20 March 2010

Our Neighborhood Post Office Keeps Old Ways, while Pochta Rossii Collides with E-Commerce

Petersburg Curmudgeon

The recent post about Russian Women was praised on Russian Ukrainian Adventures,  but  looked at askance by Poemless.  There were positive comments on Facebook.  Nice to stir the pot sometimes.

You can comment with two clicks!

1. Click the underlined title above, then scroll down to the end of this entry.
2. Click   Post a Comment 

Is this page loading quickly?  I've been changing html code and checking Pingdom to reduce your wait time.

Pochta Rossii and Russian Customs are unable to cope with a crush of new Internet business.  This news got
me thinking about my own experiences with the Russian post office.

Here's three sources that show the heat that the Russian post office is getting.

March 13, Don't Ship Stuff to Russia and... March 16, DHL Suspends Shipping to Russia http://www.readrussia.com/
blog  Russia! blog is an offshoot of a glossy English language magazine published in New York City.
February 18, eBay Entering Russia, http://www.profy.com/blog/ Svetlana Gladkova, in Moscow and San Francisco, writes  in Profy about internet commerce.
March 18
and... March 19, RT TV-Novesti, Business, http://rt.com/Business/2010-03-19/postal-delays-hurting-russian.html  New in the last few years, RT television is on cable, satellite, and live-stream internet.  It has funding from Russia, but claims to be less filtered than American news.

 In 2000...

Larissa didn't trust our local post office to get checks off quickly.  We would travel to  Glavpochtant, the main city post office next to Isaki Cathedral. Now we use the Internet for payments.  My New Jersey bank cuts the checks in NJ and sends them out.

Helpful and friendly...

Occasionally I receive letters or packages from America, with a notice in our mailbox in the apartment lobby.  Sometimes this notice never arrives, or is lost somehow.  Then I get a visit from a pleasant lady to say I should call at the post office with my Internal Passport along with a copy she gives me of the lost form.  Other times we received a phone call to this effect.

It's easy to receive books.  You must present your internal passport with the notice to the lady.  She goes to the back and returns with the package.  She looks at the passport, at you, where the package is from, and that's it.

Sending takes a few hours...

At the apartment I give my book an initial bubble wrap from my collection of old packages.  Then it takes 10 - 20 minutes to walk to the post office. 

There is a small stamp and supplies store off to the side, part of the post office.  The lady calculates postage by air or surface (train), separates stamps, wets them with a sponge, and presses them on the envelope I have just purchased.

Understated pleasantness...

In New Jersey it's customary to know the name of anybody with whom you routinely have transactions.  In Russia, it's sort of taboo to call counter or sales people by their name.  It's enough to be pleasant, but not overwhelm them with what I call 'American charm'.

Envelope, stamps, tracing included...

A book costs around $3 to $6 to send by surface, train or ship.  Part of the fee, $1.50, goes for optional computer tracing, maybe a dollar for the large plastic or paper envelope.

The stamp office has a chair and desk which I use to address my stamped envelope and seal it. Then I walk to the large room and get in the queue to have my package put in the computer.   This can be a wait of an hour or more.  I have lots of time to watch the activity.

Our local post office habitat...

It appears our office hasn't been renovated or rearranged since around 1980.  Lots of aluminum windows, the requisite slamming door (When I first arrived, I called Russia
'the Land of Slamming Doors'), drab worn paint,  and old photos of cute critters on the walls.

I was surprised in 2000 to see thriving house plants in the government and medical offices.  Russians wonder that an American would think their plants special... but their profuse growth in most every office contrasted dramatically with the surrounding rundown environment.  Now many medical and government offices are renovated and Western looking, but my post office looks dreary, even with verdant plants. 

And I thought only sailors had to sew!

Pochta Russii requires that the outer surface of packages be new and unmarked.  If it is a large item, the ladies may hand you a cloth sack, thread and needle.  You must hand sew your package shut.  An open pot of glue sits nearby.  Some packages are taped all over... but by mysterious regulation my book package can have no tape on it... I must trust to the pre-sticky envelope flap.

