Wednesday, December 2, 2009

O Canada

I was recently taking the MAX - Portland's fantastic light rail system (you are legally obligated to refer to it as "fantastic" or face a fine - it's in the city code somewhere)returning from a trip to the Supercomputer conference. The conference itself was surprisingly interesting and I, along with my colleagues, got to participate in some fascinating activities including designing our own snowflake - an exercise that produced disastrous results as our snowflake was a rectangle (there might be a metaphor there somewhere) - and riding in a flight simulator and moving buildings around in downtown Stuttgart to study the airflow and other environmental impacts and eating some Purdue popcorn. Anyway, as I returned we passed the Washington Park stop which contains the zoo, Japanese Rose Gardens, the Children's Museum and more. Just as the doors closed a woman rushed over to me and asked if this was the stop for the rose gardens and I said yes it was. I also explained that she could get off at the next stop, go to the other side of the tracks and take the next train back to Washington Park.

This was apparently a more complex conversation than I thought it would be and took a minute or two to complete. We discussed that it was very confusing for Washington Park to not have a label for the rose gardens, the zoo, the children's museum, the arboretum, forest park and all the other items in Washington Park. This also opened the door for a longer conversation in which the woman explained that her husband was in town for the Supercomputer convention and they were from "the capital of Canada." Apparently guidebooks from Canada are missing pertinent information like which stop you should utilize when traveling via public transportation. Maybe if the guidebooks didn't have to be published in both French and English they would have a little extra room for important details like the public transportation stops.
We chatted for a few minutes, I asked her if she enjoyed visiting Portland and she did. Midway through our conversation she accosted me with a question, "what's the capital of Canada?"

Well, I know the answer and I correctly conveyed that it was Ottawa. This precipitated a lecture on how stupid Americans are and how few people knew that Ottawa was the capital and not Toronto or Montreal or Quebec or "some people even thought it was Vancouver!" Really, Canada, if you want to make a good impression on your neighbors to the South, you should consider only allowing those citizens who won't accost others about their geography to obtain passports. I do tend to agree that we Americans should be a little more geographically and politically aware, but let's also agree that not knowing that Canada's capital is Ottawa is roughly akin to Californians not knowing that Oregon's capital is Salem.