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  #1  
Old 01-12-2008, 08:58 PM
brad_d brad_d is offline
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Those blue Royal Mail "Par Avion" stickers....

Today I helped a friend mail several letters and postcards to the United Kingdom (from California). This friend is American, currently lives in England, and is in the US visiting her family.

Armed with a small scale we went to the USPS website, figured out the proper postage, and affixed sufficient US stamps for First-Class Mail International to each item. No problem.

My friend then produced some blue stickers carrying the words "Par Avion", "Air Mail", and "Royal Mail", and insisted that each item needed to have one. I wasn't real sure about this, based on prior experience sending her stuff, but didn't argue - one was attached to each piece. I tossed the letters in a mailbox about an hour ago, and I'm pretty confident they'll get there, but questions remain in my mind about those mystical blue stickers.

It appears that they are known as Airmail etiquette. Their true purpose, however, remains unclear to me.

Do these stickers actually cause mail to handled differently? How? Are they possibly only relevant on items mailed from the UK? Are letters mailed without 'em going to get stuffed in a cargo ship and delivered in 8-10 weeks?

As far as I'm aware, the USPS has no analogous labels - I just send stuff First-Class Mail International. I've heard of (but never seen) "airmail stamps", but I've read that they don't really mean anything - they're just stamps, and can be used like any others. That wiki page I linked says, "The airmail etiquette may be omitted if airmail stamps are used on the letter, and in some cases even this is not necessary if a country sends out all its foreign mail by air." Is the US such a country?

I hope I don't sound like a complete tool, and seek the wisdom of the more postally-acquianted dopers....
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  #2  
Old 01-12-2008, 09:01 PM
Johnny L.A. Johnny L.A. is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by brad_d
As far as I'm aware, the USPS has no analogous labels
If they don't now, they used to. I have some stickers around here somewhere that are blue and say 'Air Mail' and 'Par Avion' in white on them. I got them at a USPO.
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Old 01-12-2008, 09:29 PM
Wendell Wagner Wendell Wagner is online now
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This website says that all letters going overseas have to have a "Par Avion/Air Mail" sticker.

http://www.geocities.com/SouthBeach/...card/tips.html

I only pick them up every few years because I don't send that many overseas letters. The last time I picked some up at the post office they gave them to me for free.
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Old 01-12-2008, 10:00 PM
Spoons Spoons is offline
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Any time I've been in a foreign country (I'm in Canada), and wanted to mail something home, I've always been able to get "Air Mail/Par Avion" stickers at the post office (even in the US). They're free, just ask for them; and as long as you've affixed them and the proper postage, your item will go via air.

"Royal Mail" really means nothing; if your friend had used USPS stickers, your friend's pieces would have been handled the same way. Our post office in Canada was once known as "Royal Mail"; it changed to "Canada Post" when Canadians decided it didn't need to sound so British.

Interestingly, the words "Par Avion" have appeared on every sticker I've used from anywhere in the world, although the words "Air Mail" have not. When I sent stuff from Greece or Morocco, it had (I assume) the Greek or Arabic equivalent of "air mail" plus "Par Avion," and when I sent stuff from Italy or Switzerland, or other non-English-but-still-Latin-alphabet nation, it had the native language plus "Par Avion," which is, of course, French. Does anybody know why French is always present on air mail stickers?
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  #5  
Old 01-12-2008, 10:16 PM
Raguleader Raguleader is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Spoons
Interestingly, the words "Par Avion" have appeared on every sticker I've used from anywhere in the world, although the words "Air Mail" have not. When I sent stuff from Greece or Morocco, it had (I assume) the Greek or Arabic equivalent of "air mail" plus "Par Avion," and when I sent stuff from Italy or Switzerland, or other non-English-but-still-Latin-alphabet nation, it had the native language plus "Par Avion," which is, of course, French. Does anybody know why French is always present on air mail stickers?
Probably because French was at one time considered the international language of diplomacy, IIRC. Aside from that? Tradition.
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  #6  
Old 01-12-2008, 10:26 PM
Tapioca Dextrin Tapioca Dextrin is offline
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IANAPW (or about to go postal), but my WAG is that the automatic sorting process that letters go through is designed to sort out blue stickered letters into a pile for the International Postal Division.
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  #7  
Old 01-12-2008, 10:31 PM
PaulParkhead PaulParkhead is offline
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It is theoretically possible that mail not marked "Air Mail" could end up on a ship. It's not likely (assuming we're talking about a small letter, parcels are a different business) because, absent instructions, the mail services use whatever means of shipping they like. That's usually a plane for international stuff, but it could conceivably be a ship. The sticker just helps by making your intentions clear: regular mail can travel by any means, but air mail must go by, well, air. You could write "Air Mail" on the envelope and it should still be OK - provided you put the right postage on it, of course.

Any time I've been to a US post office to send something internationally, generally to the UK, they've used a red stamp that reads "Air Mail", and not a blue sticker.

