A decidedly Canadian response to the shambles that was the running portion of the modern pentathlon in Beijing

Living so close to the United States-Canada border means that there's a lot of friendly teasing of the many Canadians in our midst. It's a good thing Canadians as a whole seem to have a pretty good sense of humor about it. (Well, except the Quebecers. Those humorless grumps.)

The final stage of the modern pentathlon is supposed to be a cross-country course, run through grassy fields, with occasional obstacles like a brook that needs to be hurdled. At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, however, the course didn't so much resemble a cross-country run as it did waiting in line at Disneyland. Instead of traversing an outdoor course, the runners ran through a labyrinth constructed on the outer track of the athletic field, navigating dozens of switchbacks that converted the 1000-meter track into a test of how well you can make sharp turns. I remember being completely flabbergasted when I saw the course. It was a total disaster.

Which is why I was amused at the response from Monica Pinette, a Canadian athlete who participated in the competition. Summing up her displeasure, she said, "I'm pretty angry. I'm going to write a nasty letter."

That just struck me as a quintessentially Canadian way of expressing extreme dissatisfaction.

Today marks the opening of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. Best wishes to all the Canadians out there. Even if I still tease you every so often.

Comments (28)
  1. Pédant says:

    “Well, except the Quebecers. Those humorless grumps.”

    That’s “Québécois”, you ignorant American fool.

  2. Marc says:

    Simply proving, once again, that the pen is mightier than the sword.  :)

  3. Joe Dietz says:

    As a college student I spend a term in London.  Everybody liked to exclaim "your an American right?!" (which in my mind was a bit like pointing at a passing dog and exclaiming ‘Dog!’), so of course I took to the habit of correcting them with "French Canadian actually" in my perfectly normal Oregon accent.  Totally funny, until I ran into some actual French Canadians.  Actually they did have a good sense of humor about it.

  4. Guillaume says:

    Attention Pédant, Raymond te tends un piège… Il veut juste que tu répondes comme tu l’as fait, juste pour prouver son point.

    Prouvant du même coup qu’il est pince sans rire !

    Translation : Watch out Quebecers, Raymond is pulling your leg !

  5. JD says:

    @Joe Dietz – you all look the same to us.

  6. Louis-Charles says:

    Well, except the Quebecers. Those humorless grumps.

    Interesting, I wanted to put something funny to prove you are wrong…  but I can’t find anything…  proving that you are right :-(

    You should write a blog dedicate to the education of Quebecers about humor…  I am really interested to read about your past experience.

  7. Pédant says:


    I don’t actually speak French, but I’m going to make the unreasonable assumption that that’s a cleverly worded insult and take a fantastically disproportionate amount of offense at it.

  8. Guillaume says:


    It is not an insult, but a word of advice to (or so I though) a fellow Québécois.

    I’m sure anyone can find humourless grumps everywhere in the world. You don’t even have to look hard.

    As for me, enjoying Raymond’s suffice to prove I am not humourless !

    [Nothing so profound. I was just teasing my French-Canadian friends. -Raymond]
  9. tsrblke says:

    Given your teasing shouldn’t this be filed under “Social Skills of a Thermonuclear device” ;)

    [Good call. Done. -Raymond]
  10. Tim Smith says:

    Quebecers are Canada’s version of Texans.

    Tim – American from Georgia currently living in Alberta Canada. :)

  11. Nick says:


    It’s not fair to include parts of the country that you haven’t taken back from the polar bears yet.  I think Summer falls on a Wednesday this year in Canada, maybe you can try and take back the northern parts then.

    /from Montana, is allowed to poke fun at my neighbors :)

  12. Ricky says:

    "Quebecers are Canada’s version of Texans.

    Tim – American from Georgia currently living in Alberta Canada. :)"

    Bzzt. Thanks for playing, but wrong. Canada’s version of Texans is Albertans, particularly Calgarians. The Québécois are unique and anything but humorless grumps. The closest US equivalent would probably be Cajuns, which shouldn’t be surprising since they’re descendants of Acadians.

  13. BC says:

    Summing up her displeasure, she said, "I’m pretty angry. I’m going to write a nasty letter."

    I remember when that was believed to actually have an effect.  

  14. ulric says:

    bait, but mostly for quebec-hating canadians

    p.s.: yes, I’m a quebecois.

  15. alex.r. says:

    Be prepared to receive my nasty letter about your teasing in your mailbox soon.

    And it will be in french too.

    Ok, maybe bilingual…

    But the English will be in a smaller font.

  16. MSDN Archive says:

    I’ll never forget shipping the Active Accessibility SDK for Microsoft in the 90’s.  I was the sole Program Manager and responsible for all the release management tasks such as checking for viruses, ensuring no strong encryption was being sent out of the United States, etc.  The SDK was English-language only, but available worldwide.  The legal folks said that we needed two End-User License Agreements, one for North America and one for the rest of the world.  I created two packages and awaited legal to send me the EULA text.

    I received two files; one with English at the top and French at the bottom.  The other was English only.  I assumed that the English and French one was meant for international markets and the English-only version was for North America.  I created the packages, went through the final round of testing, and then I walked them over to release services, was which located in the now non-existent building 15.

    When I got back to my office, there was a voice-mail from one of the lawyers asking if I got the EULA files okay.  I called back and said thank you, got the files okay, and mentioned that I put the English and French one in the international package.  “No!  That’s the North American version!” was his reply.  Uh oh.  

    I quickly called over to release services to stop the production of CD’s (thankfully they hadn’t started) and went about creating another set of master packages, this time with the correct EULA’s.

