Au revoir Canada, hello USA

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While I was in Canada it got me thinking. How many countries are officially bilingual? Even though I spent my two weeks in Canada in the predominantly English speaking cities of the west I was still greeted everywhere with a “hello, bonjour”, be it at airport security, hotel concierge or when ordering my daily sandwich from Subway.

What I did find strange was when people jumped between English and French. Waiting in the departure lounge at Vancouver’s airport were a group of teens speaking with that very recognisable North American twang. Then all of a sudden the conversation would continue in French and if you closed your eyes you could have been in a Parisian café – well sort of, I’m told the accent is quite different!

Vancouver's Burrard Bridge

Vancouver’s Burrard Bridge

Canada is officially bilingual but only around 30% of the population can speak French as opposed to close to 100% which can speak English. Having the USA as a neighbour no doubt helps to keep English at the fore. Either way I found it quite strange having “hello, bonjour” said to me all the time when pretty much everything in daily life in the cities of Calgary, Edmonton, Yellowknife and Vancouver happens in English. There are a few other countries which are officially bilingual including Belgium, Ireland and New Zealand as well as several of the former Soviet nations. However, there are three countries which are officially multilingual – know which ones? I’ll reveal all at the end of the post!

So my time in Canada ended with a couple of days in Vancouver, the third largest metropolitan area in the country, with almost 2.5 million people. Located on the Pacific coast a mere 20 miles north of the USA border, Vancouver is a veritable multicultural melting pot. Over a third of the population are foreign born and it has the highest proportion of Asians of any North American city. French is not spoken much, but for over half of Vancouver’s citizens English isn’t the first language either. I mentioned in a recent blog post that Calgary is often voted the cleanest city in the world, well Vancouver has the honour of appearing high up lists of the world’s most liveable cities, including ECA’s own Location Ratings.

A rainbow zebra crossing in Vancouver

A rainbow zebra crossing in Vancouver

Canada’s largest port is in Vancouver and this obviously contributes a large proportion to the city’s economy but tourism and the technology sector also play an important role. The reputation of the city for being one of the world’s most liveable has meant it’s not difficult to attract workers either, especially from the pool of local and overseas talent emerging from its prestigious universities.

With my time in Canada at an end I flew to the good ol’ US of A. In human history there have been periods of dominance and influence from various peoples and empires. The Greeks, Romans, Persians, Egyptians and Chinese have all had times when they could describe themselves as a superpower. Even the British Empire had significant global clout for a while. But in living memory, certainly since the end of the Second World War, the USA has been a dominant global superpower and the far reaching impact and ongoing influence – particularly economic, military and political – of all things American is hard to deny.

The emergence of China as a potential superpower in the 21st century does not mean that the USA is on the wane. The GDP facts speak for themselves. On the Forbes list of 100 most innovative companies, 39 are from the USA and over a third of the world’s 100 largest public companies are American.

Oregon licence plate

Oregon licence plate

My first port of call in the States was Portland in the north-western state of Oregon. It’s by no means one of the largest cities in the USA but with a population over 600,000 it’s still a significant centre along the Pacific coastline. I didn’t really get to experience much of the city itself, however, as most of the day-to-day shopping is done outside of the centre in the suburbs. It’s an unpretentious place which seems to go about its daily life without attracting too much attention but for those in the know the surrounding areas offer fantastic opportunities for outdoor recreation and getting away from it all. It’s also one of the country’s greenest cities and is helping to lead the way with eco-friendly initiatives. It was the first city in the USA to introduce a local plan to reduce CO2 emissions for example and residents recycle over 50% of their waste.

Next up is a place more familiar perhaps – the captivating city of San Francisco. Before that, though, what about the three multilingual countries? Give yourself a pat on the back if you came up with Luxembourg, Singapore and Switzerland.

About wanderingmark

World traveller, researcher, photographer, collector of interesting facts and cost of living data research for ECA International (
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