Every time I’ve passed by an Italian post office, or “Poste Italiane”, I’ve wondered why in the world the abbreviation is “PT”. What does the “T” stand for??? It didn’t make any sense.
But not much in an Italian post office made much sense to me the first time I went in one. Some are bigger and some are smaller, but there’s always a long counter with postal employees sitting behind it, as you would see in the States. Above each of their heads, however, are two things: A yellow sign with one of four symbols on it and an electronic letter / number counter like I’m used to seeing in line at the deli. Near the entrance is a shoulder-high, cylindrical machine that has a list of services under each of the four symbols and then a button to call for a ticket. Italian post offices don’t just send and receive mail; they have all sorts of bank and finance services, passport services, various government functions – it can be a bit confusing. Press the button that coincides with the service you want (and hope you’re not wrong, or you’ll have to wait all over again).
The small ticket that comes out has a letter on it followed by a number. When you see this letter / number combination flash over one of the employee stations, you run there before they decide you’ve left. There are no lines. Italians don’t do lines.
OK, but what about the “T”? To discover that, I had to do a bit of research.
After the many regions of Italy united in the mid-1800′s, a postal reform law was established that set procedures for mail collection, sorting and delivery throughout Italy, loosely based on the Poste di Sardegna, Sardegna’s postal service. In 1889, though, another law was passed that created the Ministry of Posts and Telegraphs (”PT”!!!), separating it from the Ministry of Public Works. The Ministry of Posts and Telegraphs was charged with maintaining a network of offices across Italy that would send and receive not only mail but also telephone calls, as well as perform some basic financial and asset management functions.
The Ministry of Posts and Telegraphs didn’t last long, though. Thirty-five years later in 1924, Mussolini’s Fascist regime changed it into the Ministry of Communication, which became an important center of power and a way through which they could control the population by controlling and monitoring what information was disseminated.
And so the Ministry of Posts and Telegraphs was short-lived. But Italians have long memories, it seems, and to this day every Italian post office is marked by the abbreviation “PT”.