Bringing the world to your mailbox

Still stuck at home waiting for your vaccine? Why not brighten up your mailbox and someone else’s by trying Postcrossing, the international postcard exchange? @mikepesar has what you need to get started:

A selection of postcards Mike has received through Postcrossing from (clockwise): Poland, India, Hungary, Germany, Kazakhstan and England. (Mike Pesarchick/The Griffin)

Postcards? Who still sends postcards? 

As it turns out, more than 800,000 people all around the world. 

They’re all part of an international postcard exchange called “Postcrossing,” an online project launched in 2005 by then-student Paulo Magalhães as a way to connect people around the globe with postcards. 

The project’s mission is simple: “to connect the world through postcards and to bring smiles to as many different people and countries as possible.” 

Postcrossing went live Sept. 14, 2005. On April 11, 2008, its millionth postcard was delivered. On Jan. 21, 2021, the 60 millionth card found its way to its recipient’s mailbox. 

Today, there are 802,428 members in 207 different countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. The project is completely free to sign up. You’ll receive a postcard for every postcard you successfully send. 

I joined Postcrossing last March as a way to pass the time during quarantine, and it’s turned into something of a hobby of mine. There’s a very real sense of anticipation when I open my mailbox — maybe there’s a postcard inside from halfway around the world. 

I’ve received cards of all shapes and sizes from 18 different countries, including Kazakhstan, India, Japan, Indonesia, Czechia, Finland, Poland and Germany. Some cards depict grand old palaces at the center of towns; others depict cartoons in different languages. Still others are snapshots of landscapes and wildlife. Every card is unique. 

What’s even more interesting are the messages printed on the back. I’ve learned about many different customs, traditions and folklore from average people like you and me. 

A postcard I received from St. Petersburg, Russia, taught me about the Festival of the Scarlet Sails. A card from Lübeck, Germany, told me about the Ballad of John Maynard (a story with ties to Buffalo!). Another card explained the daily life in Bangalore, India, and the ongoing farmer’s protests there. 

These little 4-by-6 inch pieces of cardstock are more than pretty pictures: they’re a fascinating look into other cultures from the people that live them daily. They’re reminders that we are part of a much bigger picture and that we can always learn something new. 

Perhaps I’ve convinced you to sign up for Postcrossing, but you don’t know where to start. A few pointers: 

It’s a simple process. Request to send a postcard and Postcrossing’s system matches you with someone around the world who speaks your language (if you prefer, this can be changed in profile settings). Fill out the postcard and write a numerical code on it, then stick it in the mail. 

When the card is delivered, the recipient will write that code in when they register the postcard on the website, and the process is complete. A running tally is kept under your profile with how many cards you’ve sent and received, and Postcrossing also tracks what countries you’ve sent and received to and from. 

Postcards are cheap if you know where to look. Skip the pricey cards at the BFLO Store, those are tacky. Instead, head to Pine Apple Co. at 65 Allen St. The good people running the shop have a big selection of postcards designed by local artists, yours for a dollar each. 

Another option is a mile away at the WNY Book Arts Center at 468 Washington St. A pack of five hand-printed postcards will run you $5. They’re well worth it and look fantastic. 

I’ve also had good luck at estate sales and thrift stores. Don’t be afraid to dig through bins of greeting cards to find postcards — last week I bought a stack two inches thick for about $4 at the local Amvets. 

Finally, our very own Canisius College bookstore sells postcards for around 50 cents, if you feel like spreading the Jesuit message. 

Next, you’ll need stamps. Domestic mail can be sent with a single 55-cent forever stamp or a 36-cent postcard stamp, but you’ll need the serious equipment for postcards headed internationally. 

International postage is $1.20. International stamps are sold in sheets of 10, so you’re looking at $12 to send 10 postcards around the world. If you prefer to mix it up, you can buy a sheet of 10 $1 stamps for $10 and a sheet of 20 stamps worth 20 cents for $4. It works out to the same cost — 10 postcards mailed for $12. As long as the postage works out to $1.20, the postal service will send it. 

Lastly, don’t panic if your postcard isn’t delivered right away. It takes a while to get snail mail across the world. Cards I send to Europe take 10 days to three weeks, and cards I’ve sent to Asia and South America can take a couple months. 

Give Postcrossing a try. You’ll be a deltiologist soon enough!

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