After we arrived here in New Zealand, Calvin dictated a letter to his old school friends, and I wrote it out for him by hand. Then that letter sat around for almost a week, waiting to be mailed.

At home, of course, I have a little “mail station” in the kitchen where I keep stamps and the return address labels and envelopes.

Here in our temporary house, I’m lucky if I can find a pen most days!

But yesterday morning I had several things to mail and another errand right near the Post shop (their version of post offices) so the kids and I walked the 1 kilometer there to buy some envelopes and stamps.

Matariki (Maori new year) stamps and airmail envelopes.
Matariki (Maori new year) stamps and airmail envelopes.

I learned that mailing domestic letters costs 80 NZ cents. Mailing a letter to the US in an airmail envelope costs NZ$2.00 and mailing a letter to the US in a regular envelope costs NZ$2.50. Packages, of course, go by weight.

Anyway, I folded up Cal’s letter, addressed the envelope, put the proper postage on it, and placed the envelope in the top part of my mailbox.

A word about New Zealand mailboxes: bizarre. Ours, which looks to be fairly standard for residential buildings, at least in Christchurch, has three different compartments. The top one is completely open on the front and back sides. The middle has a slot in the front and a door that raises in the back. And the bottom one, by far the largest, is closed on the front and completely open on the back. It looks like it would fit a smallish package.

I assumed that the top open part of the mailbox was where senders place outgoing letters, so I put Cal’s precious note there to go out.

It was only about an hour later that I realized the wind had risen. And that there was really nothing at all to hold the letter safely in the mailbox until pickup. The wind could simply carry it right away and I’d never know.

I ran out to the front of the house. The letter was gone and we had no new mail delivery.

It dawned on me that I had no way at all to tell whether the letter had been taken by a postal worker or been blown to the bay by the breeze. And depending on how long post delivery to the eastern US takes, I probably wouldn’t even be able to check in with the recipients for several weeks.

So sad. In my rush to mail the missive I had assumed mail pickup worked the same basic way it does in the our town.


This morning I heard someone rustling around the back of our house so I came out to investigate. A husky, smiling man wearing safety gear was in the process of returning our recycling and rubbish (translation=trash) bins to the back of our house. Complete with new bags in them. WHAT? I thought our hometown trash pickup was pretty marvelous. But this is 5-star refuse service!

I thanked him and he said it’s no problem.

Then, grasping to have a reason to speak to a native New Zealander and wanting to make sure we weren’t committing any major rubbish faux pas, I said, “Are we doing okay?,” gesturing toward the bins.

I realize now looking back that I probably sounded like I was seeking some general validation, which he provided; “You’re doing just fine. Everything’s great.”

As he turned to walk away, I called after him. “Oh, just a moment, please? I have a question about mail. Do postal carriers pick up mail at each mailbox or is it necessary to mail things at the post shop?”

Just as I suspected, he shook his head and said, “Nothing’s picked up from your box; you’ve got to go to the post shop.”

Oh well, I though. Cal will just have to rewrite his letter again (in other words, I’ll have to cajole him into restating the same basic message and then repost it, this time from a place where mail really is carried to its intended destination.).

There are bigger inconveniences, right?


I took the kids to the park this morning and when we returned, I saw a piece of mail in the mailbox. Imagine my surprise and delight to find Calvin’s original letter, a bit bent and a bit dirty from billowing about the street. Someone must have found it and took the trouble of reading the return address I had filled in and then brought it back to us.

Tomorrow I’ll take it back to the post shop, this time to send it safely on its way.



2 thoughts on “Snail Mail

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