Have you never wondered what happen to the letters you leave on the mail? I have, and that's why I made some researches about it. I found a very well done explanation of a letter's trip so I thought about translating it into English to share it with you.
So, here we go!
Step one: collecting and gathering the mail:
First step, the mail people collect the mail from all the postboxes. In France postboxes (like the one on the picture above) are divided into two parts: one for the mail within your own department and the closest one, and the second is for mail to the rest of France and to abroad. The mailmen grab the mail in two bags of different color: one for each destination.
All the mail collected in the postboxes from one or several towns is then gathered in the mail gathering center.
Step two: preparing the mail:
Mail is brought to the preparation center. This center gathers and centralizes all the mail from companies and people. It's during this step that international mail is separated from national mail. The mail is also sorted by type (big or small size), destination and stamping (priority or second class)
This sorting is done by machines mostly. During the night, a machine cancels the stamps and puts a bar code on the bottom of the envelop (small orange bars) On the left, there's the code for the street name and number. On the right, the postcode.
Mail is then organized in boxes put in trolleys, ready to load on trucks.
Step three: organizing and delivering the mail:
Mail goes to a mail center. Here is organized all the mail from the department and sent to other mail center in the whole France depending to the letters' destination. To do this task, mail centers have machines able to tidy 50 000 letters per hour for each of them. All the envelops that can't be read by the machines are scanned and read by remote control in a numeric mail center.
Mail travels to the mail center by the most adapted transportation: it can be plane, TGV (high speed train) or truck.
Mail arrives again in a mail center where it's organized by postcodes, cities, areas. Then it's sent to a delivering center, where it's organized for the last time to fit in the mailman's journey to deliver mail to people and companies.
To allow the mail to be delivered on time, all this process starts at 6.00 pm and runs all night long. The aim is to leave mail in the delivering center (where the mailman's journey starts from) before 5.00 am.
Some numbers about mail in France:
The distance covered by the 100 000 mailmen is equal to turning 50 times around the Earth.
It exist 70 000 different mailman's journeys.
Each day the post service collects around 75 million of letters on 135 000 postboxes.
Mail transport requires 3 TGV, 13 planes and 460 trucks.
Mailmen deliver mail in 27 million mailboxes.