FACE TO FACE: Does bilingualism work in Canada?
Support for biculturalism in Canada doesn't come cheap. My colleague has parsimoniously pointed out the cost of operating in two official languages.
Apart from the cost, bilingualism often strains the commitment of even we regular drinkers of Canada's bicultural Kool-Aid.
The back of the Cheerios box, lists of product ingredients, assembly instructions, more than half of "O Canada" and most of our Olympic athletes seem to be French. (And it seems stores in B.C. must hire people to make sure that the French side of all product labels are visible on their shelves.)
Federal employees require both official languages, giving francophones a government employment advantage; and doesn't Quebec seem to get more than its share of government contracts, grants and patronage appointments?
Increasingly, a main tenet of French-Canadian culture seems to be how poorly Canada has treated them and how they are an under-appreciated founding people.
And our French-Canadian countrymen seem completely unimpressed with the considerable attempts of English-speaking Canadians to embrace the French language by putting their children in French immersion programs in public schools all over the country.
These irritants should be enough to make Anglophones obnoxiously anti-French.
But they're not, and that's what makes bilingualism important.
The tenacity of Canadian tolerance and "niceness" starts with our acceptance of bilingualism, despite its challenges. This underpins the live-and-let-live attitudes of Canadians. It allows us to accept others - and gay marriage and public health care.
Biculturalism is the fount of Canadian cultural attitudes.
My colleague would get rid of all this French stuff, saving a buck at the expense of Canadian culture.
In most of the world, knowing a second language is considered a privilege. Many Europeans speak three or four languages. Yet in North America, we object to having a second language "shoved down our throats."
A recent attack ad aimed at U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, after a long list of indictments, ended with the worst of all: "Mitt Romney speaks French!"
We can't put a price on bilingualism. It means a lot more to Canada than the tantalizing prospect of a unilingual corn flakes box.
Face to Face columnist Jim Nelson is a retired Tri-City teacher and principal who lives in Port Moody. He has contributed a number of columns on education-related issues to The Tri-City News.