Do Mailmen have to be Language Geniuses? – Part 1 of 2

The past six summers I’ve been working as a mailman in Sweden, sorting mail in the mornings and delivering it in the afternoons.
It can be tedious, heavy and stressful. Most of the time however, it’s a pretty decent job. You start early and finish early, get exercise from running stairs and feel that you really do something important as approximately 500 households depend on you to get their mail. The main benefit in my opinion though, is that you can listen to music half of the working day while delivering mail. The absolute peak of the day is when you manage to synchronize a jump down the four last steps of the stairs with a heavy rock-chord and feel like Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden (The following clip would illustrate the feeling well: I’m aware that this might sound a bit silly but I’m describing it just so you may get an idea of just how repetitive it can be to run up and down the stairs of a hundred three storey houses.

Anyway, to get to the point, I felt that I was in dire need of letting people know about the regular day of a Swedish mailman. Sure, the eardrums of my girlfriend and family have been bombarded to the verge of deafness by my complaints. However, I’m not satisfied. I feel that the time is ripe to bombard your eardrums (or more like cornea) as well, dear readers. As a matter of fact it will even be suitable for this site, which as you know is supposed to be language related. I intend to investigate whether a mailman needs to be a language genius or not. In doing this I will support my reasoning on three different situations that I encountered on my job during the past summer. And before I start, it should be said that the scientific correctness of both my method and contribution should be seriously questioned.

Situation 1: Choice of Words – Leg, leg. or leg?

I drive up to a three storey house with my electric moped and am just about to reach for the mail (looking a lot like the man on this page, just younger). When I hear a shout behind me: ”Leg!?” I turn around to see a moustachioed man in his sixties looking at me with questioning eyes. “Leg!?” he tries again. I smile uncertainly at him to give myself time to think: ”What does this man want?” I reach two possible conclusions. Either I have something on my leg or he has hurt his. After two quick glances I discard these alternatives. Of course Leg. can also be an abbreviation of legitimation (ID) in Swedish. Does he want me to show him my ID? Maybe to see if I’m really a mailman and not an impostor or to see my name so he can report me to the head office for some mistake I made. It sounds absurd I know, but it might actually be the case.

Before I manage to reach for my drivers licence however, the man who by now realizes that I’m puzzled points at himself and says yet again “Leg!” As he does this I finally (and awkwardly) remember what is written on the first door to the right in the house that we’re standing in front of. The man puts his hands forward with palms facing up. His surname is ”Leg” and he wants his mail. I give him his mail and in the confusion forget to ask him for his leg. (ID) to make sure that he really is Leg (which is an uncommon thing to be sure considering there are only seven with that name registered in the German telephone catalogue.

Conclusion: A mailman has to be able to distinguish between names, abbreviations and nouns.
This first situation was a teaser. If you want more where that came from you should check for part two next week when I will establish whether a mailman needs to be a language genius or not. Then I will go through two other situations with the headlines ”Translation – The Grim Reaper to the Rescue” and ”Context – Commercial or Toilet Paper”. Until then it would be really interesting to know if anyone else has similar requirements to know languages in their line of work.


You might also like: