As we know, xenophobia starts with first impressions: a simple glance allows you to see the Other’s difference. If we all come from similar racial backgrounds this difference doesn’t immediately show through our physical aspect, but it clearly shows up the very moment the foreigner begins to speak, revealing his accent. Surely we should marvel at the cultural assets the Other brings with him, we should congratulate him for putting so much effort into learning and speaking another language, for having the courage to travel and to start anew –
with nervousness and nothing more than determination – in a new country. Sadly, most of time, this isn’t happening. We are afraid of foreigners, considering them strangers. Although the English language has two words (foreigner and stranger), the French language only has one (étranger). The confusion between the two still remains, and we immediately keep our distance from the Other.
Recently a university professor came up with a new word to name that phenomenon: glottophobia, formed from the greek prefix “glotto” meaning “tongue” or “language” and “phobia” meaning “the fear of or the hate for something.” I remember thinking it was a brilliant idea. Why didn’t anyone mention it before?
Being a French native myself and speaking English with a thick accent, I developed a complex when travelling around the USA. I clearly saw that within the first three seconds of starting a conversation that my accent had already dissuaded some of my American interlocutors from hearing what I had to say. Actually, they weren’t even listening to me anymore –
body language does not lie. Each building block of my very being, my education, my university successes and achievements, my knowledge and culture, weren’t relevant anymore, because – in such an incredibly short amount of time – I had been judged and put in a box where no one wants to be put.
When I set foot in the glorious city of Vancouver, I remember being struck and moved by the kindness of locals and by the open-minded culture to be found here. Some can argue that these great concepts of tolerance and open-mindedness are empty and don’t mean anything anymore. I defy each and every person who would like to contradict me: come and visit Vancouver first and then speak. Odds will likely be in Vancouver’s favour.
Obviously glottophobia doesn’t exist in Vancouver. Differences are welcomed with a smile. They are celebrated. Vancouverites encourage you to be yourself and to paint the city’s vivid canvas with your own colours. Vancouver invited me to embrace its vibrant culture. In doing so, Vancouver respected my identity and helped me acknowledge the vital importance of my roots. Like a good teacher, Vancouver escorted me when I was feeling my way around and waited patiently for me to take stock of my new environment, helping me adapt to a Canadian lifestyle without forgetting who I am.
Society is always hurrying you, asking you to make a choice, to stay here or there, to speak up for your native roots or your heart’s roots, wanting you to pick one over the other. Quickly you find yourself trapped between two chairs, not knowing where to sit. Vancouver’s wisdom is to offer a third way: lie in the middle of these two chairs and simply be happy.
Vancouver went beyond the Tower of Babel’s punishment. This city managed to turn our differences into assets. Vancouver is strong and multicultural. Vancouver knows it, and, with pride, is boasting about it. And rightly so, because it succeeds where the rest of the world fails. For this reason – among many others – it is definitely good to live in Vancouver and to be part of its vibrant community. And finally, there is no need to be born here to irreversibly be proud and honoured to be one of its citizens.