The main post office in Prague has an awesome ‘take a number’ system. For a foreigner, this is not your boring walk in, take a number, sit down, wait for your number to be called variety of queue management. No, this is the choose-your-own-adventure, extreme ultimate challenge, suspense thriller version of standing in line.
It starts when you come in the front door to find this:
To be fair, I’ve never been in the main post office of any major city before, so for all I know this is pretty standard. I guess I was expecting something more casual and straight forward like a neighborhood post office. Not something this awesome. We stared at the 3 walls of windows for a few seconds, not sure what to do.
A security guard passed by without giving us any attention. I guess looking dumbfounded isn’t suspicious.
Some helpful Brits informed us that a particular window tucked away off to the side was a good place to start with buying stamps and envelopes. Thankfully the woman there spoke English, so we bought some envelopes and postage for the US, then asked the all important question: How do we add tracking or insurance to a package?
Answer: “Try window 10.”
We turned around to face the massive expanse of options again, looking for window 10. What do we have here? Numbers being displayed on a row of digital boards, each matched with a ticket window number – so some kind of line must be forming. The numbers look random – 121 here, 953 there. There is window 10, but clearly we can’t walk right up to it. Where do we even get a number?
Ok, choose your own adventure time:
If you’d like to just mail the package without insurance or tracking, turn to page 53.
If you’d like to go back to the front of the building and regroup, turn to page 101.
Page 53 reads, “You’re a pansy. You should follow your wife’s lead and be determined to get this done right.” So I hope you chose page 101 like us.
The post office entry way had 4 bright-yellow-get-a-numbered-ticket-machines. Naturally, they were easy for us to miss because our untrained eyes were too busy being stupid Americans. Then again, these weren’t straight forward ticket machines, they were brilliant ticket machines. Instead of taking a ticket and joining a single queue, you got to choose from 1 of 10 different buttons to get a number! Our best guess was that each button corresponded to a different service you were looking to receive from the post office, but the labels were in Czech so how could we know?
I silently pondered pressing all the buttons and using whatever number came up in the queue first. But, instead we chose one at random. Maybe it would magically take us to window 10.
We sat down in the waiting area, and the suspense began. What number would come up next (it wasn’t really going in order)? What window would it call us to? Would they speak English at that window? Would that window offer the service we need? Eventually we double checked the ticketing system and realized this:
Sometimes you just gotta read. English instructions. We grabbed a new ticket for something we now knew was labeled “sending a package with EMS.” It was the closest thing we could find to sending a package with anything extra. Lo and behold, the number was called almost instantly, and we were called to window 10. We were saved!
Hey, we should remember that we don’t speak Czech…
At some point Amy and I will learn that we should look up key words in Czech that correspond with the task we wish to accomplish that day. Because when the sweet woman at window 10 didn’t speak any English, it would have been very helpful to be able to say a word or two of what we wanted in her native tongue.
C’est la vie, as they say in a totally different, not-useful-at-the-moment language. We all shrugged and smiled for awhile until an English speaking Post Office worker was available. It was VERY nice of her to get this person to help.
In the end, we got everything squared away and the mail was sent. I’m leaving out some details – we actually pulled about 5 tickets from the machine total, were in the queue two times, and had a fun back and forth about whether or not to take these pictures when there were ‘no photography’ signs clearly posted. Lucky for you all we’re rule breakers. Or at least just very sneaky.