02 February 2012

The Russian Pochta becomes a bureaucratic challenge

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Russian postal clerks and local deliverers are women.

There’s the easy way, and then the Russian way...

Larissa observed when we were living in the United States, thatEverything is for the people.’ meaning that the convenience and comfort of Americans is often considered and provided for... easy dealings with the bank, free coffee samples at the supermarket, lots of clean restrooms wherever you are.

What could be simpler than having my wife stop at the local post office to get a book for me?  Now, in late January, it’s too cold in Russia for me to make the walk,  minus 10 to 16 degrees centigrade.  Larissa brought along our Internal Passports, and the package arrival notice she found in our topsy-turvey mailbox.

We have new apartment post boxes since last summer.  Unfortunately someone painted numbers upside down, and put the boxes up so that when you open your box your mail naturally falls, even often when you carefully slide your hand in the box to catch the mail.  To fix this would be to admit the management had supervised something done wrong.

Unexpected bureaucracy strikes!

Larissa has collected some books before but this time the post mistress refused to release my package without a handwritten power of attorney.  The lady explained  it was from across the border, and maybe I didn’t want my wife to see the mail I was sent.  They had a problem with a divorced spouse before... but that was their mistake as current married status is clearly stated on internal passports.

Is delivery possible?

I was going to wait until the temperature improved but the long range forecast had no warmer weather for the next two weeks. 

Sometimes the post office has occasionally delivered book packages straight to our apartment landing, so I decided to call to ask them to deliver what they had refused to release.

My Russian works!

Larissa printed what to say in Russian.  Using these notes, I scanned and ad-libbed.  I enunciated clearly and distinctly, and was happy to be understood with no problem. 

I said, Прошу пожалуйста.  Доставить пакет на дом.  Я не могу придти, болен...  which means... Please deliver my package to my home address.  I can not come there.  I am sick.


The clerk I spoke with (after maybe twemnty rings) said they would deliver the package, and a second book that had just arrived, that very night or the next day.

I handed the phone to Larissa to make sure everything was clear, and then we relaxed and felt happy with anticipation.


Within a few minutes we got another call saying they couldn’t deliver without a do-vear-en-noct delivered by hand first with this stipulated phrasing ...

доверенность  Power of Attorney

I, –name-, (internal passport numbers and dates) address, give permission to get all my correspondence which comes to this post office branch to my wife, (her passport information).

Signature Date

Signature Postal Supervisor  Counter signed in my presence.

The post office is open 10 am to 8 pm, so Larissa figured she would go after 5 pm in the bitter cold and solid dark to deliver the dovearennoct.  She said they were pleasant about it .  Later, at supper, I asked Larissa (before thinking what country I was in)...

Were they sorry about the inconvenience we experienced... Did they apologize?

Larissa look at me and said in a flat voice,

Robert, people in Russia never apologize. 

Especially true when it is some type of official problem! 

This story is typical of Russian bureaucracy, which is more burdensome than what I’ve heard about France.  Still, confronted with such situations, you can survive with patience, a level temper, and persistence. 

But yes, I sure miss the friendly flexibility of the average American bureaucrat!

Comments welcome, or you may use the Wibiya strip below.



  1. Robert, one of my 'fond' memories of my visit to Russia was the 3 hours in the Irkutsk post office spent trying to mail a package back to the US. Fortunately my friend was persistent, as they first wanted us to go to the train station, then said there were no boxes (they gave us a thin linen bag at last) and put various conditions on. Finally, after standing in the same line countless times, weighing everything one ant a time, sewing up the bag and watching it get wax seals put all over it, we took it up to the counter for the last time- and found that the prominent sign that said credit cards accepted was just 'left-over'. No problem- one does not expect to use cards there, anyway. I have to say that I never expected to see my package once I returned home, but a month later- there it was, the talk of the post office in our small village ))). I got a new appreciation of packages that are sent from Russia. When I was in Ukraine a few weeks earlier,I sent a package from a little post office inside the apartment building that I was staying in with family friends. There, although I still had to fill out all the forms 6x, and everything had to be examined and weighed, the postal people were friends with my hostess and so the mailing package was relatively quick and efficient- I think we were out of there in about 20 minutes.

    1. Hi Margo,

      It seems my local post office in St Petersburg wants to add some interest to my blog! Larissa took six packages to them the other day.

      They refused to accept them for mailing because they had tape... only glue is allowed and now this crazy rule is being enforced! Crazy is routine in some places.

      I hope you keep the glue covered, hand threaded, linen bag as a true souvenir of Russia. Your comments are very much appreciate, and interesting.

  2. "Robert, people in Russia never apologize."

    You need a country to be civilized for 50 years and than people will start apologizing.

    1. Whatever culture we are a part of, there are aspects that could stand some improving. Russia has been civilized a lot longer than the United States, they just approach things differently. Thank you for your comment!

  3. Maybe your Russian postal staff have Spanish cousins? I too can run into bureaucracy at our local Post Office when trying to collect something (usually a book) But after all my years here I usually manage to take it in my stride.

    1. Hi Rob,

      Taking things in your stride is a life skill we all need to continually work on! All of this crazy bureaucracy adds piquancy to living abroad. Congratulations on being a published author with an e book on Amazon!

  4. Good for you for eventually getting the parcel! I tried to send my Russian husband to pick up a letter for me, as I wasn't feeling well. No such luck! Making the trip together took 3-4 hours roundtrip, just for a letter. We could have had it resent to a Post Office closer to us, but that would have taken time, as well.

    Regarding Russian mailboxes, we open ours without a key! Just wiggle it a bit by hand and the door pops open, grab the mail, and you're all set.

    1. Hi Liz,

      Even wit)h a доверенность (letter of authority) on file, my wife still meets resistance when shе tries to get a package for me. If I arrive they make allowances for someone they view as a semi-literate American.




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