Lockdown Calendar Shipping

We’ve been happily mailing out calendars every autumn/winter for years now, with very few problems. In all the years we’ve been mailing worldwide, only a couple of calendars have failed to arrive and very few have arrived late. We’ve always sent them by regular ELTA mail – without tracking – to keep the shipping cost down for our customers and this has worked really well in the past. However… this calendar season was like no other…

I’ve always sent them from our local post office in Koroni, which is less than a ten minute drive away. However, Koroni was under pressure, as the postmaster had retired back in the summer and for some bizarre reason ELTA chose not to replace him. Instead, they used a string of temporary staff, brought in from other post offices. By the time the Christmas season came, piles of incoming mail bags and parcels covered most of the post office floor, and the back office was like jumble-sale. Queues of masked customers waited in the street, often in the rain, hoping that when they finally got to the counter, the computerised system might possibly be working! Most of the problems were with the sheer volume of unsorted incoming mail. Although at one point the computer system was broken for well over a week, so there was no chance of sending anything recorded. It was complete chaos in there for a while – especially around pension time and was not helped by being in a fairly strict ‘lockdown’.

So, when it came to mailing out large numbers of calendars in October/November, we decided to avoid the Koroni post office if at all possible. Petalithi post office – a 40 minute drive north of us is our next closest. We used Petalithi once, but it’s a small office and Mick wasn’t particularly popular when he tried to send about 30 packages in one go, even though we weigh all the packages ourselves, calculate the shipping costs, give them a detailed list and stick all the stamps on ourselves.

Mick made one trip to the Kalamata central post office – an hour’s drive north of us. Here he waited outside in the street for two hours, until his ticket number came up and he could finally get to the counter. Eventually we found a great solution in Messini, where the post office is quite spacious and even has a spare desk by the window. I got to know one of the ladies who works there quite well… Apparently it was best for us to phone them one week in advance of our visit so they could order in the stamps needed for our packages. I’m still wondering where all the stamps come from? Athens maybe? Thessaloniki? Perhaps they are rationed…

Mick and I spent several hours at that corner desk, happily sticking stamps on our packages, listening to talk of olive harvest yields, potato plantings, pensions and parcel tracking. We duly phoned ahead to order the stamps, gave the clerk a complete list of denominations and prices and even took our own sponge and water system for stamp-sticking. Even though we ordered in advance, the stamps still came in tiny denominations of €1 and €0.50!

All this during lockdown – thank goodness for a ‘essential travel within Messinia for business purposes‘ paper supplied by our accountant. After one trip, we got home to a phone call from the post mistress in Messini saying we had missed the stamps off one envelope. One out of fifty or so! Luckily, a guy I know from Greek dance classes in Koroni owns a fish shop near the post office. He very kindly paid the post office for the missing stamps and the parcel was mailed the next day. I still owe him as we haven’t been out of Charakopio since November!

Despite the Covid-induced problems with worldwide mail services, all calendar packages sent to various parts of Europe arrived ok (apart from one package to Hungary, which is strange). Some took a normal amount of time… others took four-six weeks instead of the usual 7-10 days. It was all very random – packages posted on the same day, arrived weeks apart. Mail to Australia performed very well and Canada had long delays – I believe Canada even shut down its mail service for a week at one point.

America, however, had major problems of its own. As I write this – only around half of the calendar packages sent to the States between the end of October and the end of November have been delivered. I’ve read several startling articles recently about the sad state of the American mail service. It seems likely our calendar deliveries were affected by a combination of whatever went on with the postal ballots in the run up to the election; a serious shortage of staff due to Covid illness; the sheer volume of Christmas mail with increased online shopping due to stay at home measures… and a few other rather suspect political moves along the way.

My American customers have been really understanding – even though many, whose packages have not yet arrived, had ordered calendars as Christmas gifts. We have kept them informed as best we can and kept in touch throughout this difficult and rather embarrassing episode. We’ve sent them digital copies of both January and February so far and they’re all letting me know when their calendars turn up.

What have we learned from this nightmare Covid Calendar mailout? Well, we’re planning on printing next year’s calendar very early, so we can start mailing it out earlier to avoid the bulk going out pre-Christmas. We’ll now be offering ‘tracked’ shipping on calendars, and we’ll very likely be taking up residence on that lovely corner desk in the Messini Post office once a week in the run-up to Christmas 2021.

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