Penpalling & Letters

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Reasons to start writing letters...

Why do some people decide to start penpalling? What is the reason? Most people I have met face to face along my life are not into letter writing while most people I have never met in person do write letters... It seems that, basically, I know people who are into letter writing and those who are not into it.

But why some people choose to write letters to other people all over the world and others don’t?

There are penpallers who have started writing at a very early age. They started writing letters to family or friends living in a different city or country. Back then, with no Internet and international calls being expensive, letters seemed to be the best way to keep in touch.

When we first start learning a foreign language the contact with native speakers might help us to improve our language skills. I believe that getting in touch with penpals from other countries helped me to develop my knowledge of foreign languages thoroughly. However, I was always interested in getting to know each individual, the person behind a name, an address, a handwriting, letter-papers, an envelope, a stamp... and for sure those penfriendships helped me much to learn other languages different to my native ones.

Do you think that a penpal can become a true friend despite not being able to meet face to face every day? I do believe that it is possible to build a meaningful, honest, true friendship along the years with someone living far away. We surely tell our pals private and intimate stuff which perhaps we don’t share with people we know in person... Do you think it is easier to write about our deepest feelings on a paper than telling it in a loud voice? Probably it is...

Penpalling also gives the possibility to learn characteristics about other cultures and countries. How many interesting facts have you learnt from your penpals during your correspondence? Have you ever exchanged a recipe about a typical dish? What about getting to know special facts about a famous place, customs, traditions? Do you think you would learn them the same way if you would have noticed about those through a different source? Learning them through a friend feels warmer and more special than any other way.

And what about everyday life in a country far away? Have you discovered how different or how similar our lives are? I always found fascinating “listening to” my pals telling about what they usually do. I always ended up discovering that despite being all different and unique we talk about our ups and downs, ideas, dreams, opinions, hopes... and share them with our everyday life, what we like doing, what happened to us lately... Isn’t it wonderful? We even can ask for advice regarding a specific topic and for sure we can discuss it deeply with our pals. I am sure that it helped many times!

There are many reasons why someone might get interested in penpalling and in getting to know people from other places in the world, but most important of all is the friendship which emerges between those two people if both of them are sincere, true, honest...

If you are looking for advice on penpalling check: "Tips on letter writing"

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The story of Saint Dimpna

As I announced a few days ago, I thought that it would be nice to start a section in the Blog where we could talk about an interesting topic related to our homelands. This idea is having a really good acceptance so far and today I have the pleasure to open it!

Our first speaker is Tinne from Geel (Belgium), who will tell us about “Saint Dimpna”, the patron saint of her homecity as well as the patron saint of psychiatric patients.

Tinne started writing letters when she was about nine or ten years-old and loved it back then. About eight years later a friend told her about IPF-International Pen Friends and this is how she started to write letters across the countries. In March this year, an online friend told her about "Postcrossing" and she decided to sign up a month later. Tinne also found some new penfriends on the Postcrossing Forum recently.

Dimpna was the daughter of a pagan Irish King called Damon and a Christian mother of great beauty in the VII century. Her mother secretly got her baptised by Gerebernus. When she is still very young her mother passes away. Her father is desperately looking for a new wife, who has to be as beautiful as his first spouse, but no one is pretty enough to take that place. But then one of his men points out that his daughter, Dimpna, looks exactly like her mother, so why not marry her? Dimpna refuses to marry her father and has to flee her home. With her confessor Gerebernus she travels to the European continent. They end up in Flanders and settle in the woods near the chapel of the Holy Martinus in Geel, where they take care of the poor and needy. Her father does everything to find them and after a few years he can track them down. He once more tries to force Dimpna to marry him, but her answer is unchanged. Her father is furious, orders his men to kill Gerebernus and decapitates his own daughter. Dimpna’s relics remain in Geel till today.

Tinne, are there any temple in the city dedicated to St. Dimpna where the relics can be found? Are there some festival or celebrations in St. Dimpna's honour? At which time of the year? How do people celebrate those times? Are there special traditions or customs?

