Canada has a level of diversity that distinguishes it from many other countries. Within the country’s 36 million inhabitants, there is a “cultural, ethnic and linguistic makeup found nowhere else on earth.” With that kind of diversity comes a lot of different languages, which is why one Brampton bus driver's next level customer service has involved learning a whole new language.
According to the Government of Canada website, more than 200,000 people from all over the world choose to make Canada their new home, every single year. For bus driver Mike Landry, this is reason enough to try his hand at learning new languages, in order to better communicate with his passengers and maybe even "break cultural barriers" on the way.
Landry has been a bus driver in Brampton, Ontario, for 19 years, and over that time has become something of a local celebrity because of his next level customer service. With the help of the passengers he picks up on his routes, Landry has started to learn Punjabi, one of the most commonly spoken languages in the Toronto area.
Landry, who is originally from New Brunswick, first began to use Punjabi words four years ago, after a positive experience with a group of young men on their way home from a night shift. At that time, he only knew one word of Punjabi, the greeting "Satsriakaal" but used it to greet the men as they boarded the bus.
The greeting is commonly used among the Sikh and Punjabi communities. He said the men were extremely surprised by his knowledge, but also impressed and encouraging. They taught Landry a number of new words, which he began to try out on other passengers.
"I could see the appreciation," said Landry, "A small thing like 'satsriakaal' would open everything. And that to them was a whole world of respect." The response from passengers was so positive that many started to share videos of their experiences with the driver online. Passengers have even started to go out of their way to stand at the front of the bus to talk with Landry for the duration of their journey.
The reaction on his bus, and online, has encouraged Landry to study the language in more depth. He has taken out library books to understand the structure of the Punjabi language, and to learn more vocabulary and how to conjugate verbs. Landry hopes one day he will be able to fully immerse himself in new languages by visiting India for a month or two.
Landry has even tried his hand at a few other languages, including Gujarati, the second-most used language in Brampton. When he meets Gujarati-speakers on board he asks how they are, by saying "Kem cho?" He says that the fun that this brings makes him excited, saying "When there's laughter on the bus, there's joy and that kind of spirit...You look forward to coming to work”.
The most important part for Landry is to welcome people who are new to the country. He says that many of his passengers are new to Canada, or have only been in the Brampton area for a short time. He said "They're just landed in Canada … when somebody makes the effort to learn a little bit, they appreciate it to no end."
Speaking to CBC News, passenger Gautam Dharni said he was pleasantly surprised when he was greeted by Landry in Punjabi. He said "It was something different for me. I felt really great, I was excited". Dharni also noted that a multi-lingual driver would be excellent for elderly passengers, who may need help but not have a strong grasp of English.
Despite the popularity of the video’s of his multi-lingual interactions online, Landry insists he is “not here to impart any wisdom”, but adding that language has the power to "bring us together more than it divides us. It may be as simple as that. And if it breaks some cultural barriers too, then so be it."