    In my youth, I wasn’t aware of the Canadian requirement of bi-lingual everything.  I figured North America = English.  Legal hadn’t exactly helped – the original filenames were just numbers, and nothing in the text said “North American EULA” or similar.  It was an embarrassing lesson, and a reminder of how protective French-Canadians are of their culture.

  17. David Vierra says:

    Hi Raymond! Your blog doesn’t look right to me:

    Viewing your blog with a minimum point size of 16 causes the sidebar to intrude on your blog content.  I tracked this down to your /oldnewthing/customcss.ashx file which specifies #sidebar-a should have a width of 23em.  This distance scales with the font size, which wouldn’t be a problem unless the default stylesheet specifies the right margin of #content as 270px, which it does.  If I were you, I’d add a #content to your customcss.ashx that specifies the right margin as 24em.

    [Thanks, fixed. (Actually, the correct margin is a bit less since the fonts are different sizes.) -Raymond]
  18. Lazbro says:

    What’s wrong with making sharp turns? Even in auto racing they have moved away from constantly driving in circ– oh.

  19. David Vierra says:

    Thanks for the attempt, I can see the margin-right is set now, but now it looks like the differing font sizes are causing overlaps when my browser’s minimum size is set.  Was there a problem with having the width/margin in pixels?  

    At first I thought the problem was in Firefox’s minimum font size setting, since it occurred across several sites.  Now I’m not so sure…

    [Having pixel-based widths/margins meant that when you changed the page font size, the content overlapped! (Not sure what “minimum size is set” means. Are you using a setting that tells the browser “If a page asks for a font smaller than X, use X instead”? That messes up font-relative calculations. -Raymond]
  20. Goran says:

    "I’m pretty angry. I’m going to write a nasty letter."

    I’ve seen a British stand-up comedian pulling a joke like that, in his interpretation, it was about Brits expressing their dissatisfaction with whatever (as opposed to Americans who would e.g. pull out a gun). It was funny. He punch-lined "the Brit way" with, IIRC: "Right. I am going to write a letter".

    I like when people… ahem… pull legs, using such stereotypes. Makes us all a bit more tolerant, and humble, even.

  21. Jim says:

    Do you guys know that in Qubec, they have language police. They will check if other languages’ font size on a label or whatever, if the other language’s font size is bigger than French, the company or the shop will be punished. When you go to Montreal, please visit the Minister of Culture, the first one I ever saw outside of China.

  22. James Schend says:

    Charles, that’s a great story but:

    In my youth, I wasn’t aware of the Canadian requirement of bi-lingual everything.  I figured North America = English.

    Were you simply not aware of the existence of Mexico?

  23. MSDN Archive says:

    @James Schend

    I was aware of Mexico of course, but back then (like I said, my early twenties), I probably would have ignorantly thought of Mexico as being in Central America.

    I spent the later part of my Microsoft career working on speech recognition and text-to-speech engines.  It was a great learning experience working with linguists and understanding the many, many aspects of true international design

  24. David Vierra says:

    That’s exactly the setting I’m using, and I’m trying to figure out why it should mess up layout calculations.  Is it a problem with Firefox’s layout engine, or are webpages expecting that I won’t override their fonts?

    I’m trying different things with a copy of your stylesheet now, and from what I can tell, I can’t get the sidebar to overlap the content when the width and margin are set in pixels.  I’ve tried different page zoom settings, default font sizes, minimum font sizes, even disallowing pages to specify their own fonts.  When the horizontal distances are done in pixels, everything lines up!  

    Slightly related note, I’ve noticed another page where the line-height was specified in pixels, and that REALLY threw off my layout.  The bottom edges of every word were cut off!

    [I thought it would be obvious that overriding the font size may mess up layout: The sidebar says “Make me 23em” and the content pane wants to say “Leave room for the sidebar.” Since the sidebar font is 90% of size the content font, that means it should leave around 20.7em. If you mess with the fonts, then that breaks the assumption that the sidebar font is 90% of the content font. (Specifying the sidebar size in pixels means that it doesn’t scale with font size – at large fonts, the sidebar will get truncated.) (I can’t believe I’m explaining this.) -Raymond]
  25. David Vierra says:

    I think I can see what’s happening here.  Your webpage has the sidebar’s width in ems so that it scales to the fontsize.  However, the content can’t set its width to (browser width minus the sidebar width) so it uses an approximation (set right-margin to 15ems). The approximation is based off the content’s font size rather than the sidebar’s font size, so when the font sizes change (due to my minimum size setting or overrides), the sidebar’s width and the content’s margin change at different rates.  A parsimonious solution would be to specify the #content right-margin in terms of the #sidebar-a font size.  I’m not sure this is easy to do.

  26. Mark (The Other Mark) says:

    Another solution might to be not override font size, or if you do, accept that it might mess up the layout a bit.

  27. The CSS font sizing problem comes from applying a font-size to an element whose primary purpose is structural.

    The body element has a font-size setting of 100%; this is inherited by the #content div which contains the main column. The sidebar is the #sidebar-a div, which has a font-size of 60% set. This means that the meaning of "em" changes for that element, which makes it impossible to allow for the case when a user preference prevents the font from going below a certain size.

    Such user preferences are an accessibility issue: somebody with poor sight might specify that the font-size should never go below, say, 32px, as that is the smallest they can easily read.

    In this case the solution is simple, as the #sidebar-a div is just a container for a bunch of other divs. Therefore, moving the font-size: 60%; property into a separate rule for the contained divs (#sidebar-a div { font-size: 60%; } ), and adjusting the margins and widths to allow for the fact that the containers are both now using the default font-size, would fix things.

  28. Tim Smith says:

    Ricky, I’m referring to the separatist movements in both Quebec and Texas.

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