At its core, snail mail is a hobby that requires a lot of faith in the universe–and by “the universe” I mean “the intricate postal network that somehow allows me to send letters across continents and oceans for $1.15 or less.” Most of the time, all goes according to plan: letters arrive, gifts are exchanged, and friendships are forged between eccentric strangers who share a fondness for writing and washi tape.
But what happens when it doesn’t?
I’m coming up on my two-year anniversary of actively partaking in the snail mail/pen pal community. I’ve easily sent and received over a hundred pretty envelopes since January ’15, and I’m no stranger to the quirks and pitfalls of letter-based communication.
Read on for some thrilling tales of the most common challenges I’ve encountered in the pen pal world: though I’ll say up front that the occasional hiccup by no means outweighs the joys of receiving mail!
1. The Mary Celeste of mail
Just like a nineteenth-century brigantine appearing adrift in the middle of the Atlantic after being lost for months, sometimes letters vanish for several weeks and are rediscovered ages later. The international/domestic distinction doesn’t seem to come into play here: I’ve had a letter take two months to reach Germany and another take three months to get to Utah. Where do these “ghost letters” go on their mysterious journeys, I wonder?
2. Shouting into the void
Let me first make it clear that there’s one thing that won’t appear on this list: pen pals who take a long time (i.e. months to years) to write back. I have no problem with that, surprisingly!
I will never be unhappy to see a new letter–even if it’s a response to something I sent the person months ago. It becomes almost a Prodigal Son-type situation, strangely enough: the longer it’s been since I’ve heard from you, the happier I’ll be to hear from you again! (Yeah, I know, it’s weird.)
The one thing, however, that saddens my little heart is when I send a first letter to a prospective/new pen pal and never hear anything back ever. First letters are always a bit awkward, and putting yourself out there like that without any acknowledgement can be a little disappointing. We’ve all been there, right?
3. Return address chicanery
What’s your city of birth? That’s probably a really easy question for you to answer…unless you’re like me and the many other people from rural hometowns who were technically born in a nearby city but lived and grew up in another town. Though I know which one’s right and which one’s not applicable, it takes me a few minutes to sift through them and pick the correct answer.
Same thing happens with return addresses, sometimes. I’ve had a few pen pals live in small towns but maintain their P.O. boxes in neighboring cities–except they wrote the small town in their return address by accident, which I dutifully copied and used as their address! Always good to double-check.
4. Between a letter and the deep blue sea
If you, like me, are a strange introvert with a desperate fear of Awkward Emails, I’m sorry to say that even snail mail can’t help you escape them! If I don’t receive a reply for a few months, I start to wonder what I should do next. Should I send the pen pal a note, or not? I don’t want to make them think that I’m pressuring them to write back quickly…but what if they never received my letter? Or what if they did sent me a letter and it got lost? How soon is too soon to check in?
Writing letters isn’t always smooth sailing: but it’s always quite the adventure! What are some of your tales of snail mail woe?