Lost In The Mail

by Maureen Elizabeth Magee


I adore postcards. But I can’t remember the last time I received one – can you? Probably sometime around the mid-1990’s, just before email sucked the life out of stamps.

It seems that, while I wasn’t looking, sending postcards went out of style. Well, let’s face it – everything does, eventually. But it hit home this past holiday season, when assorted friends took off for Australia, New Zealand, Guatemala, Spain and Dubai – and the mailman never delivered a single card to me.

Am I the only one who loved to send them? Most people are quite happy to receive one in the mail, but a particular joy of mine while traveling has always been to spin those metal racks in the tourist shop and study various options in order to find the perfect photograph for each individual on my list. (Mount Fuji for the climbing buddy, Kyoto cherry blossoms for my gardening pal, the Uwa Jima Pornography Museum for….well, never mind.)  I would send postcards to everyone; friends, co-workers and neighbors.  Including some folks I would never consider writing to otherwise, but now wished to impress with my fabulous life exploring exotic places, while they never got farther than their mailboxes.

Being the cheapskate I am, I would then cover the postcard with infinitesimal writing and cram as much onto the little rectangle as possible. I got my money’s worth and the recipients got mini-novellas of my trip.

These days though, I don’t get postcards, and it is not just me. According to one British travel company’s survey, only 37% of people polled said they would even consider sending a postcard while on holiday. Travelers will send a text or digital photograph from their cell phones, emails and Facebook messages. But not postcards.  It is, I am told, because they are simply way too much trouble. A business associate rolled her eyes, and condescendingly broke it all down for me…one has to find a working pen, write in longhand, and then go wandering around to find a post office to buy stamps.

Gosh. Having it explained so succinctly, I am now exhausted just thinking about the amount of raw energy that I used up over the years.

These are the folks who find it so much easier to lug around a heavy and breakable laptop and chronically worry about it getting stolen. They must get the right kind of adaptor, sniff out Wi-Fi locations, or pay extra to have one handy in their hotel room. Seems to me like a lot more trouble than buying and mailing a little postcard. 

Then there are those who opt for a more carefree approach and are willing to leave their equipment safely at home. They get to spend a good deal of their vacation time in a ‘hotel business center’ that pretty much resembles the workplace they are holidaying to get away from. Or they hunt down internet cafés, where, instead of lolling on a beach or exploring a museum, they can linger in a line to get to a computer with the letters scattered in different places and where the keys will be disturbingly sticky with not-to-be-wondered-at substances. 

The idea of sending postcards is so moribund that the very word has been recycled. While I was trying to research the topic of postcard decline, Google brought me to a Post card site, full of abstruse technicalities about LED lights, volts, intermittent IRD, FRAME and RESET. All of which gave me such serious brain cramps that I backed out of it immediately and remain unenlightened.

But I didn’t realize just how far postcard use had fallen until I discovered several web sites that actually gave instructions on “How to Write a Postcard”. One was complete with a video. www.videojug.com/film/how-to-write-a-postcard

These sites offer up beneficial advice on the more complicated elements of postcard composition, such as which side of the card is for the address and which is for the message. The novice writer is instructed to start the postcard by writing “Dear… (“followed by the name of the person you’re writing to”.) Other suggestions are to “always state what country you are in at the time of writing”, (in case that photograph of the Eiffel Tower might be mistaken for Antarctica, I guess), and to make your writing legible (“you are not the best judge of your own handwriting”). Now this last piece of advice confused me. If I can’t judge my own writing, how can I judge if it is legible?

I was embarrassed to learn that postcard etiquette dictates that your word count should be kept “short and sweet”. According to this expert, it is the very act of sending the card that is important, not the message.

 I never knew.

The reader is then reminded to sign the card.

The lesson concludes with how and where to put the stamp. The instruction did not address technicalities regarding whether the stamp was pre-pasted, or if it needed to be licked. But perhaps that is in the advanced course.

I was gobsmacked, as the English love to say. But, as depressing as those websites were, there was one terrific reward to my research. The Metropolitan Postcard Club of New York www.metropostcard.com  is a comprehensive and delightful website for collectors; chockablock full of history and beautiful photographs from the mid-1800’s to present times, where I can linger over stunningly idyllic images of locales long since swallowed by modern times, and pretend that they were addressed to me. 



Maureen Elizabeth Magee is a Canadian writer, who is currently working on a book of short stories.

photo via istockphoto.com











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