Posted on | May 31, 2010 | 4 Comments
This morning I and my wife went to a Chinese café for breakfast. Somehow they offered free Chinese newspaper. I looked for the headline expecting some specular world event to unfold. To my disappointment, the headline read “華裔移民第二代 喜中西合璧婚宴” (2nd-generation Chinese prefer Chinese-Western fusion wedding banquets). It also showed the photo of a businessman who caters this kind of banquets. I showed it to my wife, “What kind of headline is this?!”
My wife looked surprised, “Hey, you recognize this guy?” I looked closely. Yes, he was the one who organized our own wedding banquet some years ago. At that time, he was only a manager working for the restaurant.
The news article also provided a bit of his background that we did not know before. He was a Chinese immigrant from Panama, and had been working in the restaurant industry for many years. One day he met two Latinos in the restaurant, and he started communicating to them in Spanish. (I didn’t even know he speaks Spanish!)
The two Latinos turned out to be the general manager and the chief chef of a hotel. They happened to be looking for someone who could help them to organize a Chinese-Italian wedding banquet, for they knew nothing about Chinese food. This was how my friend started his own business.
Knowing additional languages indeed opens up many business opportunities. One can hear all sorts of similar stories in multicultural cities like Toronto. I was recently approached by a Persian couple whom I met a few years back. They called me up one day and told me they were thinking of expanding their business into the Chinese community. They asked me if I would be interested in partnering with them.
In some special cases, knowing too many languages might actually narrow your chances. I am currently in search of a babysitter for my daughter, who can at the same time teach her Mandarin. I don’t want the babysitter to know too much English or Cantonese, so that my daughter will be forced to speak Mandarin. I have already eliminated a few candidates who proudly claimed that they know all three languages well.