Because I am a city person, I’m not unaccustomed to seeing some color on the street. When you live (or work, or study) in an urban area, chances are that you will be confronted with some multicultural elements which you wouldn’t usually see in a small town. Since I live in a small town, but study in a city, the difference is clear to see. The fact that Ghent is hardly swarming with foreigners (the prevailing color on the street is still white) only drives this point home. But despite my small town roots, I prefer to see some color on the street. As a knowledge-hungry student I strongly believe that discovering different cultures can enrich your life in many, many ways.
Xenophile is a word which means, quite plainly, ‘an individual who is attracted to foreign peoples, manners or cultures’. Just like its opposite, ‘xenophobe’, it derives from ancient Greek, and is a contraction of ‘xenos’ (‘foreign, strange’) and ‘philos’ (‘loving, fond’). The same suffix has been used many a time to create more specific terms, denoting the love for one particular foreign culture, such as ‘Francophile’, ‘Anglophile’ (that would be me), ‘Germanophile’, ‘Italophile’, ‘Grecophile’, and many others. Selective xenophilia, if you will.
Though I have to admit that my xenophile tendencies are mostly limited to Anglo-Saxon culture, I’m open to intercultural exchanges when I’m presented with the opportunity. If it weren’t so expensive, I would travel all across the world to witness and experience foreign cultures. But luckily travel isn’t the only way to indulge my xenophilia. Reading offers a great deal of knowledge on foreign countries, and one of the perks of studying at University is that occasionally you come into contact with Erasmus students. Though I have to admit that for me such contacts have been sporadic at best, the ones I have had have been exclusively positive.
Recently a good friend of mine introduced me to a project which, indirectly, is also a major promotor of xenophilia. Once she told me about it, I immediately signed up, and I haven’t regretted it for a day. It’s called postcrossing, and the central idea is to make snail mail fashionable again. The concept is simple: you sign up on the website, but apart from the usual info (name, sex, shoe size) you enter your post address as well. Then, there’s a button called “send a postcard”. When you press this button you’ll be given an address, selected at random, and you’ll be expected to write a postcard to this address. Additionally, you’ll be given a unique code, which you have to write on the postcard. When the postcard arrives, the recipient will be expected to register your postcard by entering this code on the website. Once your card has arrived, you can start expecting cards as well - it’s only when you send your cards that your address will be entered into the random selection system. It’s pretty fair like that. You won’t be alerted when someone gets your address, so be prepared to be surprised (I love paradoxes) when you open your letter box. Ever since I signed up I have sent cards to Russia, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the US (amongst others) and I have received cards from Lithuania, Ukraine, Japan, Italy and the UK (amongst others). I actually like opening my letter box now - it’s cool to get mail other than bills and flyers. Apart from the fact that this project indulges my xenophilia (it’s like travel, only cheaper), it is also a big promotor of snail mail, which, by all the evidence I’ve collected over the last month, is a lovely medium of communication. Sure, it’s a lot easier and faster to email, but it’s also a lot less personal - you don’t get to feel the paper the other person touched, you lose the singularity of a person’s handwriting, and then there’s also the fact that writing snail mail takes effort. And the thought that someone would actually make the effort to buy a postcard, write it, put a stamp on it and put it in a mail box restores my faith in humanity just a little bit.
During the last decade, emphasis has been increasingly put on ease and facility in communication, but while mediums like chat, skype and email have made it easier to communicate, I think the quality of said communication has lessened considerably. Which is why initiatives like postcrossing are projects I really enjoy, support and promote. As a self-declared xenophile, the lack of color on the streets - both in my home town and in Ghent - can be at least partly compensated by participating in projects like this. And I’m sure I’ll continue participating for a long time yet. To those of you who are xenophiles and snail mail aficionados like me, I’d strongly recommend it. It has certainly added to my happiness quotient.