We have finally got around to getting a mailbox at the end of our driveway and very handsome it is, too. Up until now, we have relied on our trusty post office box at the Richmond Hill Post Office.
In England, house numbers tend to be consecutive: 1,3,5,7, etc., on the left side of the road and 2,4,6,8, etc. on the right. The number 13 is generally omitted as even builders and planning authorities consider it unlucky.
Imagine my surprise when I realized that in the U.S., houses are usually assigned numbers proportional to their yardage from a specific baseline, such as the beginning of the road. On some long roads, the numbers can go up to four or five digits – for example 12603 Long Acre Drive. And if you name your house (as we have done, which is very common in England), you still have to include the number on your mailing address.
And don’t even get me started on the grid plans and one-way systems in some U.S. cities – although I am told they are generally very logical by my infuriatingly logical husband.
Another basic difference is the English always informally call the mail “the post” and we put our letters and parcels into “pillar boxes,” which are bright red and have “ER II” embossed onto them. This stands for Elizabeth Regina (the Latin word for “queen”) and honors Queen Elizabeth II because the British postal service is officially called the Royal Mail.
One thing that is the same on both sides of the Atlantic is people sometimes complain about their postal service. All I know is that my experience of the courteous and helpful people at the Richmond Hill Post Office has always been very good, and our mail lady is friendly and efficient.
The U.S. Postal Service is a huge operation and one of the few government agencies authorized by the U.S. constitution. It is the 48th largest employer in the country with 574,000 workers and has the largest fleet of vehicles in the world (218,000). The USPS delivered 177 billion pieces of mail in 2009!
Of course one of the biggest differences is that although in the land of my birth there are lots of red pillar boxes scattered around in which to deposit mail, there is no mail collection from homes. When we first emigrated, I thought my family was “teasing the foreigner” when they told me the mail man would collect outgoing stamped mail from the mailbox at the end of the drive.
Now I love putting up the little flag on our mailbox when we have mail to send out and check to see that our mail lady has taken it when she puts the flag down – this is still a novelty to me, so please be patient. I did worry about the security of all this, but apparently all Americans know that it is a federal offense to interfere with the mail, so my fears seem a little bit over the top.
The other huge difference is the way mail is delivered to homes. In the U.K., we have slots in our front doors, like small cat flaps, called letter boxes, through which the mail is pushed by the “postman.” When we lived in England, I developed the bad habit of collecting our mail from the front door mat still damp from the shower and wearing only a bath towel. I stopped doing that the day I came face to face with our minister as I opened the door to push through a parcel that had gotten stuck.
It also seems very strange to me when my husband drives up to our mailbox and reaches out from the car to grab the day’s mail – a true example of one American’s commitment to convenience, efficiency and the automobile. My own method is a little different – I normally walk our dogs and put out our mail for sending on our way out and collect any incoming mail on our way back. Of course my dear husband says I refuse to drive to our mailbox, not because of any British sensitivity or commitment to exercise but because I have short arms and my driving skills are such that I might crash into our shiny new mailbox. Charming!
God bless America!
Francis grew up in London, England, and moved to Richmond Hill in 2009 with her American husband, Carl, and English dogs. She can be contacted at email@example.com or www.lesleyfrancispr.com.