Less is more – in any language

A recent news story about the woes of an Italian bakery in Montreal is interesting. Apparently, the bakery in question was asked to change words like “espresso” and “cheese cake” into French by Quebec’s French language watchdog. The news story quotes the bakery’s owner saying that the government had its priorities wrong and that “sales have dropped so much”.

The story is just one example of regulatory over-reach harming small businesses. But the language politics (or over-regulation) issue is not unique to Quebec. There was a pre-Covid regulation in Bangalore requiring shop signs to have 60% signage in Kannada. Failing this, the shop owners would lose their trade license. The regulation was later challenged.

If customers in either Montreal or Bangalore were offended by the absence of local language on menus and signs respectively, they would have stopped visiting these shops.

Even beyond language politics, the two stories remind us of the wisdom of avoiding over-regulation and letting businesses do business. The Montreal story is particularly sad since it comes in the backdrop of Covid when businesses are already struggling to stay afloat.

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