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Snail Mail

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So you want to send someone a message, package, or whatnot. Nowadays, there are many options from email to FedEx, DHL, UPS, and the like, all of which are much faster than the traditional Postal Services or "Snail Mail". The standard joke is that regular mail takes forever and sometimes never arrives at all. Sub-Trope of Absurdly Long Wait. Contrast Instant Home Delivery and Unstoppable Mailman. Related to Technology Marches On.




Film - Live Action


  • This trope forms the basic premise of Going Postal, in which amoral Boxed Crook Moist von Lipwig is put in charge of an all but defunct Post Office that has become a joke, now fighting for its life against modern technology (a Steampunk semaphore system). He turns it around by averting the trope, by reintroducing regular deliveries and introducing stamps to speed things up (as well as argue the physical delivery of letters has more emotional weight).
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  • The postal system in Oceania is depicted by 1984 to be cumberstonely slow, with a letter often taking several months to arrive, if it manages it.
  • When Wade graduates from high school in Ready Player One, he notes that a physical copy of his diploma is sent to what remains of his former residence via this trope, actually using the words "Snail Mail".

Live Action TV

  • On MacGyver (2016), Mac is convinced in Season 1 to reach out to his estranged father. He does so by sending a letter, not believing any other form will reach his father. It's returned to sender at the end of the season, having apparently been to pretty much everyone on the planet besides Mac's dad. Trying to find MacGyver Sr becomes a recurring arc for Season 2.
  • Seinfeld - Jerry's neighbor and Sitcom Archnemesis Neuman is a postal worker. In a scheme to get Neuman out of his apartment via a transfer to Hawaii, Jerry dons Neuman's old uniform to deliver his unused mail. The joke is that the scheme backfires because Jerry is better at it than Neuman - all of the mail was delivered on time, something no mailman has ever done.
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  • A skit from the GMA Network Sketch Comedy series Bubble Gang has Santa Claus scold a gift recipient, who's complaining about receiving the wrong gift last year, for writing a letter instead of sending him an e-mail.
  • A subplot of the episode "Enemies Foreign and Domestic" of The West Wing found Charlie trying to trace the sender of a letter the President received that doesn't match any details of a Bartlet trip, but has a special code that Presidents only give out to close friends to have their mail sent directly. After significant digging, it turns out the letter was sent over 60 years earlier to President Franklin Roosevelt from a young man who met him at a campaign stop in Pittsburgh, and Bartlet used the same code FDR did. Charlie invites the now-elderly man and his son to the White House for a photo with the President, who thanks Charlie and asks for a photo with him as well.

Puppet Shows

  • On Bear in the Big Blue House, Jeremiah Tortoise is an elderly tortoise who delivers the mail in Woodman Valley. You can see how this can go wrong. It's not unusual for stuff to take ages to arrive, and whoa be those who get a wrong package because of his Forgetful Jones tendencies, forcing a redelivery.

Video Games

  • The postal trucks in Fortnite literally have a snail for a logo.

Western Animation

  • In an episode of Disney Channel's The Little Mermaid (1992), Sebastian's parents send him a letter via the Snail Man, telling him they'd see him in six months. Said letter takes six months to arrive, with Sebastian seeing his parents the moment he finishes reading it.
    Sebastian: That snail man is so slow.
  • Played for Laughs in the Futurama episode "The Route of All Evil", where Cubert and Dwight complain about a package they ordered taking just over 7 seconds to arrive. (The advertised shipping time was 5 seconds.)
  • In the TaleSpin episode, "Your Baloo's In the Mail", Rebecca wins the Pazuza sweepstakes worth $100,000, and plans to use the $17.50 S.S.T.I.S.D.D.note  postage to get the ticket mailed in time for the sweepstakes' next-day deadline. However, her daughter Molly's school play prevents her from being able to mail the ticket herself. When Rebecca worries that Baloo might mess up this important delivery, Molly suggests to just tell Baloo that it's a normal 'non-important' job. Baloo takes this seriously and spends most of the $20.00 Rebecca gives him on fast food, leaving him with only two cents. As a result, he is only able to afford the post office's 18th class service, which hasn't been used in 40 years, and takes ten weeks to deliver. When Baloo realizes his mistake, it's up to him to speed the mail delivery along so that the winning ticket can get delivered to Pazuza in time.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants:
    • "Waiting" revolves around SpongeBob standing next to his mailbox and waiting for a toy to come in the mail, neglecting his friends and his pet.
    • In "Hocus Pocus," after SpongeBob mails in an order for a magic kit, a time card reads "4 TO 6 WEEKS LATER" and cuts to him receiving his package.
    • Inverted in "Chatterbox Gary." SpongeBob orders a translation collar so he can understand what his pet is saying, and orders the fastest possible delivery option, "time warp." He is told that his package was delivered "last Thursday."
  • Wabbit: A Looney Tunes Production: In one episode, Bugs orders a kite. After waiting a while, the order arrives late in the mail, the one delivering the package being a snail.
  • In the cartoon version of The Doodlebops, Mail Snail sends messages to The Doodlebops from kids.
  • The Simpsons: In the episode "Brush With Greatness", it is revealed that Marge sent Ringo Starr fan mail back in the 1960s. Ringo didn't receive said mail until 1991.

Real Life

  • Played Straight to almost the point of parody by the Russian Post Service, whose tardiness and obstructiveness has become the stuff of legends. Or at least of countless jokes and jabs, such as when a girl employs as a sorter at their facility just so that she could locate a package she's waiting for, or that the meteorite that crashed in Chelyabinsk in February 2013 was meant to bring about End of The World prophesised by the Mayan calendar in the end of 2012, but RPS was tasked with delivering it.
  • A similar situation surrounds the Israeli Postal Company, who have at this point stopped even trying to find excuses for not delivering the mail, and instead simply don't do it. It's even been reported that disgruntled Israelis waiting for the mail have gone to the post office and seen massive stacks of unsent mail, dating as far back as eight months, sitting right by the front door, which the postal employees insist they'll only send them when they feel like it. A joke that came out around 2015 was something to the effect of "Israeli Post Office Serving the Central District Destroyed in Horrible Terrorist Attack- Service Not Expected to Change." This all sounds funny, but when this means court summons and draft notices come months late, or don't come at all, you'll find yourself in a lot of legal trouble.
  • In Britain, Royal Mail garnered a reputation for this after being controversially privatised in 2013, after nearly half a millennium of being a public service (in which shares were undervalued, leading to accusations that it was more or less sold at a discount, despite being one of the few public services turning a profit). With 1st and 2nd class letter delivery going from "next day" and "within a few days" respectively to "will get there soon" and "will get there whenever".
  • In Greece, it's now typical for the phone bills to arrive 15 days after the SMS that informs you of said bill. This creates a huge problem for some elderly people who are unused - or refuse - to read messages, thus making them miss the deadlines more often than not.
  • Since the "Arduous March" (read: the 1990s Great Famine), the North Korean Postal Service suffers from more sporadic deliveries, with letters taking over a month to be sent from the north of the country to Pyongyang. Postal workers were rumored to have used mail as fuel to keep themselves warm.