If Covid19 has anything good to account for it is my reignited love for letter writing. For many many years the joy of penpals was lost to me. But it is back. Well honestly I always loved letter writing and it never really vanished but I haven’t had some continues penpal friendship going on for a while.
What are penpals?
While the encyclopedia says penpals are strangers who write each other regularly through snail mail I wouldn’t be so strict about it. In my opinion pen pals are people who are continuously writing letters and sharing thoughts and life snippets through postal services. The anticipation of receiving a letter is almost the most fun about it. Walking to the mail box hoping within the advertisements is a hidden letter. Pasting a smile on your face when you fish out three invoices and then discover there is a fun letter within. Also the time it takes to write and receive an answer. It hones patience – a rare thing in our fast-paced world. I for sure have not mastered it.
More often than not penpals are used to get acquainted to writing and reading and/ or learning a language. I read that in one of Germany’s states (Baden-Württemberg) “letter writing” is even part of the curriculum in fifth grade.
My history of penpal love.
So it is not surprising that my first contact with a pen pal was also initiated by my teachers. The second year of English class or maybe it was even the first we had a partner school in England and the whole class was to write a letter to one of the students. I remember mine was called Sue and we exchanged a few letters even when the project had ended. It dried out eventually and I am sure my limited vocabulary was the issue. I could only say so much. Just recently my sister told me that I also had a Russian pen friend and she always was a bit jealous when I received letters. I can not remember that one at all.
However all those experiences are not as vivid and memorable than the one I had with my oldest and best childhood friend. When I was third grade I moved to Berlin from a small town. All my friends where still there and Berlin was huge compared. Friends weren’t easily made. So when visiting one of my friends “back home” she showed me a girls magazine she recently had discovered. Something I wasn’t quite aware of yet. Within that magazine was a little DIY section showing how to make envelopes from all kinds of papers.
We decided to write each other with fancy envelopes. We continued to do so all through high school. Almost all envelopes have been made or embellished and I have a whole binder to proof it. Those letters traveled the world – wherever we have been. From Germany to the U.S. and from Iceland to Germany and all the places in-between. However when my friend moved to Berlin it kind of stopped as we saw each other much more in real life. The joy of having her as a penpal throughout those years however is deeply appreciated.
Where to find penpals?
Relatives and friends
Now if you go with the strict definition of penpals you need to find a stranger. However you could also start with what is right in front of you. How about writing to grandparents? I am sure they would appreciate that. When mine were still alive I always wrote when I was on a business trip. This way I had something fun to tell and they received letters from all around Germany. Maybe there are other relatives like aunts or cousins you have a good connection too. Maybe you have met someone during vacation and enjoyed some time together – why not pick up on that during letters.
Nowadays social media is somewhat of an electronic penpal version I guess. If you connect with someone lots of direct messages are flying around. However you could also discover a whole community of penpals all across the globe. When you follow hashtags such as #postcrossing or #penpals you get a glimpse of the vast community. To find your next person to write to it’s easy by following #penpalswanted or #penpalsneeded or an equivalent to your mother tongue. I am sure there is one in every language of the globe just needing to be discovered. However I would like to add that those social media images might be a bit overwhelming as often those envelopes and letters are beautiful and richly embellished. I’d say it is more about the content so don’t hesitate to start if you really want.
Online plattforms for penpals
There are also platforms out there that a specialized in connecting people. The most common known one is probably Postcrossing. Sending postcards to strangers around the globe. Currently there are over 800.000 people from 203 countries registered on the platform. I myself have not used it but it sure looks like a lot of fun.
When using an online platform I would always check if it is looking safe and not spammy or fishy. If it has been around for long it more likely is legitimate. I would be careful writing my address all over the internet – maybe just pick one service.
And then there are services that are connected to charities. Specially with the pandemic at a high and the darker season (at least on the northern hemisphere) creeping up on us a lot of senior citizens are left alone. Visits may not be possible and the few walks outside are rare. Depression is common. Here in Germany a lot of social welfare institutions are having programs to write senior citizens. Often they are very local. The Diakonie or Caritas often have initiatives. You have to check that on your on. As for the US it seems there are more options. The organization “letters for our elders” seems a good resource to start.
Current penpal activities.
No as I mentioned in the beginning Corona has blessed me with frequent letters. One of my current pen pals is my niece. We are writing many letter back and forth and sometimes there are little goodies included. She practices her writing skills as second grader and I enjoy the fun conversation.
Lots more pages are being written with Jana who I met through Instagram. After two dates in real liefe – pre-corona (well in February so at the start) we talked about letter writing. When Corona gotten serious and lockdowns all over Europe started we decided now is the time for an offline penpal friendship. And so letters between Prague and Berlin are being exchanged. Often heavy envelopes with up to eight pages. It’s definitely a joy.
I also participated in a few lockdown projects where random people were put together to write to each other. Unfortunately none has sparked a longer conversation but it was sure nice to get letters from people I didn’t know.
As you see I could talk forever. How about you? Do you have current friends you write letters to? Do you have a letter writing season – like the upcoming holidays?