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Its in the post...

Last week I had a text message from my Saudi bank – “Your replacement card has been posted to you”. My heart sank – another needless hassle and potential wild-goose chase had started. I look fondly(ish) towards the much-maligned UK Royal Mail system – put item in an envelope, write the address, attach postage stamp (currently 75p, and available from a large variety of retail outlets) and pop it into a letterbox. A glance at the UK communications regulator OFCOM’s website shows the requirement: “there should be a post box within 0.5 miles by straight line distance of at least 98% of delivery points nationally”, so apart from really rural areas there should be one quite handily for all. And to make them visible they are painted a distinctive bright shade of red. All being well, a couple of days later, the envelope will arrive safely at the door of the recipient.

I don’t really know how to succinctly describe the Saudi postal system. A number of adjectives spring to mind, but I won’t use any of those as my mantra in writing these blogs is not to upset my hosts. I recalled the first time my bank sent a card, a few years ago. Firstly, I received a text message telling me that my card was on its way. Next the courier company that it had been entrusted to sent me a text message (this is the standard way of communicating, my phone number had been written on the envelope label) asking me to go to their website and enter my address. Really? – did the bank not give them the one that I had registered with them? So I did this, and I was given a tracking number. This I looked up on a daily basis for a week, and followed its progress from being picked up at the bank (!), taken to a central Riyadh depot, transferred to a local distribution office – where it sat for 4 days – and eventually marked as “out for delivery”. Goody, when I returned to my compound it should be waiting at the gatehouse. I asked for 3 days if it had arrived, but it didn’t. Next I got a WhatsApp message from the courier asking where I was – I needed to sign for it. A ping-pong of messages ensued when it transpired that as it was from an institution I had to sign for it. Could my compound security not do that? – no I had to show my ID card. The courier’s pidgin English extended as far as offering to bring it to my current location – please send a “pin” (digital I-am-here location). However this was outside of his delivery area so it would have to go back to the delivery office, be transferred to another local delivery office and it could be delivered from there. 3 days later another courier WhatsApped me, asking where I was, I sent him a “pin”, and an hour later he turned up in the street outside my office and after I showed him my iqama, he handed me my envelope with the bank card inside. Nearly 3 weeks for a delivery, not impressed. And the worst part was the bank branch that had sent it was less than a mile from my office.

Following that episode I instructed the bank that if they had anything for me to contact me directly and I would go and collect it. However, the branch subsequently closed and my account was transferred to another one in Riyadh which was about 3 miles away. I never thought to reiterate my “I will collect” instruction to the new branch…oh dear.

So, fast forward to last week. I followed the link on the text message, and this time I was given 2 options – to enter my delivery address, or to nominate a local branch of the courier company where I could go to collect the consignment. I chose the latter, and the next day received a follow-up message to advise that it was ready for collection. I drove to the office after work (opening hours are 8.30am – 1.30pm and 4.30pm to 10.00pm (and during Ramadan 10.30 am to 3.30pm and 9.00pm to 1.00am)). I had to show the phone text reference number and my iqama and my envelope was handed over. You live and learn.

Exhibit "A" - valuable item sent out with only a phone number as the address!

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