Build your letter writing and craft skills with foreign penpals – swap crazy sweets with them (be wary of Denmark they have salty liquorice), send them music and artwork… A penpal makes the world a better place. Here’s how to become penpals.

MAIL. Once upon a time the word ‘mail’ conjured up an image of thoughtful activity involving pen, paper, a postage stamp and a merry skip down to the post box. However, an interfering ‘E’ has sinced pushed its way to the front of that word and messages are now being typed and coming through to something called an ‘inbox’. Madness.

Result? A letterbox which is now being force-fed your bills, catalogues you never requested and an occasional random Ebay purchase you can only blame on a drunk-bidding frenzy you must have had but can’t quite remember off-hand.

Let us reclaim our use of our postal service, get those stamps out (you know – those small, decorative, lick n’ stick squares we used to put on envelopes) and start acquiring ourselves penpals immediately!

Finding penpals

Being penpals can be a really worthwhile thing to do if you pick the right person. I got my first penpal when I was about 14. Her name is Nikki and she is from South Africa. I say ‘is‘ because I am now 22 and yet I’m still in contact with her to the point where we actually met up last year in my hometown. I did admittedly turn up with the offering of a cookie to break the ice – but I need not have been nervous, as she was just as brilliant as I expected her to be with her cute accent and free spirited ways! She was impressed with the cookie too – so bonus points for me! The story’s heartwarming message is clear – impress penpals, or indeed peopl, with cookies.

I have recently hooked up with a second penpal and am starting the letter writing process over again. This time I’m sharing correspondence with someone not too far away in Ireland. Hopefully penpal #2 will be just as rewarding as the first – and, of course, a funky new pen was in order to get me started.

The internet’s a good starting point for finding penpals – but like everything it has its risks, so be wary and trust your mooky instincts. We want the petite anime-loving 20 year old girl from Japan to remain a petite anime-loving 20 year old girl from Japan. Feel sure before your swap addresses.

Alternatively, you could become penpals with someone you met while on Holiday – perhaps you could make that Holiday romance of yours last far longer than two weeks.

You might wish to go for a male penpal to increase confidence in members of another gender. Writing to one is a good start.

Many people prefer foreign penpals who live in countries they may wish to visit one day. You can find out more about each other’s culture, language and the sort of social quirks you won’t get in any guidebooks.

What to look for in your penpals

There are websites for penpals like that allow you to search profiles by country, gender, age and hobbies / interests. Take your time to read profiles as they give a good indication of the kind of response you will get. Let’s face it what’s more interesting to see? A profile crammed with interests and witty comments or seeing ‘Daniel/18/South Africa’ with a fuzzy photo of a guy in a fluffy orange hat? Sorry, Daniel. You have nice taste in headwear, though.

Tip for getting penpals through interpal: If you are just looking for one loyal penpal, just use the search facility rather than making a profile, or you will be swamped with ‘hello, how are you?’ messages.

Should penpals swap addresses straight away?

Not always recommended! If someone genuinely wants to get to know you, they will be happy enough to email/chat to you with no contact details exchanged for a while. In the meantime, be yourself and ask a few questions. Ask them if they have a Facebook/Myspace account. You can no doubt find out about them more there – and if they have, I’m sure they won’t mind your need to be nosy.

Sending your penpals the dreaded first letter

Okay, you’ve found yourself a penpal – they sound adorably cute and you are ready with their address in one hand and the new pen you’ve bought to mark the start of your letter writing odyssey in the other. So – what to write?

The obvious topics are pets, siblings, weather (More so if you are British), where you live, birthday and interests.

This is a good start for a first letter but try to give them extra details on these topics. Tell them WHY ‘Gollum’ seemed to be the perfect name for your cat at the time. It’s the more unique information that makes you a person, not a generic cypher with ‘2 sisters and a hamster’.

Ask questions – not only in your first letter to your penpal but in all future correspondence with them. It gives them a reason to write back and keep the penpals dream going. As long as your questions aren’t offensive they should go down quite well.

Get creative with tuck-ins and funky arts and crafts

As exchanges between the both of you go on, start to get creative – letter writing is an inexpensive hobby so think about what you are sending.

Invest in funky cards for your penpals. A tip: Edward Monkton cards are always winners. You can even make your own cards if you are blessed with being both Mooky and Crafty.

Buy your penpals postcards on your hols (Come on, what do they cost, eh?..’bout 20-30 pence each in the UK – no bank balances in tears over that kind of purchase).

Send small souvenirs/gifts.

Put sequins in their cards (Pretty and – after they’ve finished picking them up off the floor – appreciated too).

Doodle on your envelopes – even if you can’t draw, you can definitely doodle ,so no excuses. You can manage a stick man at the very least.

Stickers are an inexpensive way to add some colour – or send stickers as a gift.

Make a CD of favourite songs to share with them.

Send them sweets (candy) that they can’t get where they live. Find out for sure first though – if you are from England and considering posting a tube of Smarties to Wales it may not have quite the same effect.

If you have a handycam why not make your penpals a home movie of where you live? Show off the twisted misshappen friends you feed intermittently and keep in your basement, sing your penpals a song, do them a choreographed dance, give them a tour of your house…

So why not regain use of your Postal Service, gain a friendship, gain a hobby and give your letterbox a chance to be pleasantly surprised by becoming the best Mooky penpal ever?

More penpals tips: Penpals and arts and crafts – make your own sealing wax and more