US Mailbox in Spain

July 28, 2009 By: erik Category: Colindres, Photos, Spain, USA, Weird 1,247 views

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US Mailbox in SpainOn a recent walk around town with my wife and daughter, we were walking by a house we’ve walked by dozens of times (only dozens because it’s not our on our normal route), and I stopped dead in my tracks. There was nothing unique about the object I had spotted; I have seen thousands of them before. But the location of the object on the planet was extraordinary. There is a house in Colindres, Spain, with a US Mail postal box.

At the time, I didn’t have my camera with me, so I’ve since made two trips past the house to acquire the photos you see below.

First of all, almost no one in Spain has what an American would call a “house”, with a driveway and fence and yard. We all live in apartments, even in small towns. The reasons for this are historical, geographical, and cultural. Spain’s past involves the citizens living inside the towns’ fortified walls and farming outside of town. America’s past involves everyone spreading out, claiming a chunk of land to farm, and building their house in the middle of it. When you crank up the population density, you get Spaniards living in tall apartment blocks, and Americans in suburbia mowing their “farm land” around their house.

In the Spanish countryside, however, you do see the American format of a big family farmhouse surrounded by large plots of land. And on the outskirts of Spanish towns, you can find American suburbia-style houses with driveways and yards, but I want to emphasize that this is very, very rare, and almost no one A) has the money to afford such a house, or B) would choose to live even a 10 minute walk away from town. When the pros and cons balance out, humans stick to “the way we’ve always done it”.

The point I’m getting around to is that, because we all live in apartments, there is almost never a need in Spain for a standalone mailbox that a US mailbox could be used for.

US Mailbox in Spain
The house with the mailbox. Pretty different architecture from American suburbia, huh? Can you see the mailbox?

US Mailbox in Spain
It actually says, “U.S. MAIL, Approved by the Postmaster General” on it!

US Mailbox in Spain
Complete with hinged “flag”. For non-Americans, you put the flag up to tell the postman that you have left an outgoing letter in the mailbox for him to pick up and send on its way. This is so he knows to open your mailbox and get the letter even if he has nothing for you.

I can only assume that these people have some fascination with American culture and decided to buy this enormous souvenir when on a trip to the US. Either that or they ordered it mail order. Get it? Mail order? Is that even possible?

 
  • http://landofnospice.blogspot.com mondraussie

    I always wondered what the red flag was for… but what gets me is the “approved by the postmaster general bit”… is it necessary to have your mailbox officially approved in the US? And yes seeing it in the outskirts of your town would be a pretty surreal experience…

    • http://www.erik-rasmussen.com/ Erik R.

      I wasn’t sure how widespread that flag information was. In the modern day era of snail spam, the flag isn’t that useful because the mailman has to open your mailbox every day to scoop in the propaganda anyway. What I wonder is if the postman that services this house knows or respects the flag rule.

      No, it doesn’t have to be approved, but if you stick to the standard, you won’t have any problems with a mailman not delivering your mail because of your abnormal mailbox. It’s the same as the stamps and beers being “approved” by monarchs in Europe. Not necessary at all, but something people feel good about anyway.

  • http://www.erik-rasmussen.com/ Erik R.

    I almost forgot. For my American audience, this is what a typical Spanish mailbox looks like for a solitary house.

    Spanish Mailbox
    I took this photo on my morning walk with the offspring.

    • http://letterstosg.com Lance

      But for a mute, W.A.S.T.E.

      • http://www.erik-rasmussen.com/ Erik R.

        Jeez! That reference took me almost ten google searches to figure out.

        • http://letterstosg.com Lance

          I’m just glad you realized it was a reference, and didn’t take it as commentary on the quality of your comment.

          • http://www.erik-rasmussen.com/ Erik R.

            I know you; you’re more likely to be trying to be obscurely clever than an obtuse jerk.

            Takes one to know one.

