In the past, people sent routine letters and paid bills using the government-run postal service. Today, most messages and bill payments are sent electronically, and if you need to send someone a paper card, package, or whatnot, 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.
In Real Life, public mail services can be slow. Postal services claim that some delays are caused by customers not filling in addresses properly or not following postal guidelines for packages (leading workers to use the Stamp of Rejection and return it to you), while others are due to weather and natural disasters. Postal services also face delays because, like any huge government bureaucracy, they face staffing shortages, as complex hiring systems, strikes, and big pension obligations make it hard to hire enough staff. As well, mail delivery can be slowed—at least in the short term— by the challenge of integrating new technologies and processes (e.g. automated sorting, digital tracking). On the other hand, this can sometimes be an Inverted Trope, because depending on certain circumstances and where the mail is being sent, the postal service can actually sometimes be faster than a specialized delivery service.
- At the end of A Series of Unfortunate Events, the Baudelaire orphans finally receive a letter from their dead parents roughly two years after it was originally mailed. For context, the late Mr. and Mrs. Baudelaire came home from a trip less than a month after the letter was declared lost in the mail.
- Referenced in Back to the Future Part II when, after arriving in 2015, Doc Brown says the following:
Doc Brown: Right on the tick! If only the Post Office was as reliable as the Weather Service.
- 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).
- The postal system in Oceania is depicted by Nineteen Eighty-Four to be cumbersomely 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".
- In David Brin's The Postman, a well-educated drifter in post-apocalyptic America finds a dead postal carrier in a car wreck. He puts on the uniform and tells people he is a mailman from the US Postal Service. At first, he delivers letters to the communities on the wastelands alone. It is a slow process because he's on foot and the land is crawling with survivalists and robbers. Eventually he gets helpers and by the end, he leads a whole team of mail carriers, all of which help to re-establish the fabric of society and order.
- 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.
- 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.
- The postal trucks in Fortnite literally have a snail for a logo.
- 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 just telling 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."
- Ironically, the actual episode with the title "Snail Mail" doesn't revolve around the postal service. Instead, it deals with the fallout from Gary accidentally getting slime on a letter that SpongeBob sent to a pen pal, changing the word "frying" to "flying". Hilarity Ensues as SpongeBob doesn't correct the misunderstanding before it gets out of hand. Said pen pal turns out to be Patrick. Each time SpongeBob sends a new letter, the response still takes 4 to 6 days to arrive, though.
- 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.
- Captain Flamingo: In the opening of "Blindsided!", Milo orders a pair of night-vision goggles from the back of a comic book, but didn't receive it for a long while due to being delivered by an actual snail. He eventually receives it, only to find out that he ordered an extra extra small pair instead of extra small, causing some difficulty to put the goggles on.
- 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 at 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 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.