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

The week before last I published the first article in a series of two here on Lexiophiles. In it, I promised to solve the eternal question: “Do mailmen have to be language geniuses?” ( This is the second and final part of the series where the answer to the question will be revealed.

Situation 2: Translation – The Grim Reaper to the Rescue

First, I will describe a situation that a mailman often faces, at least in certain neighborhoods. People stand in their door openings or outside their houses, waiting for you. When they receive their mail they either urge or command you: ”Read to me! No Swedish!” They are totally convinced that this is a part of your working tasks. Sometimes it is not easy or even wise to refuse them. It’s important to get some goodwill from your community. The sad part is just that the news that you are forced to give them sometimes makes you feel like the grim reaper himself. The letters are almost without exceptions from the police, enforcement- or tax authorities. On one occasion I had to translate a letter from a man’s custodian where it said that the custodian was sick of him and his violent behavior and that he would have to get a new one. I still remember his cold stare at my brow as I was desperately grasping for synonyms that weren’t quite as insulting as their counterparts in the letter.

Conclusion: A mailman has to be able to translate quickly while finding appropriate synonyms as he/she is doing so.

Situation 3: Context – Commercial or Toilet Paper

Something you notice as a mailman is that people love to inform you as creatively as possible that they don’t want any commercial. I am unsure, however, whether the purpose is to give the poor bored mailman a good laugh or just show their neighbors that they have humor. Anyway, I think that I speak for the mailmen of the world when I say that I would be eternally grateful if they would simply write:”No commercial, please”.

Sometimes it’s so bad that you don’t know whether you should give them commercial or not. A perfect example of this is the text:”Commercial, yes please. I’m out of toilet paper”. The first time I read this I must have been standing in front of the door for nearly a minute while scratching my head. The probability of the text being sarcastic is undoubtedly high. However, the person who wrote it might actually be in dire need of toilet paper. Can one really deny a person in such a predicament? In the end I delivered commercial there every second commercial day.

Conclusion: A mailman has to be able to tell sarcasm from SOS-messages.

My final conclusion must be that it’s a huge advantage for a mailman to master his native tongue as well as other languages. If he or she does not it can lead to situations where perfectly healthy legs get wrapped in bandages, that he or she gets a mail from the authorities forced down the throat or that some poor human being gets to spend the rest of his days on the toilet.

Finally, I yet again would like to encourage people to post replies to this article, briefly describing language demands on their jobs. Another text that might be interesting for inspiration is about the language demands on American firefighters.


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