Today, in the mail, I got a thick envelope from someone I didn't know in Revere, MA. Most of my pen pals from the International Pen Friends (IPF) are, well, international...
so I was curious what this thick envelope might contain. I opened it up and out came a veritable ton of what are called "Friendship Books" (FBs.)
I couldn't figure out how I'd been gifted with this "bounty," until I discovered that one of the FBs was started for me, by one of my German pen pals.
Friendship Books are hard to explain. Wikipedia has an article about them,
but it doesn't entirely do them justice. The ones I've seen are small, a quarter of a sheet of paper in size. They're handmade, often very crudely--nothing more than colored paper, side-stapled together. On the front is a person's name and address. This little booklet is then sent on to pen pals, each of them writing their name and address in it, and passing it along to one of THEIR pen pals, almost like a chain letter, except the idea is to fill the booklet up with people interested in receiving new pen pals. Once the book is filled, it's sent back to the person whose name is on the front/top.
There's all these unspoken rules. Sometimes people send FBs just to see how far they'll go around the world before they come back, so, if you're using the FB to find more pen pals, you have to examine each entry carefully. Some people will just sign their name and something like, "Waving from Cleveland Ohio, and passing on!"
There are all these codes involved: SNNP (Sorry No New Pen Pals) or NPW (New Pen Pals Wanted) or LLW (Long Letter Writer) or AS (Answers Some), as opposed to AA (Answers All). They will often include date of birth, because a lot of pen pal seekers want to converse only with people their age. They'll also list the languages they're comfortable writing in--which has been frustrating for me. I've been trying to land a Japanese pen pal, but the ONE I spotted in a FB only wanted pen pals in Korean. (You may be scratching your head, but international pen pals often use correspondence as a way to practice/keep up on their English/foreign language skills.) I also actually saw someone who listed, and I kid you not, Esperanto as one of the languages they'd correspond in. People will include lists of interests: puppies! Unicorns! Heavy Metal music! (or, another one I saw from a different Japanese FBer "I love Jesus!")
But, so I got this huge pile and for the first time went through several of them looking for the words "FB and slam swappers needed" which meant that they were willing to accept FBs, because, honestly, I kind of hate the pressure of having a bunch laying around that I haven't sent out yet. This is the other way in which these remind me of chain letters, honestly. I have this weird sense of "AH, I should do something with this immediately!" Anyway, I managed to unload a bunch of them that way.
I have to admit to enjoying reading through these things, strange as they are. When I was showing these to my friend Naomi today, I read one of the longer ones in which this person wanted to swap: "FBs, postcards, teabags, magnets, bookmarks, pocket letters, ATC, flip books, washi." And, suddenly we were like, "What are pocket letters??"
So we Googled it and found that pocket letters are a crafter's answer to pen palling
. You thought this was about writing to people? NOPE. This is a f*cking art form! Pocket letters are where you fill up a nine-pocket trading card protector with cute things, like stickers, tea bags, pictures, or whatever you like and then send them to someone who will send something similar to you. You collect them in a three-ring binder, kind of like scrapbooking for strangers.
It seems kind of cool. I may have to try it.
I feel like if I go deep enough into this pen palling culture, I'll be ready to write an exposé for Vanity Fair or Teen Vogue.