Once my turn, the shipping woman studies my package, checks its weight, sometimes calls back to the stamp lady for a revision or more postage.  Then she sits at her computer and enters the tracking data, on one occasion asking what UK stood for... Britain.

There are forms that she completes, items to stamp with gusto, and receipts to print.  I have never met with rudeness at my postal branch, but rather pleasantries, helpfulness, and smiles... but also the sometime resignation of an employee in Purgatory.  No one ever rushes me.

Pochta Rossii better than some others...

In a year and a half I have received twenty books. 
One book from Canada is now lost in transit... the first ever, and probably not lost on the Russia side. 

Nineteen of the twenty books I sent have been received.   The one exception was a book  returned twice to my address in St Petersburg by the rather infamous British postal system. 

Slow but sure...

Pochta Rossii is usually slow but otherwise OK.  After 10 years acclimation to Russian ways, I am content.  I don't see a need to have quicker deliveries.

A pleasant itinerary...

When I send a book, it is collected by the St Petersburg central Glaspostamt the next morning.  Then it takes a train to Moscow and is sorted by customs... sooner or later.    Rumor is that the US also holds packages while they do the bureaucratic shuffle, satisfy customs concerns, and check for dangerous items due to American caution or paranoia. 

Poor Organizational Skills  a marker of Russian culture...

It seems that Pochta Rossii  has kept most of the bureaucratic system... stamps requiring a sponge bath, glue pots, and hand sewn packages... and added a computer tracing system.  The tipoff is that they have added work, not replaced or made significantly more efficient the work that has to be done.  The employees have more to do, some of it busy work, and take home salaries 60% of that of the average Russian worker.

A sudden collision of mind-sets...

Russian inefficiency and American time urgency are in conflict.  There has been a threefold increase in package shipments in the past year... due to internet commerce.  The post office has added personnel, but still applies its traditional procedures, and the Russian Customs continues to handle their work slowly.

eBay, DHL, and Pochta Rossii unite against Russian Customs...

Now we have a postal crisis generated by complaints from eBay, and shippers outside the postal system that also must get packages processed through Russian Customs.  eBay, the internet auction, wants to expand its operations in Russia starting this month.

A delivery standard that made eBay blanch!

Pochta Rossii astonished eBay when it stated it is reasonable to expect a package to Russia to arrive in two months.  It's a clash of time cultures, of expectations.  EBay guarantees delivery in one month, or they pay for the item.  They have had to cancel this guarantee in Russia.

Independent shippers along with Pochta Rossii are meeting with Russian Customs to try to identify and reduce the delays.  First, as I heard was Lenin's credo, they want to put the blame on another group... Russian Customs.  Next, they want to discusss what to do now.

Paypal is no pal of mine!

Paypal, (owned by eBay) appears skittish about dealing with people in Russia and their attitude has hampered growth of internet commerce.  I am on their refused list, which has saved me a lot of money.  Their fussiness has kept me from using e commerce unless I can pay directly from my debit card based in New Jersey. 

German efficiency causing heat for more relaxed Russians...

The latest news from Russia! is that DHL, the German private package delivery has suspended all delivery in Russia.  True, DHL is a parallel delivery operation, but it too is appartently affected by very slow package customs in Moscow, the apparently hub for all Russia.

Russian Customs is the scapegoat!

Pochta Rossii management understands that what was slow but acceptable mail processing has in the last few months become an urgent problem.  It blames the delays on inadequate staffing, but also on large delays in Russian Customs which may be at least partly blamed on corruption.

How will these competing interests settle things?

If the government sees a need to intervene, they can speed up Customs... but will not if they believe packages are equally delayed in the United States. 

How's the package delivery where you live?
Will internet commerce conquer intransigent Pochta Rossii and Russian Customs?

You know, you could send me a letter through the mail and you'll get my answer to it this summer!

Powered by ScribeFire.


  1. Hi Loquacious,

    thanks for a wonderful read about our dear Potchta Rossiya.

    I'm currently waiting for a parcel, but its only been a month, I need to be more patient.

  2. Hi SovietCity,

    I'm wondering if you ever got your parcel. Mine from Canada was the first one in ten years to be lost.

    Thank you for stopping by!


Comments, Questions, Ideas