My guess would be that mail handlers worldwide know what these things look like, regardless of what languages they speak. So it probably isn't necessary to have the text in French, or English, or...whatever. It's just a custom.
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Old 01-12-2008, 10:39 PM
RealityChuck RealityChuck is offline
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I send things overseas all the time and have never used a "Par Avion" sticker. They're like airmail stamps -- something that was once required, but is no longer. I do send most things Priority Mail these days, but I sent them regular mail and they only took a few days to arrive in places as far away as Sri Lanka (at least, Sir Arthur never complained).
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  #9  
Old 01-12-2008, 11:10 PM
Cunctator Cunctator is offline
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Those blue par avion stickers used to be on the counters at post offices here, but I haven't seen them, nor have I used one, for a number of years. I'd guess that all overseas mail goes via air nowadays, so there's no need for them.
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  #10  
Old 01-12-2008, 11:29 PM
IAmNotSpartacus IAmNotSpartacus is offline
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The USPS prints Air Mail/Par Avion on the online customs forms and shipping labels (Click N Ship) for Priority Mail International and Express Mail International

I also notice that all the international boxes they provide say Air Mail/Par Avion on them as well.
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  #11  
Old 01-12-2008, 11:33 PM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is online now
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The USPS changed its rules yet again last year.

The air mail designation that was once used was eliminated. First-Class Mail® International is now the proper designation for letters. As far as I know, no such thing as "air mail" exists in US postage.

Before the change I put the par avion stickers on each piece of air mail. I was given a block of them as thick as a brick at one point and even sending out hundreds each year for years never used them up.

However, since the new rules I was told explicitly not to use them any longer.

The postage should be enough to tell the sorting machines what class of delivery is being used. The U.S. now has six classes:
Global Express Guaranteed®
Express Mail® International
Express Mail® Flat Rate Envelope
Priority Mail® International
Priority Mail® Flat Rate Envelope
First-Class Mail® International

I don't see at the international rate calculator any way to send even a package by surface, but I did get asked if I wanted to do so at the post office this week, so some vestige of that form must still exist.

Air mail does not. So much for romance.
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  #12  
Old 01-12-2008, 11:35 PM
SmackFu SmackFu is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PaulParkhead
Any time I've been to a US post office to send something internationally, generally to the UK, they've used a red stamp that reads "Air Mail", and not a blue sticker.
That's been my experience too. They stamp it when I tell them it's going overseas. They usually go nuts on the stamp too... they'll stamp it all over the front. That makes me think it's just so that if someone sees it laying in a pile, they pay attention to it.
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  #13  
Old 01-12-2008, 11:40 PM
SmackFu SmackFu is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase
Air mail does not. So much for romance.
The real romance was when they had a 1/2 oz rate for air mail. Now there's not really any special motivation to use airmail envelopes and paper unless you're writing a lot.
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  #14  
Old 01-12-2008, 11:44 PM
Daerlyn Daerlyn is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by brad_d
It appears that they are known as Airmail etiquette.
Incidentally, 'etiquette' is the French word commonly used for 'tag' or 'label', which fits neatly with French being the international postal language, according to your link.
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  #15  
Old 01-12-2008, 11:57 PM
PaulParkhead PaulParkhead is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SmackFu
The real romance was when they had a 1/2 oz rate for air mail. Now there's not really any special motivation to use airmail envelopes and paper unless you're writing a lot.
Yeah. The only time I ever see those red/blue edged envelopes is in junk mail - I suppose it's an attempt to make trash look important.
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  #16  
Old 01-13-2008, 12:02 AM
ElvisL1ves ElvisL1ves is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SmackFu
The real romance was when they had a 1/2 oz rate for air mail.
And you could special lightweight paper, looked like blue tissue, to write on. You'd have to fit your letter in on all the flaps, fold them up with a blank side left for the address, and it would get across the ocean by piston power in only a few days or so ... Damn, I'm old.
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Old 01-13-2008, 12:56 AM
PaulParkhead PaulParkhead is offline
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Originally Posted by ElvisL1ves
And you could special lightweight paper, looked like blue tissue, to write on. You'd have to fit your letter in on all the flaps, fold them up with a blank side left for the address, and it would get across the ocean by piston power in only a few days or so ... Damn, I'm old.
Hell, not that old, I hope. I used to buy airmail pads to write to my cousin in New Castle, PA. But I never used one of those clever foldy things, just the tissue paper and blue envelopes.

He sent me a chunk of raccoon fur and a huge pile of baseball cards. I suspect he didn't put those in a red and blue envelope, but they were sent air mail all the same.
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  #18  
Old 01-13-2008, 11:08 AM
brad_d brad_d is offline
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Thanks for the replies, all. It sounds to me like the blue stickers we put on the letters yesterday were not necessary, and the letters will be handled no differently than they would have without them (First-Class Mail International). A couple of years ago, maybe not.

It does seem rather odd that one would have had to (in the past, in the US) specifically indicated - essentially - "Not By Slow Boat" on a letter even when sufficient postage for faster transport was applied.

