Showing respect in a diverse city

Post by Mike Klassen in


We can all talk to each other if we have the tools

In the city, in the city
In the city there's a thousand things I want to say to you

- Lyrics from The Jam's In the City

We've mentioned the present work of our former colleague Sam Sullivan on this blog only on a few occasions, but I bring him up again because of my own small part in his latest project. Today at noon Sullivan's Global Civic Policy Society introduces the concept "Greeting Fluency" to one of the world's most diverse cities.

Greeting Fluency proposes that we all learn just a few phrases in the native tongues of our neighbours as a way of strengthening community bonds and showing respect. In my east Vancouver neighbourhood many on my block are more likely speaking Vietnamese, Punjabi, Mandarin or Tagalog around the kitchen table than English.

We know Sam is one of Canada's best known polyglots who can converse in Punjabi, Cantonese, Mandarin, French, Italian and an assortment of other languages. So when I discussed with him how language impacted my daily life he took up the challenge.

Several times a week I drag my butt out to a bootcamp where my trainer is Daniela the Slave Driver, a proud eastside Italian girl. While we sweat outdoors year round, several members of the community pass us by walking dogs or collecting empties. Some, especially the older Chinese ladies, barely speak a word of English.

Daniela makes them feel at home by greeting them with good morning in a variety of languages. Her words always elicit smiles, and I thought why can't we all do that? I thought there was no one better to make this idea into a reality than Sam himself. It turns out its something he's been wanting to do for a long time – getting out of public life finally gave him the chance.

In an op-ed published in the Vancouver Sun Sullivan describes why we should do this:

Greeting Fluency can be achieved by learning at least seven simple phrases in another language. By learning even seven short phrases one can experience the sounds and structures that define a whole culture and open doors to a community of neighbours...

To have someone address them in their own native language is like the comforting sound of an old friend and can create an immediate bond.

One of the great pleasures of our child's school year is a multicultural dinner organized by our PAC. It's a chance to share dishes and break bread with cultures from around the world, in a way that almost never happens in other societies. This greeting fluency would be a fantastic addition to school curricula especially in Metro Vancouver. I can almost picture the glee kids would have teaching each other languages that they speak at home.

Vancouver has yet, in my opinion, really found a way to enrich itself from the diversity of the city. It shows great respect when our leaders and our institutions take measures to acknowledge other languages. It would be even more impressive if more of our people could do the same.


The Greeting Fluency event is taking place today (Thursday), 12pm to 1:30pm at CBC studios, 700 Hamilton Street. Tickets are $10 and there will be food served to complement the lessons in seven phrases in Tagalog (Filipino), Cantonese and Punjabi. There are limited seats still available.

- post by Mike


Here's one you won't have much use for . . but just in case you meet an Inuk .

Eh! Hania Wakeet.

Hey Kids!

Here's some different fun phrases you can use, in several different languages, and entirely appropriate when respectfully greeting a Vision councillor or the Mayor!

(English transliteration for pronunciation purposes)

Hebrew: Nim'as li!

Norwegian: Kyss meg i raeva!

Irish: ciach ort!

American: Bite me!

***The foregoing was proudly sponsored with a grant funded by Multicultural Vancouver, through a charitable donation trust to Renewal Partners, via the Tides Canada Foundation***

Mike, Sam, I attended todays session & enjoyed it immensely. Thank you both. It would be great if there could be followup sessions where participants could be in smaller round table practice groups.....

My thing with new languages is getting over the nervous phase. 2nd is how do you let the other person know that's all there is? I can't even do that in French.

Check out!

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