No Soup for You! A Trip to the Turkish Post Office

As soon as Hope mentioned it, I knew she was on to something.  We were sitting in a Chinese restaurant in Florence talking about the deliciousness that is Italy, and she commented that many typical items in the grocery store are worth sending home as souvenirs because they’re unique, tasty, and easy to ship.

I was off!  Immediately, I sent my sister a box of Italian hot chocolate mix, or as KC calls it, hot pudding.  And when we got to Turkey, it was even better.  Soup mixes with mind-blowing flavors, tiny jars of spaghetti sauce with walnuts and basil ground up, olive paste…  Yum!!!!

Look for this symbol when you need a post office in Turkey

Look for this symbol when you need a post office in Turkey

It took me most of 6 weeks to find a poster tube to protect the olive oil lotions I bought at a little co-op in Sirince (shop local! then ship it to the other side of the planet!), so when we arrived at the post office, we were less than 72 hours from leaving Turkey.  Our goodies were safely packed into several small postal boxes (provided at no charge by the man behind the Kargo counter) and half a dozen manila envelopes.

I’d been to the post office (“PTT” in Turkey) a few times already, so I thought I was being smart when I posted (no pun intended) KC in the Kargo line with the big stuff while I waited in the Stamp line with our holiday thank-you cards.  (I’d seen a woman with manila envelopes wait in the stamp line the week before only to be sent to the Kargo line.) The surly postal clerk printed some stickers for my letters, then showed me the total on a calculator (this is how a good deal of my business in Turkey is conducted).  I paid and rejoined KC in the Kargo line.

KC admires the historic building of the main post office in Istanbul (not the branch where this story occurs)

KC admires the historic building of the main post office in Istanbul (not the branch where this story occurs)

Ah, the joys of learning the hard way.  (This is why EVERYTHING takes longer in a foreign country.)  Now I can report that the Kargo line is for big boxes and express (read: expensive) shipping for small boxes…. Sigh. Back to the Stamp line.  Back to the surly postal clerk.

Who handed me a box cutter and barked, “Open!”  (So she can speak English…). Sigh.

She then went through every single box and envelope, saying, “No, no, no”  to pretty much every item she pulled out.  Sigh.

Things she refused to mail: hand lotion, salt & pepper shakers, a few Euro coins, dry soup mix (think Lipton packets), and touristy sealed spice packets of saffron.  She even sniffed the spices like we were smuggling drugs.

Galata Bridge, Istanbul

Galata Bridge, Istanbul where we bought a fishing pole. The smoke is from the little stove for making tea.

Imagine the line that’s now grown behind us… Imagine how pleased they were.  When she got to the box with my dad’s fishing pole (a telescoping pole that collapses to about 24″ – we bought it from a guy on the bridge) and wanted to know what it was, imagine KC pantomiming a fly-fishing cast into the yonder depths of the Kargo room.  Imagine her feigning ignorance.  Imagine the entire line behind us shouting, in unison, what I can only assume was, “it’s a FISHING POLE, you moron!” in Turkish.  It was the only thing we managed to mail that day.

I went home and had myself a good cry.

The next day we went to a different branch and mailed everything, no questions asked.

…Actually, that’s not true.  The clerk did ask why in the world I would send that soup mix to anyone: “Don’t you have this in America?  It’s terrible. Unhealthy.  Turks don’t eat it.”  [Sorry, Ziggy! That one’s yours!]

And he removed that wonderful spaghetti sauce, explaining it was dangerous to mail food in glass items.   Me: “Ok, I’ll have it for dinner tonight.”
Him: “Dinner?!  This is for breakfast!  Here, let me show you:  first you toast some bread, then you spread this on the toast. It’s the best Turkish breakfast!”

And you know?  He’s right.. [Sorry, Hope!  That was to be yours.]

Turkish breakfast (Cevizli Ezme)

Turkish breakfast (Cevizli Ezme)


  1. I just love it!!!! You are a super writer. And all these experiences only come when you live a good bit of time in a country.

  2. And even after you’ve lived there for 16 years and speak the language pretty well (well enough to translate science research, thank you very much), a piss-poor attitude from a postal clerk, DMV clerk, doctor’s office receptionist, bank loan officer, or nasty old dude at the YMCA swimming pool may still send you packing for home in need of a good cry!

  3. Well, you know I gave you sympathy when you told me the short version, so I am sure it’s okay for me to tell you I laughed hysterically while reading this (especially you describing an entire line of folks yelling about a fishing pole in Turkish)! The loss of my intended gift (you’re too sweet by the way) was worth the story! Now, what can you possibly try to mail from Botswana…

  4. I must admit that I laughed quite a bit at this story. What an adventure! And while the language barrier both added something and detracted as well, I’m sure this same experience could be hand at many a USPS facility, Lipton soup mix and all.

    1. True! And at rhe USPS I could have complained instead of going home to cry… :o)

  5. USPS isn’t doing much better. Just expeirenced a major mix-up that caused major shipping delay. Fault of the US Congress not the PO.
    This experience also compares well with safety checks at US airports.

  6. Fantastic story! Especially since I just received my lotion in the sacred poster tube! I’m keeping that darn poster tube, too…thank you for the gift and your relentless efforts to send them out to everyone!

    1. Funny – everyone received items simultaneously from Italy to the US. Glad yours was among them! Now can you send that poster tube back, please, because I found the perfect gift for my mom and the hunt begins again in Botswana…

      Sent from my iPod

  7. In Jan., Uncle Don shared two mailings he received from you in Italy. Today had a long phone chat with Aunt Helen, who was thrilled with mail from you a while ago. She was so surprised. And now it is my turn. Happy I am playing catch up here first. I will not be so surprised as Helen, but I will have a complete appreciation of the trouble you’ve seen in order to make it happen! Reading your story took me back to the day I learned how to pack and ship an accordion to Lake Oswego! :o)

    1. Hmmm, I’ve mailed at least 3 or 4 things to you…

  8. […] I put it off until the last possible days. One of my more memorable days in Istanbul involved the Turkish Post (read about it here) and ended with me in tears, not to mention I’d waited so long that when the clerk refused to […]

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