Croatia's blisteringly expensive telegram service soldiers on

Forget India’s semi-shuttered telegram service. Marko Rakar says, "Croatian post (btw. we are part of EU since last night) is still accepting and sending telegrams. They also have price list and they charge by the number of words. So a telegram with up to 50 words is 41 Croatian Kuna (which is about €5), while… READ THE REST

So, it’s slightly less of a rip-off than SMS pricing?

At least here there are expenses involved in delivering the messages. SMS is very near 100% pure profit for phone companies, which makes the high price even more outrageous.

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Yes, but what do they charge to send a Telex?

I browsed the Hrvatska pošta website a bit and these do seem to be honest-to-goodness telegrams, just like the old days. In light of that they don’t seem so blisteringly expensive to me; certainly €5 is lower than typical overnight delivery fees. Don’t forget, someone is literally going specially to your door to deliver the thing – sometimes within a matter of hours. Sure, these days when everyone has email, Skype, cell phones, etc. there’s probably little call for the service, but – as the site points out – “some traditions will always remain with us, such as the tradition of sending telegrams to our family and friends at the most important moments of their lives.” Admit it - getting a telegram on your birthday would certainly be more memorable than getting a post to your Facebook wall!

Fun memories… in 1990 and 1991 I was living in a tiny cottage overlooking a vineyard in southern Hungary – a stone’s throw from the Croatian border, actually. I had no phone (not so rare at the time - there were multi-year waiting lists to get a home phone connected). Mobile phones didn’t exist and email was almost unheard-of. I received and sent quite a few telegrams in those days – the most memorable one I received was from my parents in the US to congratulate me on getting into grad school with a full fellowship, and the most memorable one I sent was probably to the girl across town whom I was madly in love with – but there were plenty of more routine ones too, of the “arriving in 2 days STOP” sort. It was quite exciting to come home and find a green and white envelope pinned to my door. Telegrams were relatively pricey even then, so one didn’t send them at the drop of a hat, but they certainly had their place in everyday life.

This, don’t forget, was only 20 years ago. I had spent the 80s virtually living on the nascent Net, so it took some getting used to, but I found that I didn’t at all mind a life in which one asked ones friend if he wanted to hang out by going to his place and knocking on his door, in which one gave news of oneself to friends back home by writing letters, in which I might need to make one or two phone calls a month (there was a phone booth about half a mile away from where I lived).

Of course I was back online within a few days of landing in the US, and haven’t been off since. The next time I went to live in Hungary, only a couple of years later, I was working at the Academy of Sciences and had a proper, if slightly slow Internet connection at the office and a (wired) phone at home. Wireless came to Hungary later in the decade and was instantly popular as you didn’t have to wait years to get hooked up.


Interestingly, you can send a telegram in Croatia via the linked web site. I find this somewhat mind boggling.

Ha, I live in Hungary now and I’ve heard quite some tales about phone service back then.

Portugal (my homeland) still uses telegrams as well. I did a quick check and the state telecommunications authority (ANACOM) held a query last year about the telegram service, as well as Telex, X.25 and maritime mobile service, When asked, the former state phone company Portugal Telecom stated that unlike all the other outdated services, telegrams were still be in active usage for critical units such hospitals and judicial courts (and I know the employment office uses them as well), and held some commercial profit.

Checking the price table in their online service, it’s around 5€ to ensure hand delivery for a 180 character missive in Portugal, and then prices rising for other countries accordingly. Nice to know.

Just to put things in perspective:

Many overnight summer camps in the U.S. use a service called BunkNotes. It enables families to see daily photos of camp life and send their camper a “BunkNote”, which is a 3,000-word-maximum unformatted email (or less if you include certain space-taking add-ons such as sports scores, Sudoku puzzles, decorative border, etc.). The basic BunkNote costs $1, as do each of the add-ons. The camp prints out the BunkNotes each day and hands them to the campers at “mail time”.

In comparison, 5-8 Euros for an actual telegram hand-delivered to your door doesn’t seem so outrageous to me.

Presumably the BunkNotes system is in place because everyone knows how easy it would be for the kids to communicate with their parents in real time if they wanted, but that ruins part of the crucial summer camp experience - being separated from your parents.

Parents are as bad or worse than kids about that, so the camps pass the responsibility of limiting what helicopter parents can do to a scummy-sounding third party. Sending and receiving actual mail is one of the best parts of the summer camp experience. The solution is simply to limit regular communication to physical mail.

In regards to the actual topic at hand, I do wonder who is responsible for spreading the idea that India’s telegram system was “the last one in the world”. Must have been some major misinterpretation somewhere along the line, and nobody bothered to double check.

I’d be willing to not count Japan’s system on the grounds that it’s only really used ceremonially, and that’s probably true of many other systems around the world, but there’s nothing stopping anyone from using these systems for more mundane purposes if they wish. In any case I got the sense that those spreading the idea that India’s was the last didn’t even know about those systems, so I won’t cut them any slack :slight_smile:

I think that I saw an article at BBC talking about The Last Telegram On Earth.

Children at overnight camp aren’t allowed to communicate with their families “in real time”. No phones, etc. And it’s the camps that contract BunkNotes to provide the service…presumably for parents who can’t be bothered writing an actual letter and mailing it. I wouldn’t call BunkNotes “scummy”, just a for-profit company doing its thing.

My point above was that making 5-8 Euros per communication transaction doesn’t sound so outlandish when you consider a lot more actual work goes into delivering a telegram than a similar transaction like the example I offered, in which the customer is paying for the privilege of doing all the typing themselves and then the receiving party (the camp) is paying for paper and printer costs, while the transmission costs between those two points is virtually nil.

Compared to sending a letter the Bunknote thing doesn’t seem that terrible. With a letter you have to attach a stamp ($0.46) and envelope/paper (another $0.04 lets say) so it’s only double the price. But the letter arrives there twice as fast–USPS average First Class Delivery is two days, as opposed to this system getting there guaranteed by the next morning.

I can’t feel that outraged about it, although charging $1 to add a Sudoku puzzle is nuts, I would never do that.

Sure it is kind of ridiculous compared to a much simpler system of having a dedicated “email machine” setup somewhere where kids can send and receive mail from their parents once per day, but camps aren’t about the most efficient solution to any problem. The whole point is to slow down and see the sights for a change.

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