Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Netherlands

Prime Minister Dr Jan Peter Balkenende of the Netherlands became the 13th world leader to honor my request. He also becomes the 4th world leader to send a photograph with a real actual signature.

It's interesting that this guy is both a prime minister and a doctor. I guess it's more economical this way since they don't have to hire an executive doctor. I wonder if he's Surgeon General (or head of the health ministry) too. Just kidding

Seriously though, you gotta admire a guy who aspires to become prime minister when he already has a profession under his belt...

Notice the letter originated in the Hague. Its interesting because while Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands the Hague is the administrative capital. You see that, whoever said a country can only have one capital?

Oh and by the way, whatever you do don't refer to the Netherlands as Holland. Holland is merely the name of a province within the Netherlands. Contrary to popular belief Holland is not a country.


Prince Hans Adam II of Liechtenstein became the 12th world leader to honor my request. Apparently he was low on photographs of himself and so he just grabbed one of his wedding pictures.

Jokes aside, I appreciate the uniqueness of the photo. The photograph also has some writing on the bottom it. Look closely and you'll see it. It was written in silver but for some reason the scanner had a hard time picking it up. Its not in English and so I'm not sure what it says.

The Prince is clearly posing with his wife but I'm not sure what her title is. If he is the prince does that mean she the princess? I'm terribly unfamiliar with monarchies and royalty. If anyone has a clue please lend a hand and let us know in the comment section.


Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of Spain became the 11th world leader to honor my request. He also becomes one of the select few to personally sign the photograph, in this case using a magic marker.

The photo is of high quality and the letter is of high quality paper stock. The letter also sports a raised presidential (or should I say Prime Ministerial?) seal above the words "El Preidente Del Gobierno".

The envelope was interesting too because in actuality it wasn't an envelope but rather a piece of paper glued to the edges of a piece of cardboard. Clearly the cardboard was meant to protect the photo but I can't say I have seen this sort of contraption before. The other letters that came with protective cardboard simply had the cardboard placed within a large envelope.

There's only one problem: The letter is in Spanish and me no habla mucho espanol. If anyone can do us a favor and translate please let us know in the comments section.


Denmark's Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen became the tenth world leader to honor my request.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005


Ireland's Prime Minister Bertie Ahern became the ninth world leader to respond to my request. Prime Minister Ahern also became the second world leader to personally sign the photo (independently authenticated).

Oops, did I say Prime Minister? I meant Taoiseach. Yep, that's what they are called. The only external marking on the envelope were "from the office of the Taoiseach." I sat there scratching my head for a while trying to figure out what that meant. Save for one place (can you find it?) the correspondence is devoid of the term 'Prime Minister' while it seems 'Taoiseach' is sprinkled around all over the place...

South Korea

President Roh Moo-hyun of South Korea became the eighth world leader to honor my request. Or so I think. His name is not mentioned on either the photo or the envelope.

I wonder what "cheong wa dae" means. Its definitely not President Moo-hyun's name. I'm assuming it means something to the effect of Office of the President.

Its a real elaborate cardboard frame with an extra layer of thin luxurious paper. Its aso a very high quality piece and I'm honored to be the recipient.

The letter was sent under lock and key via Registered Mail. Incidentally, the postal clerk who retrieved the envelope for me, after I presented her with the requisite slip, was from Korea herself and incredulous as to what dealings I have with the President of her native country. She wouldn't stop badgering me with questions...

Tuesday, December 27, 2005


I'm a bit disappointed with Germany. The correspondence lacked a photograph, all I received was a standard card in German. The enclosed letter, too, was in German.

It isn't clear from whom the correspondence is from. I mailed the letters just when Angela Merkel won the elections for Chancellor. I wasn't sure when she would take office so I sent letters to both her and outgoing Chancellor Gerhard Schroder. The signature is difficult to read so it is hard to tell which one of the two sent the correspondence. In any event, it is an honor to receive Germany's response.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

New Zealand

New Zealand's Prime Minister Helen Clark became the sixth world leader to honor my request.

Apparently she's a woman of few words. Enclosed were the photograph and a blank 'with compliments' piece of stationary. The envelope contained no further correspondence.

As with the envelope from Bermuda this envelope had the words "on Her Majesty's service" printed on it. Can anyone elaborate on it's meaning?

