Reply All: #28 Shipped to Timbuktu
June 18, 2015 12:20 PM - Subscribe

An email to the wrong address sends us hurtling into the world of professional cookie advisors.

Dale gets an email that's not for him, and starts corresponding with the senders. Turns out they're leaders in Canada's Girl Guides (similar to Girl Scouts), and they're exceedingly friendly and optimistic. Further investigation leads to the conclusion that that indomitable spirit is a core element of the Girl Guides, and has gotten some troops through some exceedingly tough times. During WWII, when Japan occupied China, Americans and Europeans living in China were interned in the Weihsien concentration camp by Japanese soldiers. Girl Guides troop leaders used their songs, routines, and positive energy to imbue the girls with a sense of normalcy during a tumultuous time.

More on

Plus, the return of Yes/Yes/No.
posted by radioamy (24 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I thought this one was superb and fascinating. Also, a good yes/yes/no, although I still find the Riker google search Twitter account enjoyable even after learning what it is.
posted by maxsparber at 1:10 PM on June 18, 2015

Alex seems regularly annoyed at PJ. That's like the third or fourth episode in a row where Alex puts PJ down without any humor. That kind of gets me down.
posted by justalisteningman at 1:59 PM on June 18, 2015

I enjoyed this episode and it made me sad that I was never a girl scout!
posted by lucy.jakobs at 2:08 PM on June 18, 2015

Very much teared up during this one.
posted by bswinburn at 2:25 PM on June 18, 2015

The first segment took quite a turn, didn't it. I was tearing up as well. Quite a story, yet sadly just a footnote of history. I'd love to read a whole book about the experience of those interned in the Weihsien concentration camps.

Yay for the return of YYN! One thing I'd like to see added is a bit on where Alex Blumberg learns about the things he asks about. @rikergoogling doesn't seem like something one just stumbles across in day to day life.
posted by jazon at 2:34 PM on June 18, 2015

Yeah, I was expecting a lighthearted romp through the world of Girl Guide Cookies via internet shenanigans, and got hit with UNEXPECTED FEELINGS.

Which isn't a bad thing! Just a thing.

I also did not know about the the concentration camps in Japan Occupied China. I listened to the episode of Radiolab that was talking about the treatment of the German POW's on American soil, and it's quite the contrast.

And whatever, @rikergoogling is awesome (this might be the first time I knew about the YYN thing before they explained it).
posted by dinty_moore at 2:39 PM on June 18, 2015

That was really wonderful. Heartbreaking, hopeful, endearing. Between this and "Belt Buckle" Gimlet are pretty well on fire. Also glad to see a return of yes/yes/no!

justalisteningman, I can't decide if their shared animosity is an ongoing bit or if they legit don't like each other. It's increasingly more difficult to tell. Not that it's a problem, necessarily.

I know Alex floats around here sometimes so I wonder if he has anything to add to that ...
posted by Tevin at 3:06 PM on June 18, 2015

Wow. There have been some intense Reply All eps, but this definitely took an unexpected turn. I was tearing up. I also had recently listened to the aforementioned Radiolab episode.

I'm very curious as to how this came about. Like did they really start out with "my friend plays pranks on people who accidentally send him emails" and end up with kids in concentration camps?

Heads off to Twitter to try to get Alex over here.
posted by radioamy at 3:34 PM on June 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Like did they really start out with "my friend plays pranks on people who accidentally send him emails" and end up with kids in concentration camps?


I can't decide if their shared animosity is an ongoing bit or if they legit don't like each other.

A little from column A, a little from column B.
posted by Alex Goldman at 4:20 PM on June 18, 2015 [8 favorites]

Alex, I'm curious as to where you thought you'd go with the first part of the story. Or was there only a story once it moved on to the Girl Guides and WWII?
posted by radioamy at 4:47 PM on June 18, 2015

PJ, here. We had no idea what we were doing. Genuinely just thought the emails were funny and kept going and going until we ended up where we did. I don't know if we would've still done the story of it were just Dale and Cynthia, I think it really became something when we talked to Janie and then we were really, really excited when we met Mary.
posted by WStraub at 8:01 PM on June 18, 2015 [5 favorites]

Hi, PJ and Alex! Your podcasts are awesome and my only complaint is that you don't make more of them.

This episode was particularly strong. It was like Life is Beautiful but real, and not full of bullshit, and minus the narcissist.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 5:07 AM on June 19, 2015

How did Dale not assume all the cookie coordinators were volunteers? Had he never heard of the Girl Guides/Scouts? It felt so obvious to me that he was actively fucking with a bunch of women trying to do something good for their daughters and daughters' friends. Kinda sorta funny but mostly just mean spirited, IMO.

