The Yearlong Quest of a Christmas Card

A reader of my recent post about corruption in South Africa took issue with my generalized comments about thievery in South Africa and an “underlying attitude” he identified as less than helpful. “There is a lot of anecdotal info in your post,” he wrote, “but a few hard facts with respect to the actual incidence of mail theft would make some of the claims more credible.”

Never mind that I think I took special pains to make sure that my comments were in fact not generalized at all. That in general I have almost exclusively good things to say about South Africa and especially its people. That I singled out the postal service only because it has repeatedly deprived my kids of well-meant Christmas presents, or the pleasure of having their friends receive a birthday present they painstakingly selected, paid for with their own money, wrapped, and sent off to South Africa. Never mind all that. What really made me stumble over that comment was the mention of “hard facts” and that my research was lacking on that front. I take my professionalism very seriously.

Therefore, I shall be conducting a (very timely) experiment:

Today, on December 16th 2013, I am sending out 142 Christmas cards. (And yes, you may pat me on the back for this almost unprecedented lead time; in the past, I have struggled to get them out the door on the 23rd of December, if before Christmas at all.)

st. Nicholas day tradition

Here is the breakdown of my Christmas card list by country:

Canada 1
Germany 29
Japan 2
Netherlands 3
Philippines 1
Singapore 2
South Africa 15
Sweden 1
Switzerland 1
Taiwan 1
Thailand 1
USA 85
Total 142

(Please note that there might have been more than 15 cards to South Africa, but some of our South African friends seem to have opted for U.S. addresses in their own anecdotal response to fraud in the South African postal system.)

It will be very simple. I’ll be collecting the following “hard facts”:

Do people get their Christmas card?

Do they receive their card in its original form (i.e. not in any way tampered with or opened)?

Do they receive their card in a reasonable time frame?

I had to add that last one, because I’d like to bring this experiment to its conclusion, say, by the end of January. Can we agree that that’s a reasonable time frame?

When asking some of my US-based friends to verify their address, after our three-year postal-service-induced exile from the Christmas card world, one of them told me that I’d be receiving TWO cards from them this year. Because they JUST had their last Christmas card, sent to us at the end of 2012, returned to them from South Africa as undeliverable. That in itself is not surprising, since we did move away shortly after Christmas last year and presumably the card arrived just a few days after I had canceled our post box (there is no mail forwarding in the South African postal service). But where has it been since then? It was gone for an ENTIRE YEAR! Exactly where that card spent the year is a mystery I would dearly love to solve. And why it re-emerged now, precisely, or even at all, is an even bigger mystery.

So I’ll be meticulously keeping track of my Christmas cards this year. Not just the ones sent to South Africa, but all of them. I’ll notify you if you are to be the (lucky) recipient of our card, and please don’t think I’m totally anal when I ask you to let me know when you receive it. It’s all in the pursuit of science and “hard facts.” Then I’ll evaluate the results by country. I’m aware that the numbers for some of them are too small to make them statistically valid, so I’ll likely have to throw out most countries. But I think it’s fair to say that I’ll be able to get enough data to compare South Africa to the United States and Germany.

Let the games begin!

(Oh, and in case anyone at any of the world’s postal services is listening in: I am NOT including any money in any of the envelopes. Or any bank cards with my account information. I just mention this to spare you the effort of feeling up all my mail or, God forbid, having to actually open it.)

Read the sequel here: Project Postal Service – Or What Really WAS in those Christmas Cards?

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