1996 – 2005 : My Golden Age of Letter-Writing

So when my Mom moved house, way back in February, I was given four big childhood/teenage memory boxes to open and sort out what is worth keeping. The most surprising find were the letters – one box was chock-full of envelopes from all over the world.

  • When I was young I joined a website called Japanese-Penpals, it doesn’t exist anymore, but you could find penpals your age from all over the world. Of course most people on there were between 14 and 20 years old so at 14 I could reach people all over the world, I actually met in real-life with a Russian girl I wrote to.
  • The Guide Association used to run a scheme called International Post Box or something like that, I wrote often to a girl my age in Malaysia. Then as the internet got more use I started swapping badges with other Guides and Scouts the world over.

I learnt about people’s lives in other countries, I found out about a bar in Moscow called Señor Tomato, about an American Girl Scout group’s Summer camping trip,  I even saw the arrival of those cartoon-sticker photo booths (that were always in TopShop) way before anyone else because my Japanese penpal sent ones to me. They were always to colourful, and you would always exchange little gifts, like calendars or pretty notebooks and keyrings, anything that was easy to get through a typical letterbox.

P1040759Changes in technology have a dulling effect on keeping in touch sometimes, rather than enhancing it. For example, I hardly write to Katia, my Russian friend anymore because I can see photos on facebook and there’s always that possibility of instant message that I never use, and I just tried to google the Japanese girl and it came up with around 25 *her name*’s from all over the world – in my 16-year-old naivety it didn’t sound like a porn-star name. I wonder if today’s children will have the same experience, if they can tear themselves away from their Bebo chat and their X-box head-sets? I asked my Guides to write letters to Guides in Mexico a few months ago and they loved it, but would they choose to do it? I think not, they live on BB Messenger and whatever is in CBBC these days. They don’t even watch Neighbours anymore. I actually found a letter I received while Erasmus in France where my friend gave me bullet points on what was happening, Susan and Karl’s eternal rough patch, and someone was plotting to put Lassiters out of business again, blah blah… But again, I never speak to this girl anymore, we lost touch about six months after my Dad died, which weirdly is about the time I started to go to the Meetups and grew a group of so many international friends. Anyway, I wonder how my Guides will keep in touch with childhood friends, or will friendship become a throw-away thing? Like the one-hit-wonders in the charts or the £15 dress you can get in Primark? They say friends are there For a Reason or a Season, but with trends like Twitter – when you are talking about one thing today and a completely different thing tomorrow – will they think that friends are only for the Season? I know that some people are in your life can be selfish, and only call you when there’s no better offer, but are we heading that way as the rule rather than the exception?

P1040761

I read Denglais post about letter-writing and completely related, especially on my Erasmus year, I wrote to absolutely everybody! There’s something exciting about receiving a letter, especially anything hand-written – like there’s a personal connection, anybody can type a letter and print it ten or eleven times, but a completely hand-written letter makes me feel special. People have taken the time to think about you and write. I noticed that most of these letters were during my last years and school, and stop quite suddenly when I leave university and start working. So, why? Is it lack of time and energy? Is it genuinely being busier and distracted by other things, like TV or nights out? Anyway, I have set myself a challenge ::

To write to some of these people and see whether I get anything back.

I know I can get in touch with the Russian girl again because we are on facebook, I even have her mobile number. So my challenge will start with the Malaysian girl, I had around 40 letters from her including little gifts from her travels in South East Asia. I know a lot of these people were probably between 14 and 16 all those years ago so would have lived with their parents, parents don’t tend to move house – I know we are talking fifteen years later but it’s still possible that their parents still live there and can pass the letter on. I have moved a lot in the last three years but I should still be living in this flat for the next year or so, so that’s not a problem. Let’s see what happens!

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8 thoughts on “1996 – 2005 : My Golden Age of Letter-Writing

  1. Aw, I had loads of pen pals from around the world when I was in my teens… I was generally addicted to letter writing. Or, rather, to letter receiving 🙂
    Good luck with finding your old chums!

  2. What a lovely post. I do hope you have some success getting in touch with your penpal’s past. I still love writing letters too – I went to one specific shop in London this year because I’d run out of Florentine stationary (I used to live in Florence and they make the most fantastic paper), and take great pride in planning out the contents and the look on the page. There is so much you can do in a letter that can be done on line (doodles, writing in a spiral etc). It’s like mix tapes – utterly personalised and wonderful but no more sadly.

    There’s also something poignant about the age at which people start getting penpals – in that late childhood/ early teenage we are still so idealistic and full of potential. It’s a really brief period though and people change so much that I’m not surprised many end up losing touch – my friend’s sweet little penpal from Idaho ended up developing early and was pregnant by 15 so probably not really up for writing letters anymore…

    I myself have fond memories of very lengthy emails exchanged with an acquaintance from uni (I had to leave early as, like you I lost a parent early) which graduated into actual letters and gifts etc. Sadly it stopped when I got married. I did try to restart it later but he wasn’t interested (maybe I had misread the situation) but I still cherish those letters because during times of illness/ grief you really do find out who your friends are – and for that reason I tend to take friendship with a pinch of salt these days, but I enjoy it while they’re there, and if they’re up for writing letters, even better! Xx

    • There’s so much of our childhood that I really wonder whether will relay into future generations, mixed tapes as well. I hope this can be the start of something again, rekindling old friendships and making new ones. I read another article about blogging being the new letter-writing, but I didn’t touch on it in this post because even blogging lacks that something personal, you can have a conversation, but there’s nothing like sitting down with your paper and pack of stickers you’ve been saving and writing your heart out! 🙂

  3. I’m so glad my post in a small fashion inspired you to start up letter writing again! Such a long lost art and I wish people did it more, it just feels so much more personal!

    • It definitely is, I started writing my post and then came across your blog, firstly I was erasmus once in Spain and absolutely loved it! It got me in touch with so so many people from all over the world, and I never looked back.

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