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Wintering in the Riviera By William Miller Characters: 11154

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

By treaty agreement, the postage rates for the Continent are now very much reduced from what they used to be, and are comparatively moderate, although to those who write much the expense becomes in the aggregate a considerable item of travelling expenditure. Single postage from England to France, Switzerland, and Italy, and I think to most Continental countries, is 2?d., and to this rate the Continental countries on letters to England conform as nearly as their coinage permits. But in France and Italy, taking advantage of the fact that a franc is between 9?d. and 10d., they charge 30 centimes, or about 3d.;[11] so that the price of four stamps in these countries is close upon 1s., instead of being 10d., as with ourselves. Single postage on letters for the Continent covers one-half ounce in England; abroad it covers 15 grammes, which seems to be the precise equivalent. Little pocket letter-weighers are sold in France at 1 franc and 1? francs, containing a scale marked in grammes by which letters can be conveniently weighed, and for prolonged residence are all but indispensable. If a letter posted in England be insufficiently stamped, the post office abroad charges the recipient with double the postage the letter ought to have borne according to the foreign rate, deducting the amount of the stamps which it carries. Thus, if a person in England put by mistake a penny stamp upon a single letter, the French Government charge double the 30 centimes and deduct the penny paid, so that the recipient has to pay 5d. upon the letter. If the letter have been stamped with 2?d. postage, but exceeds the half ounce, the recipient pays 1s., less the 2?d., or 9?d. altogether (more correctly, 95 centimes). It is astonishing how many blunders friends at home make in this respect. Over and over again have we had to pay for them. If people are not acquainted with the foreign postage, they ought to study the postal guides, and in event of any difficulty to make inquiry at a post office. One lady told me she had summed up what these mistakes had cost her in one winter, and found they came to 11 francs.

Newspapers posted in England require a penny stamp, but abroad are reckoned by weight. The small Continental papers go for 5 centimes, or one halfpenny; but in France, at least, English newspapers always cost one penny or 10 centimes.

The rate in France for registering a letter to England is 5d. (50 centimes), while it was 4d. in England, being another instance of the way in which the French take advantage of the small difference between our monetary values. The reduction in England of fee to 2d. applies to foreign as well as inland letters.

Letters for the interior are always less than for abroad. In France, where postage is high, the rate was 25 centimes (now 15 centimes) to any part of France except the district in which the letter was posted, when it was 15 centimes, possibly now less. For book delivery in town, the French have a 2 centimes rate, and in Italy there is a similar rate for newspapers for the interior.

Post cards are usually one-half of letter rates. Thus a French post card to England is 15 centimes (1?d.), as against our 1?d. But in Switzerland, where postage is cheap,-there being half rates for letters,-and in Italy, post cards for England are only 1d. (10 centimes). English people always familiarly call a 10 centime piece a penny, which in size as well as in value it resembles.

Letters are, I think, delivered with great accuracy. I have only known of two letters which have not reached us during the whole time we were away, and one of these was misaddressed. Newspapers, on the contrary, have not, in France, reached us with the same regularity as letters. This has been attributed to the French Government being jealous of newspapers from Great Britain containing animadversions upon its policy, and during the French crisis of the autumn of 1877, we regularly missed a Scotsman, once a week, sometimes of a Tuesday, but more commonly of a Thursday, when, if there were no leading article touching upon the French Government, we fancied it might contain some gleanings from Punch. As Punch carries a free lance and hesitates not to strike whatever is vulnerable, it is, I suppose, fully more exposed to be stopped than any ordinary newspaper; but in spite of precaution, it finds its way abroad even when stopped.

The stoppage of newspapers, while it can do no manner of good, produces a good deal of irritation and ill-will on the part of the English. I believe that the attention of the French Parliament has been called to it, and latterly we found greater regularity. Of course, in many cases newspapers may miscarry from addresses being insufficient or getting torn off. It is always safer to write on the newspaper itself; and if a cover be used, the newspaper stamp must not connect the cover with the paper, otherwise it is liable to be charged as a letter.

When the hotel at which to stop has been decided upon, it is best to direct letters to be delivered at it. If not so fixed upon, it is usual to address letters to the Poste Restante, where they are got upon exhibition of a visiting card; but in some places the post is very particular, and perhaps rightly so. Thus, in San Remo, I was desired to give my card to the facteur (postman) in whose beat our quarters were, and the letters would be delivered at the house. In Paris, I was refused letters for my wife without a written authority from her. In other large towns, the rule is to ask for passport; and if the inquirer have no

passport, he must prove his identity in a manner satisfactory to the post clerk, as by exhibition of envelopes of letters received elsewhere, or otherwise-regulations most reasonable for the security of the recipients.

