The complaints about Chinese-only signs in Richmond will fade as the Chinese shop owners compete for customers.


My home turf is the East Side of Vancouver, whose main street is Kingsway, a veritable riot of languages that is reflected by the signs on all the shops and restaurants that line the street. Most are Chinese or Vietnamese, but there are increasing numbers that sport Hindi, or Urdu.


Almost all also feature English, (sometimes humourously so, as the translation becomes literal).


Why? Because the shopkeepers know that if they want more customers, they’re going to have to use a common language.

 

I thought of this while reading about the complaints in Richmond of too many Chinese-only signs.Some people see this as some kind of threat and want the city to force shop owners to use English (or French, which, it seems to me, kind of negates their argument).


But, really, do we need this kind of Quebec-style language protection? Is the English language situation so under threat in BC that we have to order ethnic-owned businesses to put up English signs?


I would suggest that instead of going the standard route of legislating, Richmond simply lets business take its course.


Chinese-run businesses use Chinese signage because most of their customers are Chinese, who have become the majority in Richmond. Most of these customers are fairly recent newcomers to Canada, and so still operate in their own language.


It has been ever so in Canada. When I grew up in Ontario, half the signs around me were in Italian, or Italian and English. Same with French and Chinese. Some were even in Dutch, my original language. Nobody cared. It was what was in the shops that mattered.

 

So give the complaining a rest, please. And don’t worry, business realities will win out in the end.


The Chinese, like all people who come to

Canada, open shops or restaurants to serve the people they know -- other Chinese.


But Chinese also come from a keen mercantile, or small business, culture (the Cantonese word for business translates literally as “buy-sell”), so if their customer base changes, the shop or restaurant operators will change with it.


You can bet that when the customers stop coming because of competition, signs will go up in whatever language works for everybody. In this case, that will probably be English.