Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Organization Fail: The Post Office

This is the first in a series of posts about dysfunctional organizations in Saudi Arabia. All of these frustrations share a common theme... service industries here are not nearly as helpful as they are in the West. If I want something done, say buying a plane ticket, getting a visa, or even picking up a package, my experience has been that you have to be very persistent. Take FedEx for example: I was expecting a package from home which I might never have received at all if I had not begged, haggled, and coerced the well-meaning, but totally clueless guys at the front desk until I finally found someone who could locate my package. Here is the story where I had to go postal with FedEx Saudi Arabia:

There are always four guys working at the counter, and there is never more than one or two customers in the FedEx store at a time. I am not sure what they do all day, but every time someone comes in, they are always eager to help.

My first time to the post office, two weeks after I had come to KAUST, I wanted to check and see if my package had arrived. The man behind the counter was very nice. "Let me show you where your mailbox is, sir... what is your mobile number sir?... if you get a package we will call you sir," was about the extent of the conversation. The package had been sent when I left and I thought two weeks was the time it would take, but I thought maybe it really has not arrived yet... I was so naive!

One week later I came back to ask about my package. I got the same spiel from the guys at the front desk, "let me show you where your mailbox is sir... oh, we already have your mobile number?... if you get a package we will call you sir." I pressed on, asking to talk with a manager because I wanted more reassurance than I was getting. The man at the desk retreated into the back room and out came a large, annoyed looking Egyptian man.

"Your package is not here, we will call your mobile when it comes," he said.

I thought to myself that he doesn't really know, he is just trying to get rid of me. Not wanting to back down because I have already quit at this point before, I tried in vain to get him to ask someone else, "Can you call a supervisor, maybe the package is somewhere else?

"No, not possible. Your package will come. Maybe it will come later insh'allah."

Insh'allah is a bad sign, in this particular context the word means he is willing to give up and leave it to God to find my package, but I am still sure that some man at FedEx must know where my package is. "Can you call the post office in Jeddah, maybe they have it still?"

It will not come to Jeddah, it will come here.

"Well can you call anyway, maybe someone has misplaced my package."

"I cannot, I don't know the telephone number."

Come on, can's he at least try to help a guy out?

"Can you look it up?" I asked.


So he either does not have a phone book or does not know what a phone book is, or the phone is not working. Any of these are possible at this point. "Can you ask someone else who does know?"I asked.


I was getting nowhere. He was clearly uninformed and either unwilling or unequipped to do his basic job - which was helping me - so I decided to let him go with a little grace, "Is there a chance it could have been held up in customs?" I asked.

He thought for a second before realizing that this was his big chance to get rid of me, and then said, "Yes, maybe. We will call you when the package comes."

"Ok, thank you, I will come back again later."

Two days later, I went back to the same office and asked a different front desk guy if my package had arrived yet. After the initial "we will call you when your package arrives," line, he brought out a manager I had not yet met from the back office to talk with me.

After a few questions, he called another mail location on campus, which I had not known about, and in thirty seconds they found my package!

It had been there for more than two weeks.

KAUST post office fail.


  1. That's a funny story now, but I bet not too funny at the time. Hopefully, some of that will be worked out. They have basically built a city and with trying to get it up and running there seem to be some kinks to work out. By the way, did you ever get that card I mailed about a month ago??

  2. I heard Terri laughing, and she wouldn't let me read over her shoulder, so I came upstairs to my computer. Great story!

  3. Hi Nathan, lately I have been reading your blog regularly. I will be matriculating at KAUST in 2010 so hopefully we are going to meet sometime in future.
    Anyway, I want to tell you about a shipping company called Aramex ( and their shopnship service, I have been dealing with them here in Jordan for 4 years. They give you an address in the US and the UK to be used to forward you mail to you in Saudi Arabia with special prices (and a nice service!). Check the website for more information.

  4. Hmm... I have similar frustration with my personal effects shipment (sea cargo for my upright acoustic piano). The KAUST contractor - Four Winds Saudi Arabia Ltd. - thru their agent in my home country picked up the piano third week of July and until now mid October, I havent received it yet. If not for the weight of the piano, I should have sent it thru a camel, maybe it is already with me months ago.

  5. It's more than just kinks I think, it is a cultural issue as well. Logistics and customer service in business are practices that have only existed in this country since the discovery of oil about seventy-five years ago. I have many more stories like this to tell, just not enough time to write them right now! This is common in Saudi Arabia, not just at KAUST.

  6. hey Nathan, just want to let u know that what happened with you is completely normal. I live in Riyadh and i used to get packages from Jeddah every now and then and no one ever called me from fedex to pick it up ! I had to check with them on a daily basis to know if my stuff arrived or not :)