Saturday, 19 January 2013

Snail Mail Correspondence

It’s characteristic of our modern society that both in English and in German we speak of snail mail (Schneckenpost) when we refer to letters sent or received via postal services. It’s true that transporting an envelope from one point to another takes time, but does such an exchange really deserve being named after a snail? Is it so slow? In fact a letter sent from Graz uses to be delivered to any place in Austria the next day or the day after. Within Europe you can be somewhat sure that your letter will reach the recipient in two to five days. Letters leaving the continent can take longer, even much longer depending on the reliability of the postal service concerned. My only negative experience in this respect regards the USA: whenever I tried to establish a pen-friendship with a person there, one out of two letters got lost. Maybe the Bermuda Triangle swallowed them? In any case my letters never turned up again.

However, today’s postal services in general are quick and reliable compared to those of former times. Yet, modern written communication is digital and typed. E-mail, sms, instant messaging, social networks, chat. Everything less immediate is called outdated and a waste of time. Literature is keeping up pace. While Lizzy Bennet penned dozens of long epistles to her family, friends and even Mr. Darcy, Bridget Jones spent much time on the phone and in front of the computer typing short messages. Of course, it’s futile to compare the nineteenth century’s means of communication with those of the last years of the twentieth century. Jane Austen was a woman of her era and so is Helen Fielding. Times have changed a lot. Life is faster-moving than ever. We are more hurried, more superficial and more careless than ever. Who do you think knew more about the character of the person with whom she was exchanging letters, Lizzy Bennet or Bridget Jones? I reckon that the answer is quite clear.

Is it a big surprise to know that there are still some people like me on this planet who indulge in handwriting letters to their friends? We are few and ever less, but we are keeping alive an old tradition and an art. We do this with pleasure and against all obstacles like rising prices for stamps, letter-boxes being removed over night and post-offices being closed at virtually every corner. It doesn’t even matter to us that some people look at us as if we were aliens from another planet or time. We enjoy sitting down to take a sheet of nice letter-paper (if we can still find one that matches our character, one that is neither ugly nor dreadfully infantile) and a pen for writing to a friend. For a little while we step aside from the usual hustle of life and leave ourselves to the flow of words. What could be better?


  1. Me encanta, muy bien escrito, y si, asi somos nosotros, los penpals, gente que adora estos viejos hàbitos, sin importarnos lo que piense nadie, aunque como tu dices, ya te resulta incluso complicado encontrar papel de cartas, y a veces te miren con cara de marciano cuando pides un paquete de sobres, no un sobrecito para mandar cualquier cosa de publicidad, no, un paquete de ha encantado, besos, carmen, ah te decia hace un rato que el blog El cuaderno de mi escuela, le hace el director del cole de mi hija, sale un poco de todo, incluso en su face, de politica, de mi tierra, de todo, besos

  2. Very well written, Edith! Ode to snail mail! :D Loads of love from your HK friend. :D


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