This is among the many things you can find out about the Postal Service if you lower yourself into its website and thrash around a little. There are numerous portals to branching catacombs of obscure minutiae and if you have the patience of Job’s wife you can sometimes whack your way to an answer, often inside of a half-hour
It’s really not the website’s fault. There are no easy answers at the post office. But there are people who do know all of the answers. They’re called clerks, and they have powers. A clerk can weigh an envelope to precision on her fingertips, in a half a second.
You can hand a clerk a parcel to mail and she’ll have it sized up before you get it out from under your arm, and will whip out a customs form–the big one, not the small one, or the green one, because each has its unique function–in triplicate, and shuttle you to the side to fill it out.
“It’s not a snake, is it?” she’ll say. “There are some countries you can’t mail a snake to.”
Really none of her business, I thought, but I shook my head, crossed out “snake” and wrote “gift” on the customs card. How much was this going to be?
“Depends. It’s one price to Canada or Mexico, and another to most other countries, except Flackland, which has levied an arrogance tariff on items originating in the U.S. since 2017, and, of course, Lower Begonia isn’t accepting any mail pieces at all.”
“Only in months ending in ‘R.’ Their prime minister is trying to manage civic expectations by limiting joy. Also, snakes.”
I handed over the customs card, and the clerk crossed out some of it and rewrote it on the correct line, whipped tape around the plastic, affixed it to the box, bounced the box a couple times on her palm and said Sixteen Fifty-Five. I got out my card and she set the box down on the scale for a nanosecond, muttered Yep, and slapped on postage, accompanied by an ethereal chime somewhere between a cash register and Glenda, the Good Witch.
Anyway, this time I had this teeny package and wanted to avoid the post office lobby during plague season, so I tried to calculate postage using the postal website. And she’s a bitch. She won’t let you slide over to the next window until you’re done answering questions.
What zip code are you mailing to? Mailing from? What date? What time of day? What moon phase? What, if any, planets are in retrograde?
Is your package stiff? Squishy? Rancid? Prone to melancholy?
Are you mailing:
Liquids? (This could apply to non-cremated remains)
Live animals other than day-old poultry? (Some restrictions)
Tardigrades? (No restrictions)
There are instructions. Cremated remains, it says here, must be affixed to all sides of the package. I am assuming they mean stickers saying cremated remains, but in the event, I do have a glue-stick.
Day-old poultry. What exactly is poultry, anyway? Poultry refers to domestic birds kept for meat, eggs, or feathers. So it’s a nomenclature of exploitability and Linnaeus had nothing to say about it. Examples could include chickens, geese, swans, emus, or pheasants.
You already know about the pheasants.
But emus? Who mails day-old emus?
The female emu lays huge green eggs and then goes away because she can’t even with those eggs. The male emu, unlike most other birds, has a big shlorpy penis and totally pays for it. He has to sit on the eggs for eight weeks, turning them carefully ten times a day, and does not eat during that time. He survives only on stored body fat while brooding the eggs. Once they hatch, he will stay with the chicks for the next year and a half, teaching them how to hunt. Who mails day-old emu chicks?
Adult male emus, that’s who.
If there's that much poultry flowing through the mail system at any given moment, they probably need to be careful about snakes, which would be prone to break out of their own parcels and eat somebody's day-old emu chicks or whatever. It would push up the cost of insurance.
Is your package stiff? Squishy? Rancid? Prone to melancholy?
If you answer "yes" to all those questions, they probably assume it contains a male emu penis.
Many years ago I had to mail an actual human skull to Japan (long story). The recipient advised me that the Japanese postal service X-rays packages coming from outside the country, so I wrote "ceramic ornament" on the outside of the package and hoped they would think it was a model. It got through, anyway.
At some point you're going to have to share the long version.
A few years ago, we bought baby chicks through the mail from a hatchery, and the process worked fine. As soon as the chicks hatched out, they were tucked together (7 of them!)into a nest inside special box, with heat packs top and bottom, then over-nighted to our local post office. I picked them up there the next day around lunchtime — about 18 hours total transit time, during which they were nourished by absorbing the remainder of the egg contents that sustained them during incubation. It's really quite extraordinary.
I can see why they have to be day-old. Once a bird starts piling on the days, there's a TON of feeding that has to happen.
We used to order chicks from a hatchery in Iowa when we were hobby farming here in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Chicks arrived fast and alive every time. I fear those may be the good old days as various politicians continue to hack away at what used to be an amazing agency.
I have a vague recollection that cremains have to be double boxed. No just dumping Gramps into a sturdy ziplock bag and then putting that bag into just one layer of corrugated cardboard. My sister has worked for USPS for over 30 years, including a stint as a supervisor in a Centralized Forwarding Services section. I told her that it's her time to go she should instruct her siblings to make sure the address for the recipient of her ashes is illegible or nonexistent so she can end up in the dead letter box. Cheaper than a niche in a columbarium.
That is perfect. Uh, I distinctly recall having to deliver a cardboard box stamped CREMAINS, with a squashed, re-taped corner and dust leaking out. Put it on the porch, ring the bell, and run?
