The arrangements for mailing and receiving letters in Paris are, in general, very satisfactory,—the branch post-offices are over a hundred in number, and they will receive not only letters and mailable packages, but telegrams. They do a very large business, and are generally thronged all day in the popular quarters,—the registry department being greatly in favor. At night, they are recognizable by their blue lanterns, and there are also, since 1894, auxiliary offices in certain shops designated by blue signs. The letter-boxes, set in the wall of the building, so that letters and packages may be mailed from the street, are usually four in number, one each for Paris, the departments, foreign mail, and for printed matter. Stamps may be bought and letters mailed also in very many of the small tobacco-shops, in public buildings, and in the dépôts of the railways and the tramways of the suburbs. There are eight collections and distributions a day, on work-days, and five on Sundays and fête-days; the facteur, or carrier, has discharged his duty when he has left the mail with the concierge of the building, and its final delivery rests entirely with the latter functionary. These facteurs, who are generally intelligent and conscientious, wear the inevitable uniform of all French officials, and carry their mail in an absurd stiff little leathern box, suspended in front of their stomachs by a strap around their necks. Their distributing matter never seems to exceed the capacity of this box,—ranging in quantity from a third to a tenth of the ordinary burden of a New York letter-carrier.
A more rapid method of distribution, for which a higher rate is charged, is by means of the pneumatic tubes which traverse the city, mostly through the égouts, and which have their termini in the branch post-offices. Envelopes or enclosures sent by this medium must contain neither valuable objects nor hard and resisting bodies. The service of colis postaux, so called although there is no necessary connection with the post, and which corresponds nearly with the American express system, is, for Paris, in the hands of a director to whom it is a concession by the Administration des Postes, and for the departments and the colonies in those of the railway companies and the subsidized maritime companies. The inevitable conflict with the workings of the octroi interferes very seriously with the promptness and efficacy of this service, and in the summer of 1898 the complaints of the despoiled patrons were unusually loud and deep. In their search for contraband articles, the octroi inspectors open a large number of these packages received from the departments and containing in very many cases consignments of wine, game, patés, and other delicacies,—the closing up of these numerous cases is left to the employees of the railways, and the result has been a perfect pillage. In vain do the consignees protest—the companies interpose the interminable delays of corporations, and justice is not to be had.