A Dying Art: Traditional Letter Writing

A few months ago I was looking for a couple of new language exchange buddies when on My Language Exchange. Whilst looking I stumbled across a couple of people who wanted to exchange traditional letters as part of the process of exchanging a language. Up until then I hadn’t thought of exchanging letters before. As a historian I do on occasion come across and read old letters for historical research. They are a great resource and are often very touching and beautiful items of history.

Sadly it is a dying art. Using a postal system just isn’t efficient any more, not when there is Email, Texting, Instant Messaging, Phoning etc. Before in the past a letter was the only form of long distance communication – with the invention of the Modern World the old art of letter writing has died because messages can be sent in an instant around the world. Whilst that is a massively brilliant phenomenon it is sad for some of the older traditions.

In the past, there use to be letter writing etiquette books which would give sample letters on how to write on an array of topics…now we have books to decipher text speech.

Sadly, my early pen pals from My Language Exchange were not a success story. I wrote a letter to one and get a reply, but not a reply to my second. The next pen pal I wrote to and never got a reply, which was disappointing – but not to worry. I decided to venture onto other websites and find some alternative penpals.

I can recommend two websites. The first was Maarten’s Snail Mail Pen Pals Online. On this site I emailed quite a few people, but I think a lot of the links contain information that isn’t updated. Sadly I only got one reply, but I have received two letters of my pen pal and we email occasionally too! This site is broken down into different countries so if you are looking for people from a specific country, such as I was, then you can browse the adverts from that country. I quite like that aspect of this site.

The next group is Snail Mail Ideas Find Penpals Group. This is not broken down into people country. What you need to do is to send a request and wait to be accepted. Once accepted you can write an advertisement for yourself.

An advertisement doesn’t need to be complicated. Just introduce yourself, your name, approxiate age or exact age, a little bit about yourself and where you are from. Then you can explain what you are looking for in a pen pal. This can be gender specific, country specific, age specific or maybe particular hobbies you share with your future pen pal. Another possibility to consider is saying that you would like to write but not decorate your letters. In this community in particular people like to make fancy envelopes and letters – whilst some of them can be very lovely, it is a style that is not to everyone’s taste. So if you find that you do not want to do that then it would be a good idea to mention that in your advert. Once you’ve posted it people will comment saying they will like to be your pen pal.

A WORD OF WARNING though. Quite a few people on this site have commented that they write quite a few letters and do not get replies. My advice is that if someone comments to your advert and says they will like to be a pen pal – get them to write first. This means you will weed on the people on there who only want to be your pen pal to get a letter, they themselves have no intention of replying back. It’s an element I have only found on this website and it has not happened to me but it is sad that it is prominent in this community. There also people on this site who are only interested getting a goodie swap such as stationary and stickers and such. My advice is do not agree to exchange goods until you have maintain a considerable time getting to know that the person is genuine. There are people on there who want goodies but have no intention of sending any themselves. Another option is to stress that you would like to spend a day or two Facebook messenger the person to get to know them a bit before you exchange letters. If you reply to someone’s advert I suggest you offer to write the letter first, to let that person with the advert (and probably a newbie) show that you are interested in maintaining a serious pen pal friendship.

If you are interesting in trying out snail mailing, I really recommend you give it a go and I hope my word of warning doesn’t put you off. The first time I received a letter in the post it was a fantastic feeling. I only ever get boring letters from my bank. It is often a big surprise to see a letter or two arrive on your door step and it is really a nice feeling that can make your day as you are not expecting it. It is really a feel good moment that perks up your day. So if you are interested, I do recommend giving it a go!

The only thing you need to work on next is your first letter to your pen pal. As we no longer have books on the modern way to write a letter to a pen pal – my next post in this series will be all about letter writing etiquette for your first letter to your pen pal.


3 responses to “A Dying Art: Traditional Letter Writing

  • stevemorton

    Two or three years ago there was a ‘FiloPal’ project running of people exchanging letters written on Filofax A5 or Personal size paper.

    Sadly the letters dwindled… or at least ones to me did! But yes with so many other speedier methods of communication around it is just too easy.

    I quite enjoyed letter writing again after too many years of not doing so.

    30 years ago I lived in Cyprus, no phone in my house, no internet, so I used to letter write quite a bit then, but also talking letters, cassettes recorded then wrapped in silver foil and posted to UK, or other locations around the world. They were fun to do an hour or 90 mins worth of chat.


    • Emma

      I am currently reading letters from the establishment of a holocaust centre in the UK. Now we’ve switched to email…if those emails aren’t saved before the account is deleted all that important corrospondence will be lost!

      Maybe we can reserrect the filopal? I don’t think many would be interested now though.


  • Letter Writing Etiquette: How to write your first letter | A random English life

    […] a while ago now I wrote about my old school hobby of letter writing. As modern technology takes over our lives it can be quite challenging to pick up an old school […]


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