Interview with a Swedish Mailman

I found myself bored at home and hopped on the tram to Central Station. I immediately headed to one of my favorite places in Amsterdam: Cannabis College. It's different from a coffee shop because it's a more academic environment, and also there's a garden in the basement. A lot of people come in asking questions and the volunteers there are very knowledgeable, so you get a lot of intelligent people coming in who like to ask and answer questions.

I was feeling inspired yesterday, so I stayed around chatting with a random Swede who I first thought was Argentinean from his looks and accent. When he told me he was a mailman, I realized how different his life must be from mine, so I asked him if I could interview him.

"So, I deliver to about 1,000 doors a day. In Sweden, you put the mail through the door," began the mailman.

I interjected: "so, people know when you deliver the mail."

"Yea, some people wait anxiously for the mail to fall into their apartments. I mostly do apartment complexes which all look pretty much the same, only the number on the door is different. You work 5 apartment complexes, and you just don't know where you are because you have done the same over and over, so you lose perspective of time and place. I'm a new generation mailman, so we don't have a regular district [zip code] that we work. I go to a different district every day. The post office doesn't hire any new employees, so I just have a temporary contract. The old timers (40-50) know their districts and are three times faster because they know their doors. They work 1 hour and lounge around for another 2. I don't know what they do for those 2 hours, but they know people in their districts, so it's possible that they hang out with some of the people they work with.  When I show up to a new door, people come out and I have to say, 'oh, hi, I'm new.'"
I thought his work sounded a bit distant in how detached it could be, so I asked him how people saw their mailman.
"People generally enjoy the mailman. It's a daily occurrence. Mondays and Tuesdays is commercials [ads] and sometimes when the commercials don't arrive, it's pretty clear that people just want a reason to come to their doors and talk. It's encumbering."

I asked, "have there been times when people definitely didn't want you to come by?"
"Yes, there was this time I had ten envelopes from bill collectors going to one single address. The old man came to me before I even entered the building and told me not to bother attempting to deliver the letters, to just throw them away. Funny stuff like that happens -- there was also the time that I delivered the wrong mail to a sister in one building, and had to deal with the other sister in the building next door. The first sister called the second one and the second one went on a rant, I just had to stand there and apologize for 10 minutes before she finally calmed down."

I can't imagine having to confront people on their own turf, and I imagine Sweden to be cold. "How do you get around?" I asked.
"I generally travel 5 km by scooter. The cold can be pretty bad, but it's rewarding work in summer."

"And why did you decide to become a mailman?" I asked.

"Well, I first thought about what cause I wanted to support. Could I work at McDonald's? I don't think so because it's a not a cause that I support or that I think benefits society. I work as a mailman part time and teach the rest of the time. To study in Sweden is for free and I get 1,000 euros from the government every month. So, I naturally wanted to do something that contributed to the system that is contributing to me. I saw delivering mail as a cause that I did not oppose. Delivering mail: it's something that feels good. To me it was the most rational decision."

Interesting, I liked his approach to causes and rational decisions. I tell him I am a vegan and he tells me that he is one too. "So, how long have you been vegan?" I asked.
"Well, I have been vegan a few months, but I was vegetarian before that. I see meat as an addiction that has to be removed. Not eating meat to me is the most rational decision. I asked myself, 'is this benefiting me?' I thought that you'd be a madman to choose otherwise."

The mailman used the word 'madman' several times. Eventually the conversation turned to whether he supported locally made goods and whether he had traveled abroad more than to just Holland. He had been to North America, but had eschewed entering the US because he saw it as undemocratic. I went on a rant about drones, the incarceration rate, indefinite detention, enhanced interrogation, rendition, and frankly think that I scared him from even going close to the US border. I am not generally impressed with people's professions, and at first I was impressed because I had never interacted with a mailman in a social setting, but it turns out that his outlook on the world was not that different from mine.