Whilst contemplating our big move to the country I was slightly concerned about making new, like-minded friends. So I thought it would be fun to explore the idea of finding an online pen pal, forget snail mail.
Joining a pen pal website was a bit like internet dating. You profile your likes and dislikes, hobbies and interests etc., post a photo and off you go.
One American lady wanted to write actual letters. Well I did write one but it took way too long to send and receive one back so that died an untimely death. Can you still write a letter by hand, with a pen? I found myself itching for a touchscreen or keyboard. Next was an English lady, not quite the international feel I was looking for, but I gave it a go. The responses to my eager emails took as long as the letter writing and sadly the spontaneity I was looking for was lost.
I wanted engaging conversations, lively discussions, opinionated discourse, diversity – and I wanted it now!
Then I was contacted by an American lady, living in the South of France, with a German husband, yay! Couldn’t get anymore cosmopolitan than that. Initial contact and communication was via email and we slowly got to learn about each other’s lives. Anecdotes of English life and her adopted life in France were swapped and relished. Here was a lady I could get on with.
Three months after we made our big move to the country (in those far distant pre-pandemic days) she invited me to stay in her home. I obviously had never met her but felt comfortable enough, after all our conversations, to go. An adventure!
We instantly hit it off – husband, four dogs et al! I was treated to a wonderful agenda of highlights in her local area. An orchid festival in the beautiful Fontfroid Abbey. A meal in a sports bar which just happened to serve great food. And a fabulous lunch in a beautiful restaurant by the shimmering sea. I was expecting 5 courses and it felt like 20! In reality it was probably 10. Dish after delicious dish just kept coming. I’m sure I caught a twinkle of amusement in her eye as she assured me this was a typical for a smart French restaurant lunch.
Progressing to WhatsApp after my trip, our conversations were brought to life with instant photos.
We share things with words and experiences, we share books, a favourite artist or two, sad times with family or health, our dogs and food all avidly discussed. French and English perspectives when Brexit was a hot topic and now of course the Pandemic. We are building so many language bridges.
Most recently, with the frustrations and limitations of lockdown, we craved an injection of variety to our conversations. A book club was born on a group app. In the same spirit of fascination of other peoples lives, two of my friend’s American penpals were invited to join – one from New Jersey and another from Carolina.
The fresh perspectives, lively humour, honest confessions and true grit of everyday life has been wonderfully refreshing and eye opening! The four of us can converse, instantaneously and socially distanced across the world, for hours – when we get the time zone right – and we haven’t even read a book yet! Did you know there is a Bigfoot museum with Bigfoot poo in a glass exhibit box in Carolina, nope nor did I. And in New Jersey there is lady who is a slave to her sourdough, one called Sara-Dough and the other Chaya, she can hear them screaming from the fridge for food!
I don’t believe the world will revert back to as it was before for a long time to come. There has been too much social change and economic strife, let alone waiting our turn for vaccines and dodging the new variants. We can’t afford to ‘wait it out’, our lives must go on and we need to adapt. So ‘travel the world’, virtually, find yourself a penpal or two – no stamp required!
Thanks to Valerie Gough – wife, mother, grandmother and doodle owner – who has written this uplifting piece. Why not read her article about relocating to the countryside.
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