By Colin Sallee
Perspective is everything.
We’ve become so wrapped up in our own perceptions of things that when a fresh perspective is brought to our attention, we get an opportunity to reflect on, and possibly gain a new appreciation for, that new viewpoint.
As 2016 opens, The New York Times offered some interesting insight from a foreign-born citizen, Zeynep Tufekci, who reflected on her initial thoughts on the United States Postal Service, the concept of mailboxes, and patriotism, as well the entire infrastructure of America’s mailing system.
Tufekci, who currently teaches in the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina (while also contributing to the Times as a part-time opinion writer), offered a perspective on our postal mail system that most Americans might have never considered.
“My first year in the United States was full of surprises,” she writes. “I didn’t expect the post office.”
“The first time I needed to mail something, I trekked over to my campus’s post office, looking for the line to get my envelope weighed. The staff was used to befuddled international students like me, I suppose, and one clerk took my envelope without fuss, said ‘first class letter,’ and took my change.”
Her discoveries about the U.S. mail system and postage stamps was like a good book that she just couldn’t put down. The more she observed, the more she wanted to learn.
Vending machines outside of the post office led her to believe that stamps weren’t just used for mailing purposes.
“People came and bought stamps. So many people must be into stamp collecting,” Tufekci thought to herself.
“Was that another weird American quirk? Otherwise, why would people waste money buying stamps in advance, without having their letters weighed?”
Her curiosity didn’t stop there.
Tufekci, who had only been in the United States for a few weeks after living in Istanbul, Turkey, for much of her life, immediately realized the patriotism that most Americans showed.
However, those boxes with the little plastic red flags on them that everyone seemed to have near their houses confused her.
“I was slightly unnerved: Was the mail being stolen? [The mailman] then went over to another mailbox with the flag up, and emptied that box, too. I got my hint when he skipped the mailbox with the flag down.”
She learned quickly: The mail gets picked up from your house six days a week by a carrier if the red flag on your mailbox is raised.
Regular mail pick up was so monumental to Tufekci she told her friends back home, who met her with words of disbelief. Some even joked with her, saying she’d been recruited by the CIA and is now forever lost.
Tufekci went on to express her admiration for our entire postal system.