Foreign keyboards and letters with teabags – keeping in contact before Facebook & Skype

My first longer period abroad was nine months in France 2004-2005. Studying at university I spent most of my time with other exchange students, with who I made really good friends. But of course I also wanted to stay in contact with friends and family in Finland. Now, when I compare year 2012 to 2004 a lot has changed when it comes to keeping in contact with your close ones.

2004-2005 only a few of us had laptop and even fewer had internet connection at home. This might have also been due to the fact that there was no student housing, we had to find accommodation on our own from private sector. And back then in France it didn’t seem like a simple thing to do to fix an internet connection yourself. Especially if your French wasn’t that fluent. So we were using the computer classes at the university to write emails.

  • Foreign keyboard, argh!!! Letters might be in different order on the keyboard. It’s hard to find the right punctuation marks as they are situated in different place on the keyboard.  Punctuation mark and sometimes even number might have different shift key function that what you’re used to… but during those 9 months I got used to the French keyboard. And when I got back home I had to find some time to get to know the Finnish one again…
  • It used to be really exotic to get email from your friends abroad: foreign keyboards don’t normally have the Finnish alphabet “ä” or “ö”. Of course you could type the dots separately but no one bothers do that… So you just write those letters without dots.

But now…I have my own familiar laptop, so comfortable! My written Finnish is perfect! No cultural shocks regarding the keyboard … but for the rare moments when I need to use laptop or computer at my work, in a hostel etc.

At the time Facebook didn’t yet exist. So we wrote emails. In that computer class which wasn’t open during the weekends.

  • Now, following my friend’s status updates or chatting away a bit while working on my laptop I’m wondering if I’m detaching from Finland at all – I was even a bit worried that I’d only stay in my “Finnish bubble” instead of plunging into the Polish culture. Well, luckily that didn’t happen (I’m living in a small town and the Polish people (at least in small towns) are really hospitable inviting one for dinner or tea).

Real letters! I’d say during my year in France even half of my correspondence with my friends was through old-fashioned snail mail letters! (But my friends and relatives are writing snail mail more than average person, I guess). Even nowadays I’m sometimes exchanging letters with my friends (living abroad) and sometimes with my family as well. I really like snail mail, letters especially!

  • It’s more personal: you see the characteristic handwriting of someone who thought about you.
  • It’s more creative: you can sketch the floor plan of your new flat (got one letter like that that) or draw a mind map about the potential guys in your life right now, their characters, their relationship to each other, where did you meet etc. (got one like that as well, I guess she was sorting it out also for herself)
  • It’s more concrete: you can send a photo, drawing or a little lightweight object, which is ready to pin up on the wall or put on the fridge door or take in use. (I got some letters with one or two teabags in them and drinking that tea felt like drinking it with the one who sent them)

And now I got some snail mail, too! Although not as many letters as when I was in France.

“Every chance is a possibility” – one of the legendary quotes from the notoriously legendary Finnish former ski jumper Matti Nykänen

In 2004 I had not heard of Skype.  I think it was the years 2005-2006 when I first learned there exists such a programme (but hey, I’m that kind of person who got her first laptop in 2007 and even after that spent many periods without internet connection at home) (which was good for the concentration when working on your master’s theses…)

  • So during the days in France sometimes my parents might have called to my French mobile phone. (I surely wasn’t calling anyone abroad, as it was far too expensive!). With friends abroad I just kept in contact by written messages.
  • …when talking about mobile phones I must mention that in 2004-2005 (at least) two Canadian exchange students didn’t even have mobile phones. The other one had luckily a landline in her flat! With these people you should agree on meeting well on time, when you met them on lectures, as Facebook or chats were not used …
And now (not only in Poland but also when living in Finland) I’m sharing my Sunday breakfast or evening tea with dear friends from the other side of Europe (“Hold on, I’ll go and get some more coffee!”), seeing how my niece is growing and learning new words … and practicing my spoken English and French!

I think it’s fun to be part of the generation that has lived the period without mobile phones and internet. But I guess when it comes to keeping in contact with the close ones  it’s the relationship that matters the most – not the ways, frequency or how long it takes for the message to be delivered!