Ignorance is the source of rule-making

The generalization is that in third world countries, bureaucrats in government agencies can make the rules as they go along, due to lack of accessible documentation. The United States, given the deplorable state of its health care services, its primary/secondary education system, transportation infrastructure, etc, could almost qualify as a third world country. Certainly, its Postal Service lacks a written policy on: “What to do with an unused stamp on a flawed envelope?”
By ‘flawed envelope’, I mean something like I decided not to mail the letter after I had stuck a stamp on it and addressed it and sealed the envelope.

(These days, stamps are self-adhesive like stickers, not licked. In the old days, you could soak the stamp off the envelope (I used to be a keen philatelist). I don’t know if you can soak these modern self-adhesive stamps: I haven’t tried, but I probably will now.)

Having an unused stamp on an envelope is something that’s happened to me at least twice in the past few years. I simply took the envelope to the Post Office, explained it to the clerk, and they usually took my stamp/envelope, and gave me a new stamp of the same value. One time, they rejected it, because I had torn off too much of the envelope in an effort to recycle the paper, and they couldn’t tell if the envelope might have been used, i.e. if cancellation mark somehow avoided inking the stamp. I’ve gotten envelopes via mail like that before, and but never succumbed to the temptation of soaking off the stamp to reuse it (which would be a minor form of fraud.)

So yesterday, when I went to the Post Office with a stamped envelope (it was for an invitation, which I ended up hand-delivering.) I expected to get another $.37 stamp back. The postal clerk said he could give me back my money discounted 10%, “since we can’t use the stamp either when we take it back.” Or I could peel it off and stick it on another envelope. He showed me how, starting to work on the stamp with his fingernails. . . I snatched back my envelope and stamp.
“What! I’ve brought in my unused stamp on the envelope before, and they’ve simply given me a stamp of equal value.” I proclaimed.

“Well, we can’t use the stamp we take back from you, so we have to discount 10%…”
Give me a frigging break. That itty-bitty little sticker can’t cost 3 cents to produce. Imagine if I had stuck on a $3.00 stamp that’s barely double the size. I’d be out thirty cents!
“I don’t really think the stamp should be peeled off to be reused. You risk tearing the stamp while removing it, and even if you do remove it intact, it’s all wrinkly and got paper fibres stuck onto from the old envelope, so it won’t stick very well.” (Besides, how do I know you weren’t picking your nose before I got to your window.)“Is this 10% discount a new policy? Last time I just got a stamp of the same value for the stamp on the envelop. When was this policy adopted?” I continued.

He couldn’t answer. “Oh yes, you can ask anyone here.”

Ah . . . The last time I had an unusual transaction at the post office was to mail an organic herbal concoction that was a pest-deterrent solution. The active ingredients were listed (I showed them the shipping invoice that came with the concoction . . . via UPS). The postal clerk couldn’t find any mention of the ingredient in the postal policy binder listing of forbidden items. In my view, if it’s not expressly forbidden, it’s permitted. But she, not wanting to risk mailing something unknown, hemmed and hawed to discourage me from mailing the item.

“You can’t reuse the used envelope to mail that,” she finally said.

I can understand her not wanting to risk her neck for mailing what could be hazardous material. If she would have said, “You know, since September 11, we’re more wary of mailing things, and since I don’t know whether or not your item is hazardous, I will not accept it for mailing.” That I would have understood and said “fine.” But because she probably didn’t want to look stupid for not knowing whether or not it was hazardous, so she said “You can’t ship it in a reused envelope.” What nonsense!

90% of the stuff I mail is in reused or crossed out envelopes you get from credit-card companies, etc. The other 10% is wrapped in brown supermarket bag paper.)

So I turned around and shipped it onwards . . . via UPS.

. . . . Back to the clerk and the unused stamp. I took my envelop and left, peeved that I’d wasted all this time explaining all this to a clueless clerk, and without getting my new stamp. When I went home I went to the USPS website, but failed to find anything there. So I called up their 1-800 number, explained the situation and asked what was the policy.
“Well you just have to take it to the Post Office and see what they say,” the customer service rep said lamely.
“You mean to say, the Postal Service no uniform or adopted policy on what to do with an unused stamp on an envelope that a customer wants credit for?”
In so many words, she said “No, there wasn’t.”
For the second time that day I was flummoxed by the USPS. I figure this can’t be the first time it’s happened, in fact it’s bound to happen fairly often, so why hasn’t their been an established policy on what the return/refund policy is. I mean every retail store in the US has one, why not the USPS?

So what happened to the poor stamp? I peeled it off, applied a dab of Elmer’s glue and stuck it on the envelope for a Mother’s Day card.


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