Saturday, December 24, 2005


Somalia is the only country in the world where there is no government. Last year an interim government was named in nearby Nairobi, Kenya and more recently moved to Jowhar, a town outside Somalia's capital Mogadishu. They have no authority outside this tiny town and get shot at when visiting the capital.

Of course I sent a letter to the interim government in Jowhar but I also sent letters to the breakaway regions of Somaliland and Puntland.

I don't expect a response from either Jowhar or Puntland but I'm holding out hope for Somaliland. Though, because they lack international recognition as a sovereign state, they cannot join the International Postal Union and must instead hire DHL to deliver its mail abroad.

This week's Economist highlighted one of the benefits of having no government. I have uploaded it here for your enjoyment. Enjoy.

Friday, December 23, 2005

United Kingdom

Prime Minister Tony Blair of the UK became the fifth world leader to respond to my request. Its interesting to note that the accompanying note clearly says the signature is a facsimile.

Another interesting tidbit I noticed was that the return address on the envelope says "10 Downing Street' and nothing more. I suppose that when you're one of the worlds most powerful land famous leaders you don't exactly need to give a full address.


The premier of Bermuda, W. Alexander Scott, became the fourth world leader to honor my request and the first one to personally inscribe my name onto the photograph. The inscription reads: "best wishes Joel from the Premier of Bermuda W. Alex Scott."

Interestingly, printed on the envelope are the words "On Her Majesty's Service." I wonder what that means.

As it turns out Bermuda is actually a possession of the United Kingdom. You would never know that from this correspondence as there is no mention of the UK on the envelope or its contents.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


Canada's Paul Martin becomes the third world leader to honor my request.

It's interesting that they use the term 'right honourable.' I believe it to be an expression of royalty but I've seen the term thrown around in the UK's House of Commons and as far as I know they are not royalty...

Anyway, it's with pleasure that we welcome our northern neighbor into our club.


Congratulations are due to President Samuel Schmid of Switzerland for being the first world leader to fully comply with my request and send me an autographed photograph. Under Switzerland's rotating presidency heads of state change annually. I suppose he wanted to get some photos out before he's ousted after the new year.

The envelope had no return address. In fact, the name Switzerland isn't even mentioned. However I quickly put two and two together when I saw his name on the envelope and 'Bern' in the postage area,

Interestingly there was nothing else included in the letter. It was just the envelope and photo. I guess the man doesn't speak much.

Ya know, him and I share a name minus one letter. I wonder if that means I get a Swiss sponsored all expenses paid trip to meet my namesake...

I also noticed that both this envelope and the one from Sweden are stamped 'Priotaire'. I wonder what that means. Is that faster than regular air mail?

Somaliland - Returned to Sender

This letter to Somaliland was the only one of all 208 letters to be 'returned to sender.' The other two letters returned (Samoa and Palestine) were merely 'returned for better address' and were ultimately delivered. Only Somaliland was denied the opportunity to respond to my request.

The reason is because Somaliland lacks the all-important international recognition needed to be considered a sovereign state by the international community. As such it cannot join the Universal Postal Union and therefore cannot send or receive mail from abroad.

A true shame.

I have so much to say here I don't even know where to begin.


Congratulations to the Prime Minister of Sweden for being the very first world leader to respond to my letters exactly two weeks after they were mailed. He was quick to respond but apparently didn't dwell much on my letter. I requested a autographed photograph. I got the autograph all right but no photo.

Determining the correspondence was from Sweden took some detective work. There was no return address, the stamps are in Swedish, and his autograph is illegible. It was only after reading the note from the clerical officer that I able to figure out the correspondence was from Sweden.

Oh well, we'll have a toast anyway.

Sunday, December 11, 2005


The republic of Tuva is a member of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization. Referred to as "the remotest place in the world" this obscure land sandwiched between Russia and Mongolia is claimed by Russia, China, and the Tuvans themselves. It is currently under the administrative control of Russia.

Kyzyl, Tuva's capital, was once thought to be the exact geographic center of Asia and a monument to that effect still stands in Kyzl to this day.

