Life as a Postman on a Dalmatian Island in 2016

By 30 January 2016

(Jelsa postman Tomi Zupan, with another hard day's work ahead of him)

Globalisation is everywhere, technology is advancing everywhere, but there are still pockets of charming resistance. TCN was delighted to catch up with popular Jelsa postman Tomi Zupan on January 29, 2016, on the changing nature of the postal service on a sunshine Dalmatian island. 

1. Dalmatia is the Mediterranean as It Once Was, and you have perhaps a unique insight into how it is changing in the modern era. How is Hvar today compared to 20 years ago, and how has it changed for you as a postman in your work?

There is a huge difference. I was still in high school when I started working at the post office in 1984. It was just a summer job, but I had to empty mailboxes in Jelsa (on 4 locations: post office, riva, Hotel Mina and Hotel Jadran). Daily we had 1500 – 2000 postcards, the mailboxes were emptied in the morning before 8 and after 10. Apart from postcards, I was delivering post to Vitarnja (packages, newspapers and everything else) to approximately 50 families. There were 5 postmen during the summer, one just as a seasonal help. Compared to today, the most traffic, apart from making payments, were phone calls and international calls. Back then, post and telecommunications were the same company and it was pretty common to wait in line to make a phone call, because there were only 150 phones for 1500 people in Jelsa. Regarding the postman's work, there was almost 50% less mail, bills, newspaper and printed material in relation to the present, but then again, there were 70% more postcards.

2. The island is 100km long and there are just 11,000 full-time inhabitants. How many postmen are there, and how do you divide your work?

On 11.000 people, there are 10 postmen for the whole island during the time of the most workload due to pensions and bills - from the 7th till the 17th each month. The rest of the (winter) months, postmen are rotating use up their vacations, combining their working zones. One day the post is delivered to the villages and over the hill in Zavala, Ivan Dolac and Sv. Nedjelja, the other day Jelsa, Vrboska and Vrisnik. In Sućuraj, there is only one postman, who is delivering post to the villages (Gdinj, Bogomolje) once per week.

(GPS, Dalmatian style - how to deliver the post in Sveta Nedjelja)

3. Until recently there were no street names or numbers. How did you cope with this?

Street names and house numbers are one huge problem on the island. Even with the existing street names and numbers (like in Hvar town and Stari Grad), most people still get their mail addressed to the Jelsa b.b., or Hvar b.b.(b.b. means 'bez broja' or 'without number'). Because of this, postmen are taught by word of mouth. Older colleagues pass their knowledge about names and “addresses” to the younger ones. Sketching streets and houses, last names, family relations for every house is needed, when one wants to get to know his working zone. It takes a lot of time, as the postman needs to literally get to know almost everyone in person, so he can recognize the face and connect it to the right name. I know half of the island; Jelsa, Vrboska, Vrisnik, Pitve, Zavala, Ivan Dolac and Sv. Nedelja, and there are still people I have never seen or met in those 11 years I work as a postman.

(A Hvar postman doing the rounds)

4. With so many foreigners buying property, how did you keep track of their addresses to deliver their mail?

Most foreigners buy a property through a company, which they open in Croatia, and if they didn´t introduce themselves at the post office, all their mail is being returned. I had a case of a foreigner, who bought a house in Vrisnik and for 3 years I had to return all his post, because we just didn't know him. After those 3 years he finally went to the post office and installed a mailbox at his house with the full company name.

(Addresses are short, names are approximate)

5. Your local knowledge is of course essential, but presumably colleagues from Split must have come on occasion to cover holiday/sick leave. How did they cope?

I heard about a story when 2 postmen got sick on a different island, and colleagues from Split were sent to cover for them. Of course, without proper street names and house numbers, the 2 new guys were back in Split after 3 weeks as they simply could not deliver the post in that area. Another 2 new ones had to come to the island, but they too gave up after a week of “playing hide and seek” with the locals – they would just return all mail as “insufficient address” or unknown”.

(Delivery is by instinct, rather than by address - and there is always the chance of a quick coffee)

6. What is it like being a postman in a small community? Everyone knows - and depends on - you, and you know everyone.

We are, of course, helping each other, taking a package over to Sv. Nedelja instead of leaving just the notice or paying bills in Jelsa for the elderly, who can´t get to Jelsa, this is normal. Everyone knows everyone and in my mobile phone, I have numbers of half of the people in my zone, who get mail regularly, so it is easier to find them. Of course, I need to know who works where and who drinks coffee at what time, like you Paul, I know that I will find you at Café Splendid after 11 in summer and at Tarantela in winter. There are many like you, so I just adjust my routes.

7. There must have been a few amusing stories over the years. Any you can share with us?

There are many people in Jelsa with the same name (first and last) and somehow it happened that one lady got a ticket for parking and only after reading the letter from the court, she realized the license plate are not hers, so we had to deliver it to the other one with the same name..

Or there was this tourist from Slovenia, who wanted to read his newspaper while on holiday, but only stated “Vitarnja b.b.” to be the address. I was driving his newspaper for a week in my motorbike up until he stopped me one day asking for it not being delivered – and so he got his newspaper, the whole bunch at once.

8. Modern tecnhology has changed the way post is delivered in many parts of the world. How has it affected islands like Hvar, and how do you think your job will look in five years?

The technology might change, but on the island, most people like to get their printed account statements by mail, rather them opening them as an attachment of an e-mail. There are many more packages today - eBay, Amazon. People still pay their bills at the post office and at the post bank, not online. Pensioners continue to receive money in their hands and store it under their beds, not have to pay for the banking services. Not much will change in 5 years on the island, my job will still be the same. We won´t deliver mail by drones, as much as I would like to try that out one day. We do modernize very little, we got an e-bike, but still drive those old motorbikes. We do a lot of delivery by mobile phones: “Hi, where are you? Are you drinking coffee somewhere? I have post for you.. Sure, will be there in 5 minutes.” The post gets delivered and I get drink a quick coffee. There you have it, the life of a postman on a Dalmatian island.