NEW ZEALAND – My 8-year-old daughter recently received a school assignment to look at letterboxes. The assignment consisted of figuring out how letterboxes are constructed and what purpose they serve.
Her teacher asked me to join them for a letterbox field trip. Of course, her teacher’s Kiwi accent is so thick at times that I thought she said “litter box” field trip, and I was pleased to be a part of a cleanup Wellington, New Zealand, expedition – although I hoped it had nothing to do with cats.
When I said “sure” with great enthusiasm and asked if I should bring plastic bags for the cleanup, the teacher gave me a quizzical look. At that point, my daughter jumped in and translated. We all grinned, and I still agreed to the field trip, although it didn’t sound near as interesting to me as picking up rubbish.
Almost all letterboxes – at least around my kid’s school and our Mt. Victoria neighborhood – are homemade.
They run the gamut from detailed miniature versions of the homes they stand in front of to makeshift boxes with leftover paint slapped on. Based on the variety, I’m tempted to say that a psychotherapist could choose clients predicated solely upon the type of letterboxes people have in front of their houses.
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Plus, the letterboxes are huge here. It is as if everyone is expecting wonderful packages and over-sized checks from the Publishing Clearinghouse Sweepstakes to arrive any day – a nation filled with ever hopeful and anticipatory winners.
Few of the boxes have a little red flag that the letterbox owner can put up when there is mail to be picked up by the “postie,” or mail carrier.
That must be because the posties really do just seem to deliver mail. No matter how many times I left forwarding mail in our box when we first moved here, it was always left behind, along with that day’s post. I can’t say I blame the posties, because people seem to also use their letterboxes as ad-hoc paper-recycling bins.
Everywhere I lived in the states, people’s mailboxes were emptied everyday. It has been a ritual that people looked forward to, at least until the anthrax scare and that horrible confetti craze a couple of years ago. Phone bills and credit card offers seemed to do nothing to curb our desire to see what was in the mail each day.
But in New Zealand, junk mail just seems to accumulate in some people’s boxes. And the posties just keep delivering, until the boxes are brimming. I think this lackadaisical approach to mail might be more common with people that own the hastily constructed boxes.
None of my neighbors seem to have pizza coupons overflowing onto their well-manicured gardens. However, the university kids that live down the block seem to have an inordinate number of bills and brochures on budget travel to Fiji wafting down the street on windy Wellington days.
As my daughter’s teacher and I talked about letterboxes on our field trip, I asked if bored teenagers destroyed letterboxes with baseball bats here?
She doesn’t think they have a problem with that in New Zealand – you use a different swing with cricket bats and there aren’t many places where the boxes stand in a row like tin soldiers waiting for battle – but she’s seen it in the movies, and she knows it’s what some kids in America do. “Don’t they tip cows too?” she asks innocently enough, but I see the gleam in her eye.
Are we still talking about letterboxes and mail here, I start to wonder? Then she hits me with it, “Hey, we grew up on 90210; most of us don’t know our own Zip codes since they aren’t required for mail delivery in New Zealand, but we know that one. Isn’t that what you were like as a teenager?”
We both laugh, perhaps for different reasons, and I’m convinced that we aren’t talking about the mail anymore. Then again, maybe we never were.
Shelly Farr Biswell moved with her family from Nevada City to Wellington, New Zealand, earlier this year. She still empties her mailbox everyday.
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