Anywho, when I was wandering through the Marrakech medina a few weeks ago, I remembered how much I loved checking the mailbox and, thinking it’d be nice to deliver an airmail treat back home, scurried off on my way to haggle for some postcards. (“Three dirhams, and not a cent more!”) Then, a chill washed over me and I became disoriented. I stopped in my tracks. “I don’t get it,” I said to George. “Get what?” he asked, his mouth full of kabobs. “Airmail.”
Seriously, I wondered. How the heck does airmail work? Did the U.S.P.S. have outposts in countries around the globe? Was there some big international airmail conglomerate? Just how was I going to be sure that this critically important postcard (wherein I told my mother how much nicer Moroccan doors were than hers…zing!) made it to Pennsylvania?
Uh, the United Nations, that’s how. Thank you very much. For any one still hanging with me on this uber fascinating journey, the Universal Postal Union, established in 1874 and now comprised of 192 member countries, is a special agency within the U.N. tasked with handling many of the details related international mail, such as tarrifs and logistics. Which, incidentally, explains the French Par avion that’s stamped on all international letters.
What it doesn’t explain is who the heck is actually moving the mail. There is shockingly (or maybe not?) little info out there on the e-webs about this but as best as I can tell (and by I, I mean me and George, who I forced to help me look), it’s often handled by the commercial airlines who operate as part of the International Air Transport Association, which works hand in hand with the UPI. (Guys, they even issued a new memorandum of understanding this past November. Friends!)
Okay, I’m kind of getting it, but not quite. I’ve got one last question: Why did my gal pal in St. Croix get her postcard from Morocco way before my mom? I took to the United States Postal Service website to find out…but became distracted by the provision in the International Mail Manual devoted to the export of “whole dried eggs” (Section 550, for those who are as intrigued as I am). Having no idea what the provision or whole dried eggs meant, I reluctantly moved along. Long story not reall that much shorter, I’m pretty sure that inbound mail comes to one of eight facilities in U.S…one of which is plunked in the U.S. Virgin Islands. None of which is plunked in Pennsylvania
So there you have it. My lazy attempt to figure out the international mail system from the comfort of my couch in under 15 minutes. (Ugh. That’s a lie. It took like an hour and it’s probably not even accurate.)
Now. Who’s headed somewhere fun? I think I want to start up a postcard collection again…