Thoughts on Mailboxes

The Corniche in Abu Dhabi

At first it was annoying… then I realized, it might not be the worst thing in the world.

When I moved to the UAE, it was the first time in my life I didn’t have a mailbox. None of the neighborhoods had the iconic, freestanding boxes. None of the apartment buildings had the neat rows of little numbered boxes that locked by key.

With rare exception, there were literally no standard-issue mailboxes.

It was possible to get a PO Box– and many businesses had one. However, applying for a personal PO Box entailed an expense, not to mention an inconvenient drive across town whenever I wanted to check it.

Initially, it seemed like something I needed to do… after all, at home I checked the mail every single day. It was part of my routine- get home from work, check the mail. Without this small but important form of communication with the world, I felt like I was sure to miss out on something.

However, I put off getting a PO Box for a while, mostly due to other obligations that were higher priority after such a big move overseas. And by the time I got back around to the task, I started to wonder if it was really needed.

I thought about the mail I used to receive at home. I’d say at least 90% of it was junk. Flyers, coupons, and advertisements that I didn’t want or need.

Of course, I did occasionally need to order something by mail, or to receive letters from friends. However, I could already use my company’s PO Box for that.

I think, in many ways, my life was less complicated without a mailbox. It was one less thing on my to-do list, and I no longer had heaps of junk mail to sort through.

I’ve found that, now that I’m back in the US, I often forget about the mailbox in front of my house. I can go days without thinking about it, and then remind myself that I need to check it.

While we’re on the subject, I should mention that physical mailboxes weren’t the only thing missing in the UAE… I also did not have voicemail on my phone. Most people didn’t– if you ever came across someone with voicemail, it was a rare exception to the norm.

This didn’t inconvenience me too much, either. If it was an important call, then the caller could leave a text message. If they weren’t motivated enough to do that, then I assumed the call wasn’t important (yes, we got phone solicitors there, too…)

Interestingly, I found myself having more real-time phone conversations in the UAE than I did in the US. It was similar to how phone conversations worked back when I was a teenager, before mobile phones were around– you had to catch someone when they were available, otherwise you missed them and you’d try again later.

When it came to mailboxes and voicemail, there was something freeing about not being attached to them. With travel and the experience of a new culture, sometimes it’s the small differences like this that you remember the most.