Relevant sidebar: for folks concerned that Alex hates PJ, check out the interview they did on The Moment with Brian Koppelman.
posted by that's candlepin at 8:04 AM on June 19, 2015

Oh so now PJ decides to show up. :)

It's funny, there have been several Ask Metafilter questions along the lines of "I keep getting Gmails for someone else, what do I do?" - I myself have gotten a few because my email is firstnamelastname@. Never thought to mess with them! Although they never seem to get my "hey you have the wrong person" replies. I was on the email list for a synagogue in Minnesota for quite some time.
posted by radioamy at 8:18 AM on June 19, 2015

We needed you for our minyan.
posted by maxsparber at 8:21 AM on June 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I get quite a lot of emails intended for different people.

Most of them are kind of spammy but there was a chain of messages last year that gave me pause.

It was for a group of friends who were trying to buy gifts for each other. They were going back and forth about the kinds of things they would like, why they would like them, what they would want if it was too expensive or extravagent (none of them were anything out of the ordinary).

I don't know how my email got looped into this close (seemingly) circle of friends. And normally when it's a personal message I get back immediately and say "I'm Ryan Steiner Seattle, I think you want Ryan Steiner [X geographical location]" but I didn't respond to them. They were so thoughtful.

I didn't want to mess with them, but I did want to pretend to be the Ryan Steiner they were looking for. I have friends. I have good friends. But they spoke to each other and about each other in ways I've never talked about my friends and I wanted to be a part of it.

Eventually I came clean. I explained I'd been getting the emails intended for someone else, and how this other guy was lucky to have such great friends. I was, I think, hoping they would they would talk to me, to invite me in on another email chain. Maybe I could be a part of what they had? Of course they didn't. And that's OK.

But still. I'm glad they're out there, being good to each other, taking care of one another. At least I was able to see it, even I wasn't able to be a part of it.
posted by Tevin at 8:50 AM on June 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

This was great, and went in a direction I was totally not expecting.

Gimlet seem to have struck gold this month with interesting interview subjects (particularly when it comes to Seniors who have fascinating stories to tell).

For whatever it's worth, I find "Riker Googling" to be hilarious and brilliant. It's a great use of Twitter, and it actually seems like it's pretty well-written -- the premise has endured surprisingly well, even as the account is approaching 600 tweets....
posted by schmod at 9:11 PM on June 20, 2015

I also have an identity confusable email address -- first name + last initial sounded like a great idea at the time -- but I have never felt the urge to prank someone. I usually just send a note "hey this is not that person" and delete the email.

When it turned out that the emails were coming from kind-hearted girl guides in Calgary I was actually upset with Dale for messing with them. Maybe it's because, growing up, a lot of girls I knew were girl guides and ridiculing the nice kool aid moms who volunteered lead them on camping trips and sing alongs is just beyond mean. I kinda hope Dale apologized, but maybe I'm being just too Canadian? (wait, did I just half-apologize for suggesting someone apologize? oh god)
posted by selenized at 3:56 PM on June 22, 2015

Dale is a bit of a jerk, Girl Scouts/Guides are awesome, concentration camps suck, singing seniors are the best.

I DID know about the concentration camps in China because I have read a couple of books about the Jewish population in China (Jewish westerners, I mean, not the during the war. I was in a Jewish book group for a while - we read Shanghai Diary by Ursula Bacon one month, and then a couple of months later, we read How German Is It by Walter Abish, who lived in Shanghai during the war.

There's also Empire of the Sun, written by science fiction author J. G. Ballard, based on his boyhood experiences surviving the occupation of Shanghai. The 1987 film starred 13-year old Christian Bale.
posted by bq at 1:21 PM on June 25, 2015

Edit window missed: Jewish westerners, I mean, not the Kaifeng Jews.
posted by bq at 1:29 PM on June 25, 2015

When the interviewer (sorry, can't remember who) mentioned that Mary liked to break into song, I really really hoped that she would sing Taps.

And then she did. And I sang along in my kitchen because that is the Girl Guide Promise. Well, that's not really the Promise but this episode really brought me back to my time in Guides and made me grateful that I had the opportunity to learn and grow from the (in hindsight) amazing ladies who made the program possible even if I *really* didn't appreciate it at the time (dammit mom, I want to play vidya games) and never became a Pathfinder.
posted by sparklemotion at 1:52 PM on June 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I also thought the beginning was, at best, mean-spirited and I think Dale is a jerk, but it turned into something really interesting that I had no idea about (and would like to learn more about). It's definitely my favourite episode so far.

I also noticed that they Alex & PJ are sounding more and more snippy at each other and it's getting a little like I need to be in the right mood to listen so it doesn't get me irritated.

BTW I am totally on the "it's fair to be annoyed that you looked for a taco and got Polish food" side.
posted by jeather at 7:32 PM on June 26, 2015

If there's ever a podcast episode I'd want to see nominated for a Peabody, it'd be this one. Powerful, great stuff.
posted by psoas at 6:13 PM on July 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

ohhhh man I also did not expect this when the description said "cookie advisors". Luckily I have a long drive to work and hopefully arrived there NOT looking like I'd been ugly crying on the freeway.

For those who enjoyed this story I highly recommend Nevil Shute's book A Town Like Alice. (But be warned of some pretty racist stuff about Aboriginal Australians in the second half)
posted by exceptinsects at 12:40 PM on June 22, 2017

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