Yesterday morning I went to the post office. I wanted to send a package to Germany. It seemed like 50 other people had a similar idea at the exact same time. While I was waiting in line for what turned out to be 45 minutes, I had enough time to ask myself a series of existential questions, such as, “why do some people wear shorts and flip flops when it’s freezing outside?” or, “what can I have for dinner tonight?”, but mostly wondered, “why is there such a long line at the post office at 10 AM???” In order to clarify this very important matter, I went through a very thorough 4 point analysis.
- Are there enough employees working at the counters?
There were employees at every single counter working at full speed. There was even an employee that was just there to answer questions. If a customer wasn’t in line to ship a package they could get ahead of the line.
Conclusion: The employees are very fast, so that couldn’t be the reason for the epic line. Next point.
- Is the USPS not efficient enough?
In my case, maybe. When it was (finally!) my turn, I was told that I had to fill out a custom form. No problem. However, the lady at the counter wasn’t sure which one of her two custom forms was for Germany. The only way for her to find out was for me to fill out the form, then type everything into the system and THEN see if it was the right one. It wasn’t. While that took maybe 5 minutes, other people in line went through much faster, so I can only assume that any other process seems to be running pretty smoothly. Also, there was a machine inside the post office for automated US-shipping. Anybody who wanted to ship a package within the US could avoid the long line and just handle their packages there. In fact, there were about 10 people using the machine and from what I could tell, they moved really quickly.
Conclusion: Besides minor issues, the USPS seems to have a well-organized system that works very efficiently. Moving on to point three.
- Is this the busiest season of the year?
It is Christmas time, which means that probably EVERYBODY is sending off packages to aunt Terry in Canada and cousin Martin in the Caribbean. So it makes only sense that there are this many people at the post office. Well, it would make sense, if I didn’t remember the last time I went to the post office. It was the end of July and the line was just as long.
Conclusion: Unless there is a disproportionate number of people abroad whose birthday is in July, this can’t be the reason either. .
- Are the customers slow?
If the employees aren’t slow, maybe it is actually the customers that ask too many questions or don’t understand the process of shipping a package. I count. 2.25 minutes. That is the average time it takes a customer to go up to the counter, handle their package and leave the post office.
Conclusion: This might not be as quick as the Wendy’s drive through, but it still cannot be considered slow.
Concluding this analysis, there seems to be no apparent reason for the never-ending lines at the post office. This then leaves me with four possible explanations. Explanation one: Americans are simply obsessed with sending packages to friends and relatives abroad. Explanation two: The vast community of US expats orders electronics, books, clothes (and pretty much anything that is cheaper in the US) online, and asks their friends and relatives to ship it to them. Explanation three: Both of the above. Explanation four: Every American has read Post Office by Charles Bukowski.