By now you might have picked up on the fact that Februrary is International Correspondence Writing Month, and you may yourself be participating full on, writing a letter a day to someone, or maybe just writing a letter or two this month for the fun of it.
We held our first Pen Pal Match Up this month, in preparation for InCoWriMo, where you put a little bit about yourself, and we matched you all up – someone writing to you, and someone for you to write to first. You did not have to be participating in InCoWriMo to sign up for a pen pal, it was just a timing thing for us to host this.
We had almost 350 people from 19 countries sign up, which is a bit astounding to me, since we primarily consider ourselves a pretty tiny “Canadian” shop – with our brick and mortar here in Toronto, and only shipping online within Canada. How did you all hear about us??
The largest age bracket was 30-39, and this was also, proportionally, the most international one. I had one person who entered into the 50+ category who left a comment about still being young at heart, which made me laugh out loud (actually quite a few of the extra comments made me laugh). The smallest category was under 20, although I had a few requests for us to host a kid’s pen pal match up, which we might get going on soon. Stay tuned!
We had some very cool people sign up for the match up, including:
- a dual US/Canadian citizen airline pilot
- several musicians/artists
- someone who eats a lot of popcorn (if I had entered myself into the pen pal match, I might have matched myself with this person based on this fact alone)
- a Brazilian who now lives in Italy, but for a period of time lived in Waterloo, Canada
- a midwife
- someone who grew up on her family dairy farm
- several calligraphers or budding calligraphers
- someone learning origami
- an Indian studying astrophysics at a graduate school in Germany
- a few stay-at-home moms
- someone who wrote: “The king of hearts is the only king without a moustache.” which I did not know, and which I thought would’ve come from a customer of ours who designs really amazing playing cards (which we used at the cottage for our team retreat!), but actually came from someone else…
And of course many more.
I was thrilled and delighted by the response, which was amazing. In total, we had around 350 people join in, which sounds daunting to organize, but became a bit overwhelming when we got right down to the actual sorting. I sat on the bed surrounded by piles of paper organized by age and by special requests and by willingness to develop a long-term correspondence and by people I need to send follow-up emails to. It was nuts.
Mostly everyone who marked as being open to an international match up received one, if not two international pen pals, depending on their age bracket, but it depended a bit on your age bracket and the specific requests of the people in it.
I was surprised to see I had the highest number of folks specifically requesting a non-international match up from the US, and I had not anticipated the difficulty of matching up international people with other international people given that most of our pen pals were from Canada.
The biggest mistake I made on the form was not indicating the mailing address in separate boxes, as you do when you order things online, or fill out government forms: a separate box for your street address, city, postal code, country, etc., rather than one big box for your entire mailing address.
I had selected one big box because I had thought about international addresses not always conforming to Canadian or US standards, but I ended up having to email quite a few people with clarifications on their mailing address because they had put their email address instead of a mailing adress, or incomplete mailing information, missing towns or postal codes or more.
I also wanted to mention that I had a few people request pretty specific things, like LGBT friendly, or politically leaning one way or the other. I did my best (which, getting later into the evening, got a bit squirrelly, I admit), but I’m hoping and trusting that, if you were one of these people worried about these things, everyone you might be matched up with is open-minded and will appreciate that the great part of getting to know someone new might be getting to know a different perspective in life. Also, it was mainly difficult because a lot of people didn’t put how they felt about very many issues, just…if they had kids, or had a special hobby, or ate a lot of popcorn.
In total, it was much, much more work than I initially anticipated when I said to Jon, “let’s run a pen pal match-up!” – although most of the work fell to Jon’s side of things, which I guess is usually how things go when these ideas strike.
Jon and the team spent literally hours and hours emailing people to confirm addresses, and then to email 350 people out their matches, and then having to follow up with people emailing in looking for their match because a large number of our emails got caught in spam folders, and then coordinating a last minute (much smaller) second round of pen pal matches for people submitting information late. Some of our staff even took piles of matches home to email from home because there just weren’t enough hours in the day to get the emails out, alongside our normal shop and shipping operations.
But it has been incredible to read emails and letters and messages from some of you excited and nervous and thrilled at the idea of writing a letter to someone completely new to you. Running a shop involves a lot of logistics and counting and taxes most days, but it is a pretty wonderful thing to be able to help tangibly facilitate hundreds of people picking up their pens and writing and maybe making a new friend or a life-long connection.
We’re loosely planning on having another one in the summer, if you missed out on this round or are thinking of signing up again. I think for the next one, though, we may have to go for something more randomly sorted – according to your favourite colour, or your favourite animal.