “I’m an Italian public office employee, therefore I have not, do not, and will not ever be responsible for basically anything that occurs in, around, or anywhere within an at least 20 km radius of my workplace.”

Dude. Whatever.

She, in one big, grand, last flourish of prison guard-style customer service: “And anyways, we don’t have any stamps here.”

Oh no—no! You did not. You had to go and pull out the big guns. Why’d you have to go and do that? Why?

As much as I love Rome, this is something that after eleven years I CANNOT—as in CAN NOT—tolerate. You are the post office. Hence, you should provide me with the one essential product with which I may POST something. Am I wrong?

I mutter under my breath, but not really quietly, “The post office, and they don’t have any stamps.” Humph! I mean…really!

She, completely unfazed but strangely less hostile: “Strange but true.”

In the end, I think she took pity on me, because after I paid my bills in utter mortified silence, she started to ask me what kind of stamps I needed. This is so typical. It happens often in Italy that you get shot down by angst-ridden public employees who use you as their innocent punching bags, and then when you don’t freak out and retaliate like a total asshole, they just might come inching forward with their tail *slightly* between their legs. It kills me, because it’s like, you could have skipped the whole a-hole part and just asked me what kind of stamps I needed. Even though that question should be totally and completely irrelevant at this point, given that you just told me you DON’T. HAVE. STAMPS.

“I need to send a postcard to the Netherlands. And a letter to the States.”

“Do you have them with you?”

So she places one of those machine stickers on my postcard. I had been so flustered I hadn’t even thought to ask. Geez.

No luck on the US stamp, as I haven’t even written the letter yet that I intend to send. (That’s why I need a STAMP, people. It’s called ADVANCE PLANNING.) Go figure. Wouldn’t want to trouble the post office for a stamp, for God’s sake. What was I thinking?

But hey, don’t take it from me. There’s a small but militant group of expats and writers who can regale you with their tales as well:

What Can You Mail to Italy? and Post Offices in Italy by Natalie. She’s lovely. And she has the English title of my blog.

How to Post Things to Italy – Alex Roe at Italy Chronicles

Postal Service in Italy – Living Italy

Everyone has their story. Consider it a rite of passage. Like getting your driver’s license. Or having your first scooter accident. Or getting shat on by a Roman pigeon (good luck, they say).


19 Responses to “No stamps, this is the post office”

  1. Catherine May 9, 2012 at 3:48 pm #

    Oh lord I hear you. I’ve learned the hard way to go to my local country post office, just not on pension day. The ladies are very sweet and one bought my book(!) and after finally getting rid of the George Clooney calendar they now have a much more inspiring All Blacks one. Mmmm. Beats Holy Mary etc.

    But this week was in town, went to big PO, experienced the P/A/whatever buttons, waited my turn, pulled out my package. The price was double what my ladies ask! I protested and the guy VERY reluctantly, grimacing even, put it back on the scales, said he had made a mistake. Can you believe it? Then stared back at me with Non-sono-stato-io-mamma eyes. Che bastardoo

  2. Nancy May 9, 2012 at 3:52 pm #

    I’ve often wondered ‘what’s with the Italian post office’. Though my problem is packages I send never reach their destination. Any suggestions?

  3. Rita V. May 9, 2012 at 7:01 pm #

    Haha! Love this. I may not live there (yet!), but even a visitor has a rough time sending postcards home!! I’m never sure why I have to find a sign w/a T on it and I always forget if the red T or the blue one is the one (or is it green?!)
    that *might* have stamps for purchase!

  4. Tina G~ May 10, 2012 at 12:38 am #

    I have totally given up on getting stamps at the PT. I’ve also unsuccessfully tried to get stamps from postamats! Thank goodness for the internet… when I visit Italy (every year) I just buy postcards as souvenirs…… Great blog!

  5. Un'americana a Roma May 10, 2012 at 9:04 am #

    OMG isn’t that so common? I can’t say whether or not these are innocent mistakes or not, but I can say that I’ve caught clerks in post office and other places (bars, etc.) making mistakes and then when you point it out they act like someone else did it. So bizarre!

  6. Un'americana a Roma May 10, 2012 at 9:04 am #

    Don’t go. Ha. The suggestion for people sending TO Italy, at least from the US, is just to put “no value, used items, zero,” etc. Going out of Italy, it’s just a total crap shoot.

  7. Un'americana a Roma May 10, 2012 at 9:05 am #

    Oh right, I didn’t mention that I’ve been to like 3 tabacchi (that’s the “T” place. It’s a white T on a black or blue background) and they don’t have stamps either. It’s like the city-wide chronic change shortage. No one has change to give you either. WTF!?

  8. Un'americana a Roma May 10, 2012 at 9:06 am #

    Thanks TIna!

  9. Alex Roe May 11, 2012 at 4:35 pm #

    Ah, Italy’s wonderful post office. Eternal queues, confusing ‘ticket’ systems, and stroppy staff, and they lose too many things.

    To cap it all, no stamps. Incredible.

    As a matter of interest, the ‘service’ is celebrating 150 years of existence. You may have got a letter about it, but probably not because it got lost in the mail 😉

    Good post.

    Ciao, ciao,


  10. Un'americana a Roma May 17, 2012 at 8:49 pm #

    Or, it will show up right on schedule… in 2018. Stranger things have happened.

    Stroppy, btw, is a great word, I’ve got to find a way to integrate that into my vocab. !!!

  11. finnyknits May 17, 2012 at 11:45 pm #

    Oh wow. It hasn’t gotten better. Apparently they haven’t spent the last few years *innovating* at the post office, eh? Yet still, you somehow manage to ship packages. MIRACLES! Did you ever get your birthday gift?

  12. Un'americana a Roma May 21, 2012 at 2:23 pm #

    Honey just got it! I sent you an email… so super excited. Have been wearing your gorgeous necklace ever since I laid my hands on it. LOVE LOVE LOVE you are the best!!!

  13. Diana April 11, 2014 at 10:03 am #

    This story is so great! It is the same even in Northern Italy – – I am in Varese – once I tried to ask for 10 stamps for the US. Response: “Nope! We don’t have those.” So then I asked for any stamp denomination that I could combine to use for the US. Response: “Nope…doesn’t exist. Signora, if you want to mail a letter to the States, you can just come in and we will meter the letter.” So then I ask for any combo they have – even if I have to pay and extra 20 cents, I don’t mind because I would rather pay the 20 cents to skip the 1 hour wait. And he tells me NO AGAIN! So then I finally asked him for 30 stamps for Italy! Ha, ha, ha…he really did NOT want to give me those stamps! The post office is a CONSTANT source of painful entertainment for me! Love your blog!

  14. Shelley Ruelle April 11, 2014 at 10:35 am #

    Ha! Thanks Diana! Can’t believe it’s the same up north. Yikes. I hold out “the north” as the last remaining bastion of bureaucratic civility in this country, but you’re dashing my hopes… 🙂


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