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An American in the French Languedoc

Mail Service as a Local Festivity



Our postman Manuel squats his ample frame on a banana yellow frame bicycle each morning to deliver our mail. His bicycle resembles my older sister’s mid-size Shwinn from the 1960’s.

Not only does he pedal the length and breadth of our village, Fabrezan population 1000, he does so amidst inclement sleet and savage gales, an apt description of adverse weather within the Languedoc. Manuel is of Andalusian origin, ceaselessly smiling or singing. His perennial cheer makes even bills and promotional leaflets openable.

During each Vendage (wine harvest season), he moonlit as a tractor driver hauling picked grapes to the village Wine Cooperative. This annual village ritual extends from mid-September until the first week of October. During those three weeks, his official position as mailman and town cyclist was taken by a variety of replacements, none surpassing his unique charm and character.

He returned to his delivery rounds, smile intact. Piloting a tractor bound only for a single location provides limited people contact.

During this past summer, following his morning rounds, Manuel was an avid people watcher, scanning passing vehicles and pedestrian traffic from a street side bench, adjacent to one of the two bars in town. Smiling and waving to his constituency in a broadly woven tropical shirt, he was and remains the epitome of village eccentrics who make Fabrezan a joyous esidence.

An equally intriguing peer of his is Josephine, the sole counter person at the local Post Office. Slim, attractive and engaging, Josephine regularly pulls her blond hair back into a tied ponytail and dresses provocatively with an array of clothing combinations. My wife particularly enjoys her selection of irregularly zippered tops.

Josephine has cultivated the art of facial gyration to a heightened level and can disarm even the most bstinate customer with a comic exhalation and raised eyebrow. Her performance is worth any wait in the cramped reception lobby of the post office. I have even heard her attempt to accommodate English clients, a rarity in a French village where most locals prefer to remain mute and let you suffer through fractured attempts at their language.

Another charming attribute of Josephine’s skill is her concern that overseas bound envelopes should be affixed with attractive and picturesque stamps.

Aesthetics aside, she insures each envelope has sufficient postage to satisfy her employers, the postal authorities.

I have personally witnessed her sift through an entire bound booklet of stamps to create the proper look for my behalf. Her ultimate selection (in excess of ten stamps) created the perfect ambiance of French philatelic diversity. The process exceeded five minutes. I must confess this attention to detail and personal fetish has been responsible for an increased percentage of my mail being actually opened.

In a more streamlined, efficiency conscious operation, Manuel and Josephine might become early casualties of downsizing. As they are underpaid employees of the French postal service, their job security is beyond challenge.

Prettily arranged stamps and Shwinn bicycles may seem woefully out of context with society’s current haste towards globalized homogeneity. Whether their quaint inefficiencies really matter is based on your dependence of an expedient postal system. Mail delivery universally always seems slower than perhaps it should be. The comparison is relative.

I prefer lowered expectations and heightened entertainment value. Besides when’s the last time you witnessed your mailman driving a tractor and serenading the fall colors with a tune audible only to himself?

Marques Vickers will be contributing monthly columns sharing his experiences as an expatriate in Languedoc.

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