Last Saturday I went to my local post office in the Marais. I had a peculiar predicament and I was hoping they could solve my problem.


Since I left my law firm job, I no longer have access to free envelopes and (sometimes free) mail service. Having neither envelopes or stamps, I thought I would get ahead of the game by purchasing a 10-pack of pre-stamped envelopes at the supermarket. These envelopes are pre-stamped for mailings within France only.

So last Saturday, I needed to mail a check to the U.S. I took my pre-stamped envelope to the post office and asked if I could purchase an additional stamp that would make up the difference in price between a domestic and an overseas stamp. I suppose I did have a hunch it might not be this simple, so I wrote the address on a post-it note and not directly on the envelope.

My hunch was correct. “Non,” said the post office clerk. I said, “OK, may I purchase an envelope and a stamp for the U.S. then?” Once again the response was “Non. We do not sell envelopes.” I should note that the post office does sell boxes and larger pre-stamped envelopes, and even items seemingly unrelated to their fundamental business purpose such as cell phones and gift cards for various businesses. But normal letter-sized envelopes, non.

“So I must go somewhere else to buy the envelope and then come back to buy a stamp?” I asked. Finally a bit of useful information: “Non, you can buy the stamp now if you like.” Fantastic. One part of the process I could achieve right here and now. So I bought a stamp for the U.S.

I should have stopped there. But I didn’t. As she lay the stamp on the counter and I took out my coins to pay, a brilliant idea popped into my head. “Could I just add this stamp to the pre-stamped envelope? I know I will be losing some money, but then at least I won’t have to find a place to buy an envelope.” This time, she seemed to at least want to help me. “I don’t think so but I will go ask my manager.” She disappeared for a minute or two. Now a line was forming behind me.

When she came back, she once again gave me a “Non.” OK, I had one more chance. “What if I covered up the original stamp on the envelope with this stamp for the U.S.?” But again, “Non.”

This is not the first time I have failed to see eye to eye with a clerk here in Paris. But usually I am flailing out there on my own. This time, I experienced a rare manifestation of that third and oft-forgotten prong, fraternité. “Why not?” asked the man behind me, inquisitively. But no response. Not wanting to hold up the line any longer, I went on my merry way. Merry, until I wasted 30 minutes at BHV (the Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville department store) looking for envelopes. And then I had to purchase a 50-pack although I only needed one.

The moral of the story? I really don’t know.