I used to deliver mail and I’m going to give you some insider views into the life of a carrier.  And I’ll share a few tips about what you can do to make life better for this sometimes-invisible neighbor.

It almost seems like one of my weirdo dreams now, but Laressa assures me it was for real. For a couple of short stints between jobs in the past, I played the part of the mailman. It was a once-a-week deal. I’d show up on Saturday or Monday and give the regular guy a day off.

I actually do have a recurring dream occasionally about showing up late to sort the mail or forgetting the route. I have a circuit of recurring dreams which include that one, finding a new room in my house I’ve never seen before, marching onto the HS football field with my trombone and not knowing the song or where to go, running late to a wedding I’m supposed to be photographing.

And then there was the time I rode a roller coaster naked. And the time I landed the space shuttle on the moon. And the time I woke Laressa by screaming AARDVARK!

Wait, where did I get off track? Back to the mail carrier thing.

The Life Of A Mail Carrier

With the insight of a former part-time carrier, I can tell you a few things about that life which it may be helpful for you to know.

  • They know a lot about you. That’s not because they’re nosy. They just can’t help but know which magazines you subscribe to, which non-profits you support (or which non-profits wish you’d support them), what kind of things you buy online, etc. They know a little about your daily schedule and when you go on vacation. They know which day of the week you cut your grass.  They can tell from the yard how old your kids are if you have kids and they probably know your kids’ names. They know (roughly) how long you’ve lived in your house. They probably know if you’re in legal trouble because of that certified mail that shows up occasionally. It’s a strange thing, really. Your mail carrier knows a lot about you and you may never speak to them. You may not even know their name.
  • Long conversations make them late for dinner. Some mail carriers are laid back and some are in a race to get home quickly. Some take pride in getting back to the office first before the other carriers. There are a couple of factors which play into how long it takes. Some routes are longer than others. Sometimes you have more packages which take longer to track and deliver. Seasonality is huge. From Halloween to New Years, carriers work longer hours. Their easy days are in the spring and summer. Sometimes you have chatty residents who like to talk to you while you’re out.
  • Almost all carriers have nick-names. When you’re sorting mail in the morning and you have your case memorized, you don’t have to think much. That means you have time every day to chat with the carriers who are sorting mail close to you. Nearly all of the carriers I worked with had nicknames, mainly so we could tease each other. Mine was Opie. I subbed for Little Boy. Across from me was Elvis.
  • Carriers probably know the neighborhood better than you. If you think about the first point, you realize that not only do they know a lot about you, but they know a lot about your neighbors. City carriers who are on foot know every pothole, fence, and dog. Rural carriers (that was me) know who takes care of their property and who is home during the day.
  • Sometimes carriers are first-responders. It is not uncommon for mail carriers to be the first on the scene if there’s been an accident at home. Sometimes they witness an accident or find someone injured. They usually know if there is an elderly resident who may be in trouble. If they normally get their mail every day but miss a couple of days, they may knock on the door to make sure everything is OK. Mail delivery can be a monotonous routine, but occasionally you get to serve your residents in special ways and that means a lot to the carrier and to the carrier community. Mail carriers who go above and beyond are recognized through their unions and offices.

6 Ways to Show Appreciation

Your mail carrier plays a pretty important role in your life and the life of your neighborhood and they’re often under-appreciated.  Here are some ways you can make sure your carrier knows you appreciate the work they do.

  • Learn their name. The fact that you know them by their name and not as “the mail carrier” goes a long way. I shared some tips on memorizing names here. You may even ask if they have an office nick-name.
  • Engage in short conversations. You noticed I said that long conversations make them late for dinner. This really depends on the personality of your carrier and your own social skills. One thing I try to do when I want to chat with my carrier is to walk with them for a few steps while we talk. I’m in the city so my carrier (Kelly) is on foot. If I’m out when he’s delivering, I won’t stand there and expect him to spend a lot of time with me. I keep the conversations relatively short. I’m still getting to know Kelly. My old carrier’s name was Scottie and we used to talk quite a lot of trash about college football. We both enjoyed it, so I rarely hesitated to kick off the smack talk. The life of a carrier can be lonely. A little conversation can be a nice break in the monotony.
  • Clear the path and maintain your box. Whether they’re driving or walking, if it’s hard to get to or away from your mailbox or porch, it can make a carrier grumpy. Also, make sure your mailbox is in good condition. Rusty or broken hinges are no fun for a carrier. A box that flops over when you close the lid can cause injuries or damage to the car.
  • Show your appreciation in every note or conversation. Always include a “Thank You”, even if you have to make a correction or suggestion. An occasionally mis-delivered item is going to happen. They deliver thousands of pieces every single day. If you have to leave a note, make sure you leave some kind of appreciation as well. If you have an exceptional carrier, call your local post office and brag on them. I did that with Scottie. The supervisors at the post office usually only get to have conversations with people who are mad. It’s kind of like the flight check-in counter. If you tell the carrier’s supervisor that your carrier is awesome, I guarantee your carrier will find out, and I guarantee your carrier will remember that for years to come.
  • Show your appreciation with a gift. Carriers are federal employees, so there are regulations here. The “Employee Tipping and Gift-Receiving Policy” from the USPS states that “Carriers are permitted to accept a gift worth $20 or less from a customer per occasion, such as Christmas. However, cash and cash equivalents, such as checks or gift cards that can be exchanged for cash, must never be accepted in any amount. Furthermore, no employee may accept more than $50 worth of gifts from any one customer in any one calendar year period.”
  • Coordinate gifts with your neighborhood. This can be a fun twist on the gifting idea. Have your neighbors join you in giving the carrier a gift on the same day. We’re coordinating this through Nextdoor and doing it the week before Christmas. You can even volunteer to pick up gift cards and give them to your neighbors (they’ll pay you back) so they can leave them for the mail carrier on the same day. When your carrier picks up several gifts on a single day, she’ll know she’s not only helping individuals, but an entire community.

Your Turn

What are some other ways you can show appreciation for your federally-employed part-time neighbor?

Photo by Kat Northern Lights Man, Flickr.



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