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Penpals still keep in touch

Women have ad to thank for 50-year friendship

KARINA ABADIA
Last updated 05:00 02/04/2014
Penpals
Karina Abadia

ENDURING FRIENDSHIP: Penpals Christin Nilsson from Sweden and Kohimarama resident Steph Carran.

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Steph Carran is living proof that distance is no barrier to friendship.

The Kohimarama woman has been writing, emailing and phoning her Swedish penpal for the past 50 years.

They've also visited each other and Christin Nilsson made her second trip to New Zealand last month.

Carran still remembers how exciting it was receiving letters back when they first started writing in 1964.

The 63-year-olds had both answered a magazine advertisement for penpals. Carran lived in Nelson at the time and Nilsson on a farm in the village of Sgobo, in the south of Sweden where she still resides.

"It was exciting because I'd open up an envelope and think ‘gosh this is from the other side of the world'," Carran says.

"I'd read it and try and compare my life with that letter."

Nilsson had other pen friends in her youth - a couple in the United States and one in England - but they weren't long-lasting.

Receiving a letter from her Antipodean friend felt like Christmas, Nilsson says.

"My family never travelled anywhere. New Zealand was a very different country. I had to look on a map to see where it was.

"Steph was a very good letter writer. She'd tell me about her daily life and I'd tell her about mine. We'd write about what happened at school, boyfriends, family, clothes we liked and music we liked."

Nilsson loved the designs of the New Zealand stamps, and she soon found out she wasn't the only one.

"Everyone knew I had a pen friend in New Zealand, even at the post office. After we'd been writing to each other for six or seven years, the stamps started going missing.

"I thought it was strange because they didn't ask me to pay for the letters. I said to the postman, why are there no stamps on the letters? ‘Oh I don't know,' he said. After that the stamps started coming with the letters again."

They say it's much easier now to catch up on each others' news. In the early days a letter would take a few weeks to arrive, now it's more like a week.

Talking on the phone was expensive so they only spoke at Christmas and for birthdays when they would also send gifts.

Now they mostly use the phone and email.

They both got married in 1973 but weren't able to attend each others' weddings because it was too expensive.

Instead, they sent samples of their wedding dress fabric to each other.

It wasn't until Carran moved to London in 1976 that they arranged to meet in person, first in Copenhagen and then in Sweden. Nilsson visited New Zealand with her family 12 years later.

The bond they share is still very strong, she says.

"Steph has been like a sister to me. We know so much about each other that we can share things we wouldn't talk to other people about."

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- East And Bays Courier

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