What It’s Really Like to Be a Mail Carrier

Read on to find out what it really means to be a postal carrier. There are even some tips on how you can thank them.

I can get fired if your dog bites me

13 Things That Will Surprise You About What It's Really Like to Be a Mail Carrierdezy/Shutterstock

Most dog owners are worried that a bite could get them sued. But it turns out that if your pooch attacks a postal worker, the pup can get the postal worker in trouble as well, says Jeff, who has been working as a mail carrier for 20 years. “In all my time, I’ve never been bitten by a dog but I have had to pepper spray a few. This made their owners very upset but I didn’t have a choice. It’s a rule we have to carry pepper spray and use it if necessary,” he says. “The USPS gives us rules about how to avoid dog bites and if I don’t follow them then my job can be at risk. The first rule is to stop delivering mail to a home that has a dog considered a ‘menace’—which can make people angry, but I have to follow the rules or else it’s partly my fault I got bit.”

I get paid to exercise

Have you ever complained that you just don’t have time to exercise? You should consider a career as a mail carrier, says Bob, a veteran postal worker with 29 years experience. “I get to walk most of my route. I like walking. I always have. My anxiety dissipates. And if the volume of mail is perfect (not too light, not too heavy) it feels like I’m dancing! It flows,” he explains. Here’s what to do if your package arrives damaged, or not at all. 

I’ve been called to testify in criminal trials

The longer you do this job, the more weird stuff you see, including crime, all our mail carriers told us. “I’ve seen a lot of car accidents, like a lot of hit-and-runs. I’ve seen porch pirates stealing packages. I’ve seen fights. One time the police asked me to make a statement in court about what I saw during a drunken brawl that spilled out onto the street,” Jeff says. “I always try to yell or write down license plates or do whatever I can to help.” Check out the 23 things your mail carrier won’t tell you.

This job has ruined my driving

13 Things That Will Surprise You About What It's Really Like to Be a Mail Carriercleanfotos/Shutterstock

“Driving on the right side of a vehicle is a real mental shift,” Bob says. “I spend so much time in my postal vehicle that now it throws me off when I have to sit on the left side to drive my own car. Parking a regular car is the worst now!”

Some customers are like family

Working the same route for a long time can make you really attached to that neighborhood and some of the people in it, Bob says. “One time one of my customers was murdered, which was such a tragedy,” he says. “But I also saw the way that it affected the neighborhood and how many of the neighbors came to support the family, which was really beautiful.”

I worry about you

Picking up your mail can be an afterthought, but if you let it pile up for too long, you may be causing your mail carrier some serious angst—and not just because they have to play Tetris to fit all your packages in your box. “Please empty your mailbox every day!” Bob says. “When you let mail pile up in the box, we worry about you; it may be a sign that you have fallen or had a stroke or are otherwise incapacitated.”

I never wanted to “be a mailman when I grow up”

13 Things That Will Surprise You About What It's Really Like to Be a Mail CarrierLeika production/Shutterstock

Along with firefighter and doctor, a mail carrier is one of the careers many kids profess they want to be when they grow up. And while that may be true for some, it’s definitely not the case for Marcy, a mail carrier who just finished her first year on the job. “I can’t tell you how many people have asked me if I always dreamed of being a mail carrier. The answer is no,” she says. “I’m actually in school studying for my dream job. This job is what I do to pay for my real dream.”

Kids are the cutest

“Recently I picked up a letter that was obviously written by a kid. It was folded up and on the outside, they’d written ‘Grandma [LastName]’ and the city and state but that was it,” Marcy says. “I took it back to the office—which has many doting grandmas and grandpas—and they put it in an envelope and actually tracked down the address, paid for the postage themselves, and mailed it. We can’t always do that, but I like to think it made someone’s day.”

Think gift cards, not gin

If you want to thank your mail carrier, a gift card or cash is always appreciated. However, many people want to give bottles of booze, especially around the holidays, and that’s probably not a great idea. “One customer presented me with a bottle of Irish whiskey that had already been opened. I thanked him but had to refuse, since it would be illegal to take the open bottle into my vehicle and continue to deliver my route,” Bob says.

Taping change to your envelope does actually work

Close-up Of Person's Hand Putting Letters In MailboxAndrey_Popov/Shutterstock

Don’t have a stamp? You can just put the fifty-five cents in your mailbox, Jeff says. “If you put exact change in there with your envelope most of us will take it to the office, slap a stamp on it, and mail it for you. Just don’t do it a lot, please,” he says. “Your other option is to write ‘postage due’ on the envelope. I can still mail it but then I’ll have to knock on your door to get the rest of the money. I hate doing that. Don’t do that.”

Some customers can get pretty creepy

“I had a customer leave me a framed portrait that he’d drawn of me. It was nice… I guess,” Marcy says. “I actually felt really creeped out that he’d either stared at me long enough to know my face well enough to draw it or that he’d been secretly taking pictures of me. Ugh.”

Skip the home-baked goodies

If you want to treat your mail carrier, consider prepackaged candy or bottles of juice or water rather than a loaf of your favorite banana bread. “I’ve had a lot of people give me home-baked cookies and stuff, but unless I know you really well I’m not going to eat them,” Jeff says. “Call me crazy but I’m not risking food poisoning or someone spiking it with pot or whatever. I like you but I don’t necessarily trust you.”

You should invest in a locking mailbox

If you still have a plain mailbox with a door on the front and a red flag, you really need to upgrade, Marcy says. “Unfortunately package and mail theft is really common these days and once I’ve delivered mail it’s not my responsibility anymore,” she says. “In my experience, it just takes a simple locking mailbox to deter most thieves—just make sure it’s cemented into the ground so they can’t carry the whole box away.” Get a lot of packages? Invest in a storage locker for your porch, she adds.

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Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen is a health, lifestyle and fitness expert and teacher. She covers all things wellness for Reader’s Digest and The Healthy. With dual masters degrees in information technology and education, she has been a journalist for 17 years and is the author of The Great Fitness Experiment. She lives in Denver with her husband, five kids and three pets.