Registered letters are treated with peculiar care. In France, the postman declines to give up such a letter except into the hand of the person to whom it is addressed, who signs his name in a book kept for the purpose, with date of reception, etc. If he do not happen to be in the house at the time, the postman takes away the letter, marks 'absent' upon it, and brings it back at succeeding deliveries till he find him. In Italy, they are even more particular. At Milan, I received at the hotel an intimation from the post office that a registered letter was lying there for me. In order to procure this letter, I was under the necessity of going personally to the post office, a good way off, and of taking with me a certificate by a resident in Milan of my identity. I knew nobody residing in Milan, but the landlord of the hotel was kind enough to sign the document. Delivering this document, I was also required to exhibit my passport to the post office, and then to sign my name in a book kept there for the purpose. These precautions, although troublesome to the traveller, make registered letters very secure; and all letters transmitting money orders ought to be registered and put in firm, tough envelopes, for I believe that letters are sometimes lost in consequence of the thinness of the foreign letter envelopes in which, for the sake of lightness, they are generally enclosed.

On leaving a town, the new address should be given to the post office or to the concierge of the hotel, and letters will then be readdressed and forwarded free of charge. Occasionally, we have found them forwarded to three or four successive addresses before receipt by us, and that without any extra payment, which would not be the case in England. Nay, I have discovered, though only after many postages had unfortunately been paid on the readdress in England, that letters arriving in England from a colony, say New Zealand, may be readdressed to the address abroad without charge,-a fact, therefore, well worthy of being noted. After a lapse of time, whether done by the post office at request of the landlord or concierge of the hotel or not, we could not tell, letters have been opened and returned to the writers, from whom we have received them reinclosed and restamped about a month after we had left the place to which they were originally addressed.

Tradesmen, on seeing arrivals announced in the lists, send in their business cards; and a circular of this kind, posted to our hotel at Cannes, stamped with 15 centimes district postage, was forwarded to us at Mentone. On this, 25 centimes (2?d.) had to be paid, showing a difference in the treatment of interior letters, which may be explained in this way, that the letter was not originally insufficiently stamped, and there was not, therefore, excuse for charging it double.

The French have a good system in regard to letter pillars which might with advantage be adopted by ourselves. When the postman has made his collection from the pillar box, he turns a dial, which indicates that that particular collection has been made; e.g., suppose he has taken the first collection upon a Wednesday, the dial bears: 'Mercredi, la première levée est faite.' And this is particularly necessary in France, because the postmen are by no means particular in adhering to the time fixed for making the collection. Day after day have I seen the notice up half an hour before the collection was due, obliging one either to post early, or to go to the general post. The French letter pillars are small wooden boxes stuck upon a wall, pretty well out of reach of mischievous urchins; but their slits are very narrow, and will not admit of an ordinary English newspaper.

French postmen, for protection and security, carry their letters for delivery in a box suspended by a strap round the neck like a pedlar's tray, and registered letters are kept in a separate pocket or portion of the box. The newspapers and book packets (often immense bundles) are simply carried bound together by a strap.

It is astonishing with what rapidity letters and newspapers are received from home. London newspapers are received at Biarritz on the afternoon of the day following publication. At Venice it takes a day longer, and some places not so distant are, in consequence of the arrival of the post late in the evening, just as long. Thus, while the London newspapers are delivered at Nice the evening of the day after publication, they are not delivered at Mentone till the following morning, because they arrive after the last postal delivery at Mentone. When the mail is accelerated, as no doubt it will be in time, this delay will be remedied; but the practical effect is that letters and newspapers posted in Edinburgh upon a Monday before five o'clock are delivered in Nice upon Wednesday evening, but are not delivered in Mentone until Thursday morning. At Venice or Rome they are delivered on the Thursday. Letters posted on a Saturday are always one day longer, in consequence of there being no despatch from London on the Sunday; so that, leaving Edinburgh on Saturday, they are not delivered in Mentone till Wednesday morning. Newspapers are often a post later, and not delivered till the second or evening delivery; for in Mentone, as in many other places, there are only two deliveries in the day.

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