In which you’ll need an H

Near the end of my stay in Rome, my mom decided to come and visit me. This was truly a wonderful thing to look forward to as I had only been able to talk to her through the phone that either had charge or minutes, not both. It had also been quite the run of emotions as it was my first time traveling and living abroad, so I was looking forward to her visit. The thing was, it was cheapest for her to fly in and out of Frankfurt. She said she was excited to do that and then take a train down to meet me. We could then fly Ryan Air back to Frankfurt and depart from there. This meant that I had to call the student travel agency with whom I had booked my ticket and change over to Frankfurt, buy train tickets for my mom from Frankfurt to Rome, and send said tickets to her via insured mail.

The transfer of ticket only took three tries and me finding a friend in the program who spoke German since ultimately I had to call the German branch of the travel company. My friend ended up being unnecessary, but I appreciated being willing to help. Did I mention that Germans’ English is generally quite excellent? Buying the tickets only took two tries because the person at the train station did not believe that the tickets I wanted actually existed. Trying to send the tickets to my mother insured…well.

The first thing was that I figured I could send some important things home with the tickets since I had to send a package anyway. Thus, I found a fairly small box and filled it with all of the disposable cameras from the trip, a few documents, and the tickets for my mom. In this box I included a detailed letter about what to do with the tickets, where to go, what transfer stations to take, and what to do with all the other stuff (namely nothing). I then did my duty researching the Italian words for things like “insured package” and “important documents” so that I could succeed admirably at the post.

Off I went to the post office.

The first discovery was that after I asked to send an insured package to the United States with important documents, the lady at the post office said that I could not send a package insured, only a letter, and anyway I would need an H.

The package was a problem I clearly understood, and like any post office, there was a line forming behind me. So, I stepped out of line and thought about my options. The first thing that came to mind was that I had once heard a friend say the Vatican City has the best postal system in the world. This has never made sense to me, not because I think it would have a good postal system and a different one than Italy because it is its own country, but because the Vatican is entirely surrounded by Italy. Shouldn’t anything coming in and out of the Vatican (particularly as mundane as mail) have to go through Italy to get anywhere? I was at the post office next to the Vatican anyway, so I figured why not?

The Vatican Post is tucked away in a little corner to the right of St. Peter’s Basilica, and once I found it I went through the carefully prepared conversation again. I wanted to insure a package with important documents to the United States. Man, I was getting good at this vocabulary. The response was that the Vatican doesn’t insure packages, period.

What to do, what to do, what to do?

I reasoned that the only thing I really needed to insure was the letter and train tickets. These could fit in an envelope and send via Italian post insured to my mom. The cameras and things were just convenient baggage to go along with the actually important things. Thus, I opened the package, extracted the documents, bought an envelope, and decided to try the Vatican post anyway with my box o’ cameras.

This went swimmingly until the guy at the Vatican post said they couldn’t send a package that was unwrapped. I was just going into panic mode about that when he patiently pulled out brown wrapping paper and twine. He then expertly wrapped up my box, tied and glued twine around the package so it looked like a stereotypical Christmas gift package. He asked me to re-write the addresses. I paid, and off it went.

Now for the insured letter. I went back to the Italian post, waited for the much longer line now that I had delayed myself an hour, and boldly declared I wanted to send it insured to the United States because it had important documents. The lady said, “You’ll need an H.”

“What’s an H?”

“Qualcosa, qualcosa, qualcosa,…you need to go to a card/book shop to get one, and the nearest one is around on the other side of the block.”

O…K…? So, off I went around the two corners necessary to find said card/book shop. I kept wondering What is an H, and if you need one to send insured postage, why can’t you get one in the post office? Also, why can’t you just insure a package?

I walked timidly into the shop and went to the clerk. I said, “Excuse me. I need an H?”

“What?” was the puzzled response. Uh oh.

“I am really not sure, but the post office said I needed an H for this letter.”

“Oh, right wait a minute,” and he walked into the back room without a word.

He came back out a few minutes later and said enigmatically, “It has to heat up.”

I just kept thinking What in the world is an H?

As it turns out, an H is a wax seal. It has the letter H in it for reasons that I still do not understand, and it is required to show no one has opened the insured envelope. The clerk came out after a few moment and diligently poured and pressed five H wax seals onto the seam of the envelope. It was amazing to watch the medieval (or I suppose modern since it is still a practice very much in use) process in action, and this made me extremely happy.

Finally, the wax had dried and I carefully took the letter back to the post office. One more round of waiting, a confusing conversation in which I didn’t understand that the cost for insuring something and the actual value for that thing are two different prices, and the letter was on its way. SUCCESS!

The package from the Vatican arrived weeks before the letter from Italy despite the fact that they were both mailed the same morning. Vatican Post For The Win! Because the package arrived early and without the instructions (they were in the letter), my mom developed all of the cameras. Ooops. The post office was amazed at the wrapping as it is apparently not allowed at all in the US post. Just imagine their surprise a few weeks later when they received a letter with not one but five wax seals on it.