Curiously, according to this website Tuva is still at war with Germany Tuva declared war to the German Reich in 1941. As a part of the Soviet Union, it belonged to the winner of the war. But even after the declaration of the independent Republic 1992, there was no time or occasion (or necessity?) to sign a treaty of peace with Germany. Who woulda thunk?

Unfortunately I did not sent a letter to Chairman Sherig-ool Oorzhak as I only recently became aware of the existence of Tuva. As penance I read the fascinating book pictured below and I recommend it highly. It's a mesmerizing read.

For more on Tuva see its Wikipedia entry here. Click here for a Forbes account (and video) of a 2005 Tuva journey.


Update: This was indeed a case of confusion. The letter was not 'returned to sender' but merely 'returned for better address.' You see, the USPS has not yet updated its records to refer to the country as Samoa (as opposed to the former name Western Samoa). Click here for Samoa's response.

This envelope was not stamped with any reason why it was returned. It simply showed up.

Apparently I need to inform the USPS that Samoa is indeed a country. It may be obscure and you may have not heard of it until today but it does exist.

But hey, don't take my word for it, click on the following links and see for yourself:

CIA World Factbook entry on Samoa

A brief history of Samoa
BBC Country Profile
Official Government of Samoa website
Samoa plans internet for all

Perhaps the USPS confused Samoa with the US territory of American Samoa. Or perhaps the USPS incorrectly still knows the country by it's former name of Western Samoa.

Either way another letter to the Postmaster General is in order and will be prepared as soon as I get a chance.

In the meantime I will resend the envelope addressed to Western Samoa and see what happens.


Although I'm very well aware Palestine is not a country I still went ahead and sent Mahmoud Abbas a letter. Technically Palestine is still a part of Israel. However anyone that follows the news knows they hope to achieve independence in the near future.

I was afraid the Palestinians would have been deeply insulted had I addressed the envelope Ramallah, Israel. Ordinarily the Post Office would do what it can to forward the letter to it's ultimate destination even though the country name may be incorrect or missing.

For example, were one to mail a letter to London, England the letter would certainly be forwarded to the postal authorities of the United Kingdom even though England is technically not a country. The same goes for Holland and various other spots around the world. Basically, the USPS bends over backwards to figure out where the envelope's ultimate destination is and goes ahead and forwards the letter, even in circumstances in which there is no country noted on the envelope.

Over the weekend the letter to Palestine was "returned for better address." In this case it seems that, as an arm of the federal government, the USPS is making a very clear political statement. I don't necessarily agree or disagree with this statement I just find it to be very 'cute'.

When I have a chance I will send a letter to the Postmaster General in Washington asking for some clarification here.

Sunday, December 04, 2005


At 2am this morning all 208 envelopes (I'll explain how I got to that number as I go along) were hand-delivered to the James A. Farley post office in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. As the main post office of the region it is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The letters were handed to a supervisor who promised to load them on a truck bound for the international mail sorting facility at John F Kennedy International Airport.

Since the letters were immediately sent to the international sorting facility it is safe to say that at least two days were shaved off the letters' transit time. Had the letters been mailed from Brooklyn they would have sat in the Mailbox until Monday and then would still have to undergo sorting which means they would probably end up at the JFK international mail sorting facility sometime Tuesday or Wednesday.

I attempted to lay out the letters on a table in the post office so that I could photograph them in all their glory. However, I was quickly approached by the postal police and that plan was quickly aborted. Instead I had to settle for photographing the letters as they sat on the postal counter. It may not seem like it but sitting on the counter are all 208 letters.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Personal Confidential

I really wasn't sure if I should stamp the envelope with "Personal - Confidential." In the end I opted to purchase this stamp and use them on the envelopes. The last thing I want is for the letter to get tossed in the trash at some low-level government office. Optimally, all letters will at a minimum get seen by the leader's secretary. I figured stamping the envelope "Personal - Confidential" would probably ensure the letters get more attention and scrutiny than if it were not stamped.

I also liked the two color scheme. It makes the envelope stand out and look important (which it is - don't let anyone fool you).

Finally, I realize that non-English readers won't know what 'Personal - Confidential' means. Hopefully in this case they will assume the most important and handle the letter with the highest priority.

Each letter was stamped once in the lower left quadrant of the envelope.

This stamp is available commercially online for about $6.
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