y 10-year-old daughter Rebecca has become a devotee of Wikipedia. She’s renamed her tablet Wiki and spends hours scrolling through entries at random. She couldn’t care less about celebrity breaking news. She couldn’t care less about the romantic woes of fam-favorite girl singers. She pays no attention to politics and thinks bras are uncool for no obvious reason (since she doesn’t wear one — yet).
But oh, Wiki, the crises you create! I’d love to help make your knowledge project a success, but have you ever thought about the impact of your entries on 10-year-od girls?
A case in point is “mail-order brides.” She found this entry the other day, and without bothering to look up anything herself, she stomped into the den, demanding answers to questions that sounded more like North Korean marching orders.
So, if there were mail-order brides, where were the female-order brides (or grooms, for that matter)? That one I handled with grace, recommending she recheck the spelling.
“Oh,” she announced, as if disappointed that this wasn’t an era in which she (and other females) could order brides.
You might think, what with dating sites, that this is the era, but not for Rebecca, who has a thing for old U.S. postage stamps. What she wanted to know, the mail-female part explained, was how much postage it took to order a bride and if they came in boxes or were brought to your house by delivery people or by… “like drones.”
I explained, as I have on other occasions, that before the web we lived in a land called Oz in which people sent other people letters and packages, but not people, and that mail-order bride was an expression.
“An expression of what?” she asked. “That the postal service finds brides to be delivered to your door or stuck in your mailbox? Was it, like, an ancient twist on what bots do now?”
This was now getting me into waters deeper than I’d intended to wade in, at least on a Tuesday morning before a Zoom call.
“Okay,” I said finally, “Sit down and listen up. Men looking for wives from other countries would get special catalogues and browse for the ‘girl’ of their choice, emphasizing skills such as cooking and cleaning and bringing up kids.”
I had no interest in going any further.
“So, like, you got this catalogue and picked without even knowing the person and if she even liked eggs?”
“Yes. Once upon a time was a time of less choice and some of these women came from ‘modest’ backgrounds — and often that meant Asian backgrounds.”
“What about ordering American?”
“Okay, listen up twice, some guys, bless their American hearts, thought American women didn’t take orders well enough and preferred foreign brides who would, or so they thought.”
“So like China packaged them and sent them, what, in crates?”
“No, no one packaged them, but it wasn’t a pretty process since the brides often had no say in the matter, pushed by family to marry a ‘rich American’.”
“So like, you, I mean you’d be the rich American who’d order the Chinese bride from the catalogue and she’d come and you’d get her to make the eggs and take care of me…”
Oh Wiki, how I hate you, let me count the ways.
“I’m not a rich American, Becca, and no, it would take months, even years to set it up, and it didn’t happen often, and when it did it often didn’t work out because the two people came from different cultures and didn’t really understand each other. And sometimes there were traffickers in the middle and the whole ‘deal’ never happened. I mean, guys looked at these mail-order brides but that’s mostly what they did, looked.”
“What’s a trafficker, a delivery person?”
There comes a time in every father’s life when he’s compelled to change the subject in a way so compelling and maybe only half truthful that his audience gets a new scent.
“You know, grandpa met grandma by mail, I mean that’s how they first talked during the war, but the letters were censored so sometimes they didn’t make too much sense, but they fell in love anyway. I still have some of the envelopes and stamps…”
Interruption, as desired. “Can I see them? I really want to see them. Any buffalo on the stamps? Was grandma delivered?”
No, grandma was not delivered, but I did find the envelopes, or a few, and now issue an open plea to Wikipedia: Write child entries.
The next time I have to worry about getting a bride in the mail or answer a question about what a trafficker does, I swear I’m going to run you guys out of Dodge.