        • Josh

          The WASTEplusMute project on Sourceforge was a red herring that caused you some loss of time as well?

      • Josh

        Apart from the obvious LameNESS of the reference, it was a fantastic walk down memory lane. Sort of a real life equivalent of reading William Gibson as an historical reference — remember the days when hackers were oh so serious about choosing their nicks?

    • Josh

      Erik,
      As always great post. How could you avoid the temptation of sending the owner of the box a postcard, requesting information on the box?

      You forgot to list economic issues as a contributing factor to the tendency to build up rather than out here. Back in the day, Spanish property tax was calculated using some algorithm involving the width of the facade of the property.

      • http://www.erik-rasmussen.com/ Erik R.

        Since posting this, I have several times thought about putting some kind of WTF letter in the box. Probably won’t though.

        I had no idea about that facade tax law. I’m fascinated how small decisions like that shape a society.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/aparejador/3755720742/ Ray Tibbitts

    It’s like the Twilight Zone or something.

    I have always wondered if Spanish mailmen do pickup letters from the private mailboxes for sending.

    • http://www.erik-rasmussen.com/ Erik R.

      I’m pretty sure they don’t. Give me your address and I’ll leave an envelope with 50€ in it addressed to you into my mailbox for a month. That’s how sure I am. :-)

      • http://www.thegradys.net Alan

        Yeah… I was wondering. How do you send a letter then?

        Even though they have to open your mailbox every day because of snail mail spam, they don’t know if you actually checked your mail the day before.

        I don’t know if this is a rule or if it was something my mother just taught me to do, but we always left mail going out standing up, tilted so it rest on the side of the mailbox. This allowed for easy “taking” and let the mailman know that these were going out. I’m sure it was just my mother being efficient.

        • http://www.erik-rasmussen.com/ Erik R.

          You take it to the post office, or you put it in a public mailbox, of which there are several around town.

          That was nice of your mother. It’s funny how parents can blur the line between etiquette and law.

        • Josh

          Alan,

          My mother showed us a similar system. Maybe it’s a Grady thing.

  • http://www.thegreenfeet.com Lucas

    HI, The US mailbox is greet!
    it is really a symbol of American cultrue

    Seeing from the picture ,it was fixed on to the concret , but it is normally put on a metal post or stander, right?

    We are factory of mailboxes , and we export many many this kind of mailbox to Europe including Spain and Germany.

    • http://www.erik-rasmussen.com/ Erik R.

      Lucas, normally I don’t allow comments advertising businesses on my blog, but you clearly looked at my post for a bit and your service might actually be helpful for someone searching for this kind of mailbox.

      In the US, yes, they are normally affixed to a post.

      • http://www.thegreenfeet.com Lucas

        Thank you very much ,Erik.

        Yes, I surly read you blog carefully and afterthat , I find the place on the Google Earth according to the top picture on your nice bolg,

        It is very nice bay with a nice river and beautifull bridges on it.

        Thank you and best regards to your family

        I come from China, Look forward to travel in your place in the future.

  • http://www.MadridMan.com MadridMan

    That’s funny/odd! The small Cantabria village I visit from time to time also has a house with a US MAIL box! I’ll have to ask them some day where they got it.

    Saludos, MadridMan

  • jinchausti

    This is funny i came across your US MAIL box story looking for something else and when i start reading it found out you are in colindres cantabria, ha im american and live close by in galizano. I been 4 months in Spain adapting to the change. Is that main picture in your blog by any chance Somo / Pedrena ?

    Nice to meet you !

    • http://www.erik-rasmussen.com/ Erik R.

      Weird! No, it’s the marismas here in Colindres, but it it is very similar to Pedreña. Except without Santander in the background.

      Nice to meet you too!

  • http://www.erik-rasmussen.com/ Erik R.

    I found another one!

    Another US Mailbox

  • http://www.erik-rasmussen.com/ Erik R.

    And another!

    Another US Mailbox in Spain!