Pen Palling

pen pal,  n

1. a person with whom one regularly exchanges letters, often a person in another country whom one has not met. Also called: pen friend
I wonder if you asked anyone who actually is a Pen Paller.. or Pal.. what they would say about Pen Palling?
For me, it was a way to stay sane. I was in a new town with a 5 month old baby, I knew no body and was terribly shy. So I decided to find myself a penpal. I cant even remember where I found my first one but her name is Eva and she is from Germany. we have been palling for 12 years now and in that time we have both gotten married ( me for the second time her for the first) we have had our children grow up together. In the time we’ve been writing we have been through lots of ups and downs, births, deaths and marriages, we both crochet, we both sew and we both are avid readers. If ever I get to Germany I would be sure to visit Eva and her family. We have also shared holidays, by the sending and giving of postcards.
Other pals have come and gone for various reasons and some make you sad to loose them and I often times wonder “What happened to Janey?” who was my first British penpal. Jane used to laugh at me and my love of History and she sent me the most beautiful pictorial book of British Castles which came into hospital with me to keep my mind busy. Janey used to go visit the local castles and send me photos of her hugging the thick cold bluestone walls and have a note on the back “Hugging History for Kimmy” Janey went through a nasty divorce and then stopped writing, I really miss her friendship.
Another penpal that I adored and miss terribly is an older lady her name was Ethel and she was from Pennsylvania in USA. I don’t recall how we became friends either but she was the most lovely lady, we wrote for about 5 years and in that time her eyes got worse and worse and so in the end I would ring “Mumsy” a few times a week and chat for an hour or so. We used to have lovely chats and some how the great age difference never seemed to matter, she said I kept her young and she was so excited to go to the mail box and find mail from her “Kimmy girl” in the end at age almost 90, she got very sick and her carer got involved knowing how much we loved our letters and chats and she would write the letters from Mumsy to me and eventually I got the email to say that Mumsy had passed on and that she had asked her daughter and the carer to be sure to tell me. Her daughter wrote one last letter thanking me for making her Mum’s life nice at the end. I really miss Mumsy’s humor and whenever I re read her letters I can still hear her voice as though she is on the phone.
So where does one find a pen pal? there are little books that get passed from pal to pal.. not so much to me anymore I am not looking for new pals. Called “Friendship books” and you can add your contact details and a brief “likes and dislikes” and people will contact you and ask you do you want to pal? Some only want to do swaps, and they can swap all kinds of things, “sticker slams” are an example where you put an agreed amount of stickers into and send them to someone. There are so many things, I don’t participate in many because the postage can be terribly high to some countries.
Recently I read a post on FB from an Arty friend saying she had located her penpal from her teenage years on facebook and how she used to love writing to this Australian lady all those years ago, so we started chatting about that and I asked her “Do you want a pen pal now?” I would have happily written to Amy we have things in common, art, poodles, music lots of things. Then the conversation began and one of Amy’s friends who I later fond out is her EX sister in law said “she had always envied Amy having a pen pal and had always wanted one” So I offered to write to Janet and a friendship began. The Janet’s friend Terri piped up and said “Oh I wish I HAD a penpal that would be fun.” So I suggested that if Janet dint mind I could write to them both and that my friends has been a moved that has changed my life very much for the better.
Terri is one of those rare pen pals that you connect with instantly. Some you have to get to know and warm up to them over time, some you just never do and after a little while you need to break away. But Terri, I don’t know what it is but we clicked! At the time I was babysitting Grand daughter Scarlett and finding very little time to get any art done, so I started doing some “Snail Mail art” snail mail- because you post it and it is as slow as a snail to get there, unlike email which is quick and has it’s place but not as much fun and easier to delete than a regular paper letter. So Terri liked my envelope and decided to do her own return one. I hope the mail delivery people are enjoying Terri’s envelopes as much as I am!
I know everyone in my house enjoys seeing them. Funnily enough Janet and Terri are also from Pennsylvania and so without even trying I have found two more pals to replace “Mumsy” as if anyone could. Pennsylvania must be a friendly state!
I also had a goal, though I never managed to fulfill it.. Have a penpal in all “50 states of America” my idea was I would go and visit each pal and write a travel memoir/penpal journal about the trip. I also wanted to have one in every state of Australia. So far I have Queensland covered, New South Wales (kind of) Tasmania (I quit) South Australia, Victoria, and used to have Western Australia but she quit too. When we went on our Big Lap back in 2012, we met my Queensland penpal Trudi, we had lunch in a pub and didn’t shut up talking, she said she was nervous to meet me and I confess I was nervous to meet her too, but we chatted as though we had seen each other last week or written a letter yesterday!
Pen Pal Traits-
What makes a good penpal?
In my opinion,
  • Honesty– I always tell my pals I have an open letter policy if you want to know something ask me and if you don’t want to tell me stuff skip past my questions.
  • Reliability– I can hear Terri chuckling, the last few letters I’ve written I have apologized for my delay in responding. sometimes life gets busy and you get caught but my goal is to answer all incoming letters within a week of receiving.
  • Any way you wanna do it is fine with me– what’s that mean? Some people are hung up on not getting typed letters… personally I can type way faster than I can write so I love the odd typed letter. Some people feel that if it’s a typed letter, the sender is just copying it from one person tot he next. Some parts of letters you CAN do that general every day stuff, but never a whole letter. So I tell people, write it, type it I don’t care and take as long as you want or need to. Some people are really hung up on getting their letters fortnightly or not.
  • I like to add little bits to my letters, newspaper articles or postcards birthday cards, stickers, whatever and sometimes I don’t and sometimes if I am later to reply I wont even decorate the envelope, at least I am writing the letter.
  • Quality not Quantity– I removed myself from a pen pal a few years back because she would write monthly almost the same thing and then complain about having 50 penpals. For me it’s definitely quality and NOT quantity. I would rather have 4 or 6 good pals that I get excited to see in my mail box and want to write back to than feel like it’s a chore and push their letter to the bottom of the pile. I did that with this person a few times and finally I said Goodbye for good.
  • Replying to mail- I aim for a week turn over. I also write all about my news and then take their letter and work through each bit answering her questions and responding to her news. That way I feel like we have a conversation going and it can go on indefinitely. Some I know reply to my questions first and then tack on their bit last and one pal I know, I am sure we are “soul sisters” Sonja and I waffle.( Janey used to say “Kimmy’s off on a tangent”) we will start on a subject and then just waffle onto something else and then cut back and twist and turn and I don’t actually know if either one of us ever properly answer or finish a letter. When Sonja told me her Husband Robert (same name as Mine) and her were going to Rarotonga to escape the Austrian winter, Rob and I decided to fly to Rarotonga and meet them there. Win Win for me, I got to fly overseas and to meet a penpal and we had a great day, until the motorbike smashed into the side of our hire car, but that’s a story for another day.
How to Choose a Penpal-
In My Opinion-
  • Common Ground-  Do you have things in common? do you both collect stamos? sew? read? crochet? Are your ages similar? do you have children? I am a stay at home Mum and Grandma so the chances are I am going to be talking about my family A L O T!! If you are childless or a children/man hater you’re not going to enjoy palling with me. Having said that I have got friends who do not have children and how are not married but we find plenty of things to talk about.
  • Age– One of my Pals is in Japan and she is younger than me and asked me to pal with her. At first I was skeptical but she says I am helping her with her English speaking and writing and she calls me “Big Sister Kim” I love to send Akiko cuttings and postcards and tell her little tidbits about where ever we have been, I love Japan, I have never been there but I love everything about it and so Akiko shares her world with me. Having said that I am skeptical about great age differences, because there might come a time we would run out of common ground to discuss. Mind you I was a 40 something with an 80 plus year old Penpal.. So really there are no rules.
  • Expectations- Some people want a hand written letter, 6 pages long every Wednesday, some people are happy with a quickly scribbled letter monthly. Personally I make it clear in the first letter “that I aim to reply within a week of receiving your letter, but sometimes life takes over and it might be late, but unless I tell you so I will always reply.” Most of my pals have lived through the births of my Grand babies and know how committed I am to being with them as they grow, in fact one lives with me and I am him full time carer while his Mum works, so I do in fact have to scribble in between naps or whatever else is going on. I don’t type my letters for a few reasons,
  • A– I am usually in front of the TV or in the car or at football training while I am writing, so typing would not work
  • B– I find it quite relaxing to curl up with my note pad and a letter to reply to and just spend a while in another place.
  • I do ask Pals if they have trouble reading my hand writing I will type then as was the case for Mumsy and her failing eyesight I was able to make the font larger and therefore easier for her to read the letter herself. Not having to wait for her carer.
Bottom line for me is I am a sticky beak, I want to know about other people’s lives, I want to hear about their weather and what they cooked for dinner and if they will share the recipe. In the case of America I love to hear about how the deer are eating the bulbs in Terri’s garden and I just eat that stuff up because it’s so far removed from my life I can’t even imagine. I love to hear from Eva about her children returning to the new school year in August or September in Australia the school year is January to December. So many differences and I love learning the new things about the different countries. we are all so different and yet we all have the same wants and needs and feel the same things, pain, joy, love, death, sorrow.
Currently I have pals in
  • Italy
  • USA- Pennsylvania 2,
  • Victoria- (Australia)- (less than an hours drive and yet we have never met, one is a little bit further away)
  • New South Wales (Australia)
  • Austria
  • Isle of Man (British Isles)
  • Canada
  • South Australia
  • Germany- 2
  • Japan
  • Holland
  • New Zealand
  • Queensland (Australia)