I love the Postal Service. Your description of a postal clerk's discernment skills is perfect. Nothing liquid, hazardous or perishable shall pass without notice.
They say it so fast I have to stop and think about it. Replay tape, then try to remember what I just put in the box…
As an expert on this subject…please explain to me why some companies that I order from online refuse to us USPS? This has nothing to do with size or weight in my experience. Today I had a very small package that came by FEDEX instead of going into my mailbox at the P.O..
Nope, I don't understand it. FedEx does have a working partnership with the USPS but I'm not clear on that either. All I know is I'm always proud to recommend the Postal Service over the other companies because I think they do a better job.
I feel I should preface this story by saying that I am a paleontologist specializing in the study of theropods (carnivorous dinosaurs) and early birds, which is really pretty much the same thing. I’m also a paleoartist specializing in making accurate three dimensional models of the skeletons of dinosaurs, birds, pterosaurs and pretty much any other skeleton that needs reconstructing.
Some years ago I decided that having the complete skeleton of a ratite bird as a study specimen would be a cool thing. I found an emu ranch that would sell me a raw skeleton for what I considered to be a reasonable amount of money. Raw meant that most, but not all of the meat had been removed.
It went out by mail and I happened to be at the mailbox when the mail lady pulled up with a big grin and handed me an odd shaped, squishy and slightly damp package that had been riding next to her seat all that warm spring day.
That raw skeleton got dropped into a cooler and buried in my compost pile for two years while the bacteria macerated it into clean bones. Since then it’s been sorted and ID’d and sits in a box awaiting a call to duty.
Bruce Mohn, I love you.
Raw skeletons wouldn't pass customs here in Australia. Our import laws are very strict.
You should be exporting your weird-ass skeletons.
Aust Post has rules about shipping live animals too. We only ever got fertile eggs and packages of bees. They emitted a steady furious drone that set my nerves on edge and kept me looking over my shoulder in case they'd tunneled out while we were sorting. Fortunately we delivered the mail on motorbikes, so the bees were collected at the post office, rather than me racing around with that angry hum behind me…
Whenever I'd get baby chicks, I was totally charmed by all the squeaking for at least the first few hours. If they were at the end of my route, though, I was ready to spatchcock the little buggers.
While I haven't done so in many years I once maintained an active practice as a Clinical Herbalist. I ordered many herbs from a grower several hundred miles away. One, asafoetida, has a piercing, pungent and fairly disgusting odour. I apologized to the postman when he delivered it, holding it at arm's length. "On a scale of 1-10 it's only a 3," he said. "I once had to deliver a raw chicken someone's mother had mailed from Calcutta in July. It took five weeks to get here. That one was a 10 of 10."
Apparently India has different rules, or perhaps none at all, about mailing poultry.
Did not snort; cackled. Helplessly.
Like, "buk buk buk buk buk?"
It's those damned Begonians! Scotty-From-Marketing is out to stomp on any and all things that might be joy/joyful/joyous. He's even after our emus now. Next thing the the bugger will be telling the world he is in favour of coal because it's a part of our heritage.
American readers should, perhaps, be directed to Australian news outlets. ( Or not, since some are owned by a Very, Very Rich Australian/Amrican.)
I don't know. I'm afraid.
Once, when mailing a copy of my book of poems, I responded to the clerk's list of forbidden substances with "No, just love and death."
I'll bet you're a lot of fun at airport security, too.
I'd be as meek and boring as possible. (I haven't been to an airport in about 25 years, and I'm not looking forward to the experience.)
My biggest beef with posting anything anywhere is the cost of postage which more often than not, costs far more than the item itself, even just to go across town. It would be cheaper in some cases for me to hop on a bus and hand deliver it. Sending interstate is too expensive now and ordering anything from ebay via USA is completely out of the question, with many postage costs listed as being over $100.
That's weird that postage would cost so much. I ordered 3 pairs of merino wool fingerless gloves from a company in New Zealand this past winter. Not only was the shipping free, but I got them in about a week. (And they kept my digits very toasty.)
I generally try to go for the companies that have free postage. Sometimes you have to spend x amount, but I use it as an opportunity to stock up on things I will need soon anyway. Sometimes it just takes the right coupon code to get free shipping. I have the Honey app on my computer, and when you check out, it automatically drops down and tries various coupon codes until it settles on the one that saves you the most money. I love this app! (And I am not usually an app person.)
Yet another reason to support the US Mail. Once the Republicans get done gutting it, they'll parcel it out to private companies and we'll all find out how much it REALLY costs to send a letter to Hawaii.
My husband is a rock collector. Wherever I worked (the Southwest, Barrow,AK) he would pick up rocks and mail them back to RI where we live. I think we sent about 25 one rate boxes back from Barrow (couldn't pack them in the car as you have to fly in). Do you know you can pack about 45# of rocks in one of those boxes? I always felt sorry for the postman who had to lug those to the back door.
Mailing rocks. That's a new one. I'll tell you what: gold bricks weigh a lot.
Bees and poultry, when I order them, go to a small post office in the next town over where my friend is the only one in the office. She takes care of my babies until I can get there. She likes the chicks and ducklings much more than the bees, but even those (she says) are cool to hang out with.