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08:10

Postcards All Around the World

Earlier this year I decided to sign up for postcrossing again, and in this blog post, I’d like to share my experience with this project. It’s a project with a very simple concept – first, you request an address of a random stranger somewhere in the world and send them a postcard. Once you’ve done that, you will receive a postcard in return, but not from the same person – from another random stranger somewhere in the world. In our increasingly digitalized world, this project aims to bring joy to mailboxes that otherwise only see bills and spam these days.

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I’ve known about postcrossing for a very long time. I have been a member there before – about 10 years or so ago. Back then, I sent out about 5 or so postcards, but was very quickly disillusioned. The postcards I received in return were the crappiest I could ever have imagined; terrible tourist cards with even worse photography and excruciating typography. Sometimes they even were horrible ad cards. That’s definitely not what I hoped for – I hoped for those nice and beautiful cards that I’d seen (and send to my friends) at places I’ve traveled. The prospect of more crappy cards, and my financial situation back then (I was still an apprentice) caused me to quit the project.

Earlier this year, in some odd fit of spring cleaning, I decided to rearrange the postcards on our fridge. Our fridge is where all the postcards go that our friends send us from their vacation. And since the color theme of our kitchen is blue, I always aim to display the bluest postcards most prominently on our fridge. However, that turned out a bit problematic, as we didn’t have enough blue(ish) cards to fill the entire fridge. And an additional problem is that in many cards the colors tend to fade, making them look washed out after a few years.

So this lack of a steady supply of blue postcards to replace non-blue and washed-out ones, is what finally caused me to sign up for postcrossing again. The postcrossing community seems to have come a long way since I was active there last – many people have special requests for postcards they prefer, and many people actually take that to heart when selecting a card for someone. So in my postcrossing profile I ask people to send me the bluest postcards they can find in their collection, preferably ones with nice blue skies and seas. And so far, it worked rather well – out of the 23 postcards I received in the 3 months since signing up, only 2 weren’t really that blue. I like some of my received cards more than others, but so far, 5 of them actually made it onto the fridge.

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Unfortunately, postcrossing is not a hobby for impatient people (which I sometimes am). I have learned that it takes a ridiculous long time for postcards to arrive in some countries. Same vice versa – the first couple of cards that I received took between 18 and 37 days to arrive in my mailbox. It’s kind of disheartening at the beginning, when you keep thinking “Oh, there must be about 5 postcards arriving soon!” while opening the mailbox, and still nothing. But after about 2 months of sending postcards into the world like a maniac, the supply of postcards to my mailbox has become steadier. By now, I usually have about 1-3 postcards per week in my mailbox.

Another slight disadvantage of postcrossing is the imbalance of countries. There are certain countries that are way more active in sending postcards than others, while other countries have significantly fewer members. This basically means that the majority of postcards you will receive will be from the top eight countries; Germany, Russia, USA, Netherlands, Finland, Belarus, Taiwan and China1. The 23 postcards I have received so far came from only 12 different countries, while the 31 cards I have sent have gone to 16 different countries. This is only a minor disadvantage, as it’s still the thought of random acts of kindness that counts most in this project. But I would hypothesize that the hunter-gatherer in us aims to collect ALL THE COUNTRIES and impatiently awaits a new, unexplored country to send a card to / receive from !

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My patience regarding the site has actually increased. There are limits to how many cards you can send at the same time, and when I was just starting out, I would immediately write a new postcard once another one I sent arrived. But by now, I’ll just wait until pretty much all the cards I have sent have arrived, and then send out a whole new batch of cards at once. That’s also a bit more economical, as this hobby is not quite cheap. While the website is free to use, you will of course have to buy postcards and stamps. For me, sending one postcard costs on average about 1,50€. A stamp for international postcards is 90 cents in Germany, while the price of postcards varies a lot. I have a whole bunch of free ad cards that I collected over the last 20 years, but many postcrossers don’t like those. So I also bought a bunch of random cards from the internet, and then of course I wandered around Düsseldorf trying to find pretty cards of the city. There’s a place in the Old Town that has nice ones for 1€ per card, and the tourist information offices also has nice ones for 1€. But by accident, I recently found that the EuroShop sells cards that are surprisingly pretty in batches of 3 for 1€. So that’s actually a very good option, as it’s the least expensive way to get very decent Düsseldorf cards. Not all people want tourist cards though, so I always try to find something suitable from my big index of cards when I request a new address on postcrossing.

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If you play by the rules, respect people’s wishes and send out only cards that you yourself would like, postcrossing is a wonderful hobby for a world which has become almost completely digitalized. Despite occasional disappointments, it brings a tiny bit of joy to people around the world. Postcrossing is truly about getting a glimpse of people’s lives – and there are literally all kinds of people there. From children to 90 year olds, from fashionistas to nerds, from professors to housewives – so many types of people I would never encounter in my life. So far, a lot of the people I sent cards to seem to be housewives or retired, while only one or two seem to be geeks like me. It’s such an interesting hobby, even beyond the postcard aspect. I’ll definitely continue this for while, perhaps even once my fridge is freshly restocked with stunning blue skies.

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