15 Pals.. of those a few are not regulars and that’s ok too. I have cut down, like I said Quality NOT Quantity, because let’s face it postage is expensive. Out of these 15, there are 5 who write long letters 5 or more pages and a few maybe for postage costs or whatever else reason, might only write one page and that’s ok too. it’s all about opening the mail box and finding a decorated (or not) envelope and inside a friendly letter not a bill or junk mail.

Do you pen pal? Do you want to pen pal? let me know I’ll hook you up!


9 thoughts on “Pen Palling

  1. A very sweet read Kim !! Loved every bit of it. I never had any unknown pen-pals but I did use to write long letters to a girl with whom I studied for a year.Oh,those big packet of letters,mom used to wonder what did we got to say every month and so much of it !!! Time did change though,I have kept the letters and love to read them time to time 😀

  2. Not sure if you are looking for more penpals at the minute but if you are I will send you my snail mail address, I cannot promise art work of your standard as I am well and truly out of practice but I can still draw and awesome elephant lol

    • Sounds awesome Paula!! I’ll write my intro letter this week and let you know when its posted! I very rarely have so much time for the snail mail art anymore.. I started that as a way of doing “some kind of art” when I was babysitting small sleepy babies, they grew up to active toddlers and so now I have less time to sit and do anything LOL

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