There is a church for St. Dimpna, where her relics are kept and every five years, each May (her feast is on May 15th), there is the St. Dimpna “ommegang” (Dutch term which means “walk around the church”). It used to be a religious procession, during which the relics of St. Dimpna were carried around the town by the people. Now it is a big event with music, dance, plays... and lots of attention to the psychiatric care for which Geel is known. In Geel there is foster care for patients from the psychiatric clinic. The people are taken in by a foster family and they are treated as real family members, with their own chores.

Tinne, thanks a lot for telling us this interesting story and get to know your city, Geel! You are welcome whenever you wish to participate again!

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Travelling around the World sharing Cultural Heritage, Folklore and Background

Everybody who is into penpalling knows well what it is about... But what can be written in a letter? Any idea, thought, opinion, experience, happening in your life... can be written in a paper. When writing letters it is possible that many of those are addressed to people living far away from your land. Besides your own personal events, have you ever shared anything typical from your country with your pals? Explanations about your native language(s), literature, history, art, music, dances, crafts, food, gastronomy, festivals, landscapes, climate, fauna, flora, currency, national flag, religion, legends, mythology, customs, traditions, or even the origin of your country... are topics which could be part of a letter.

Would you like to tell your own stories to other people living all over the world? If you are interested in writing about any of those characteristics of your country or the land you live and let the rest of us know about it, please, contact me at penpallingandletters[at]gmail[dot]com or just leave a comment in this entry. We can decide together if your text will fit into a "questions and answers" style or maybe it will be a story, article... accompanied of one or several pictures if possible. I am waiting for your messages, then!

Topics suggestion

- language
- literature (about a writer, a book, poetry...)
- history (any historical fact you would like to mention)
- art (painters, musicians, cinema...)
- popular music, popular dances, popular instruments
- crafts done there
- typical food, gastronomy, share a recipe you like to cook
- festivals (typical of your town, city, region, country)
- landscapes (a mountain, a lake, a river, a coastal area, a natural park which is well-known in your country...)
- how is the climate you live in - about fauna, especial animals you can find in your place and the same with flora, plants which are typical from there
- currency (for example we can talk about the old one before Euro for those who have it in Europe now and for the rest of the world... there are plenty of different currency)
- your national flag (the origin of the colours, when it was born, meaning of the coat of arms...)
- about your national anthem and we even can add a video to listen to it
- if you like mythology and legends of your homeland you can share one
- typical customs or traditions

Check all the contributions: Travelling around the World sharing Cultural Heritage, Folklore and Background

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

A research about penpalling

Some time ago I got an e-mail where it was stated that a sociologist and anthropologist from Belgium was working on a research about penpalling in order to get her PhD degree.
To do this research, she needs the help of, at least, 500 people from all over the world who are into penpalling and who are willing to fill out a questionnaire, so I thought to write a post about this and copy her request here, so everybody interested in participating can contact her directly. I guess it will be interesting to know the final results when the project is finished.

My name is Ellen, I’m 36 and from Belgium. I’m a sociologist and anthropologist. At the moment I am trying to obtain a PhD degree. Therefor I would like to research penpalling. I chose this topic first of all as it is something which not a lot of research has been done about yet and secondly because I am into penpalling myself.

There are several different aspects of penpalling which I’d like to research to get to know people’s views and opinions about it, e.g. why people start penpalling, what experiences they had in penpalling (both good and bad), if they ever met penpals and if these meetings were successful etc…

At the same time I’d also like to do some statistical research: how many people does the average penpal write to, how often do people write to each other, in which countries is penpalling most popular, etc…

To do this research, I need the help of at least 500 people from all over the world who are into penpalling and who are willing to (anonymously!) fill out a questionnaire for me.

If you’d like to help me, please send me an e-mail (my e-mail address is mentioned below). You don’t necessarily need to write anything in the e-mail. Just write “questionnaire” in the subject box. I will then mail you a document with the questions which you can answer and return to me.

In time I will set up a website to put my research results online. I’ll send a link to everybody who participates in my research, so you can check out the results.


I’m starting this on 1st November 2009. I have been given about a year’s time for the research, so I’m closing this project on 31st December 2010. If you receive this letter after that date, you don’t need to pass it on any more.

Thank you for taking time to read this, and I hope you will take part! Feel free to e-mail me if you have any questions.

Ellen Ramakers