Monday, 14 April 2014

L is for boite aux Lettres

The humble letterbox might seem a lightweight subject for a blog. But stay with me.

Growing up in the UK, I am accustomed to my mail being thrust at me through a flap in the front door. The 'letter box' at home is a rectangular slot usually with a hinged flap to keep the draught out.

For the first few years we owned our house in France, we assumed that any mail not sent to our UK address would be pushed under the door. Then a friend pointed out that we are required by law to have a little mailbox attached to our garden wall.
Postage in France in prohibitive. The cost of sending anything further than the next town has me calling my bank for authorisation. We have an attic full of books, some quite valuable, which the husband had thought to flog on ABE but we rapidly abandoned the idea when the first postage bill came to more than the revenue of the books we had sold.

After a year of living here, I still can't get used to consciously taking the key and opening the door to find if any mail has been delivered. I find myself wondering why a certain letter or parcel hasn't arrived yet and then realise I need to walk to the front gate to check the box.

I once had a call from a man I didn't recognise. I struggled to understand his rapid French (never easy on the phone) and after much repetition of the words colis and what I believed to be 'boitolette' I was still none the wiser. Then he uttered the magic one: Amazon. I dived to the little box and discovered a parcel which had clearly been lying there for a few days. How, I wondered, did it get in there?

This word 'boitolette' struck me as jolly appropriate. The suffix ette or lette often occurs in French and implies a diminutive, which is precisely what the post box is. A little box, neatly perched on the garden wall with a cute little door opened by a cute little key. I also liked the 'o' in the middle, reminding me of English conjunctions of words like jack-o-lantern and 6 o'clock.

It took me months to realise how foolish I had been. In the market one day, a visiting friend asked where the boite aux lettres was and the light poured in.

On the flipside, there is a great system in France of points relais. If you want something in a hurry, you can either pay through the nose for a courier or you can opt to have it delivered to one of very many shops who offer the relais service. It arrives in double quick time and is absolutely free.

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