However, if the various threads around here have taught me anything, it's that the postal industry is full of strange quirks and historical ways of doing things that may make little sense to outsiders.
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Old 01-13-2008, 11:15 AM
GorillaMan GorillaMan is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by brad_d
It does seem rather odd that one would have had to (in the past, in the US) specifically indicated - essentially - "Not By Slow Boat" on a letter even when sufficient postage for faster transport was applied.
Why is this odd? It's not like they're going to be weighing and checking the postage of every package at every stage of the sorting process.
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Old 01-13-2008, 04:47 PM
suranyi suranyi is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ElvisL1ves
And you could special lightweight paper, looked like blue tissue, to write on. You'd have to fit your letter in on all the flaps, fold them up with a blank side left for the address, and it would get across the ocean by piston power in only a few days or so ... Damn, I'm old.
Aerogrammes, they're called. We used to get them by the dozen, since we had many relatives overseas. I'm pretty sure you can still buy them at the post office.

Ed
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  #21  
Old 01-13-2008, 06:06 PM
aldiboronti aldiboronti is offline
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They're known as Airmail Etiquettes.
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Old 01-13-2008, 06:48 PM
psychonaut psychonaut is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ElvisL1ves
And you could special lightweight paper, looked like blue tissue, to write on. You'd have to fit your letter in on all the flaps, fold them up with a blank side left for the address, and it would get across the ocean by piston power in only a few days or so ... Damn, I'm old.
We still get letters like this all the time from Africa. I hate opening them because they're easy to tear.
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  #23  
Old 01-13-2008, 09:05 PM
UncleFred UncleFred is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PaulParkhead
It is theoretically possible that mail not marked "Air Mail" could end up on a ship.
I send letters and CD mailers overseas frequently and the folks at the post office told me letters/envelopes and smaller items are never sent by ship anymore. Everything is air mail.

I don't know if there's some size or weight above which it becomes a 'package' and subject to travel by ship.

Also, FWIW regarding changes to US postal regulations in the last year, I have had the same size/weight CD mailer priced out at 3 different reates - with the postal employees arguing with each other about it.
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  #24  
Old 01-13-2008, 10:37 PM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by aldiboronti
They're known as Airmail Etiquettes.
Wouldn't it have been more polite to closely read the OP before posting?
Quote:
Originally Posted by brad_d
It appears that they are known as Airmail etiquette.
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  #25  
Old 01-14-2008, 12:11 AM
aldiboronti aldiboronti is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase
Wouldn't it have been more polite to closely read the OP before posting?
Wouldn't it have been more polite to point that out rather more gently? To err is human; your comment says far more about you than it does about me.
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  #26  
Old 01-14-2008, 02:04 AM
Mayo Speaks! Mayo Speaks! is offline
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The question appears to be settled, but here's my contribution. I work for a UPS Store, and we used to always use a red stamp that read "AIRMAIL" on international first class mail. Then when postal rates changed in about May of last year*, we were told to stop using our stamp. Now we just put proper postage on it ($.90 to most countries, and I think it's $.68 to Canada or Mexico) and send it on its way without incident.

* Incidentally, what are the official regulations as to Postcard vs. letter vs. large envelope/flat vs. package? We can't get a straight answer from the post office. I don't even think they know.
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  #27  
Old 01-14-2008, 06:27 AM
Colophon Colophon is offline
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Do people still send much stuff by surface mail? I guess really heavy stuff still gets sent that way.

I remember (and this is not long ago, maybe 10 years ago) my dad would always send out Christmas cards to our two relatives in New Zealand in about September every year so they could go by surface mail and save about 20 pence. (This is a man who on weekend shopping trips would always spend 20 minutes driving round block after block of residential streets until he found a free on-street parking space, even if it was a mile from our destination, rather than pay 50p for a car park. Even if this meant spending three times that amount in petrol. But I love him...)

Edit: UncleFred, it appears that you can still send postcards and letters by surface mail from the UK at least (but only outside Europe for letters). See here.

46p for a postcard or letter up to 20g, as against 54p or 78p by airmail.

Last edited by Colophon; 01-14-2008 at 06:30 AM..
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  #28  
Old 01-14-2008, 09:07 AM
Great Dave Great Dave is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase
Quote:
Originally Posted by aldiboronti
They're known as Airmail Etiquettes.
Wouldn't it have been more polite to closely read the OP before posting?

Quote:
Originally Posted by brad_d
It appears that they are known as Airmail etiquette.
Wouldn't it have been more polite to read the link before posting? Sure, he points out something that the OP knew, but the article is germane to the discussion.
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  #29  
Old 01-14-2008, 09:56 AM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by aldiboronti
Wouldn't it have been more polite to point that out rather more gently? To err is human; your comment says far more about you than it does about me.
Here's a rule to live by. When you make a mistake, it's not the fault of the person who points it out.

I think that should be made into a sticky in every forum.
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  #30  
Old 01-14-2008, 10:01 AM
Sunspace Sunspace is offline
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I think they say "Par Avion" because French was the working diplomatic language of the Universal Postal Union when it was founded in the late 1800s. Therefore, no matter what other language a post office worked in, it could still handle French.
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