Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

Local diners say they're keen - but can't read the menu

Dominion Road. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Dominion Road. Photo / Steven McNicholl

Locals claim they are missing out because migrant businesses are not translating their signs into English.

"I would like to try all those wonderful, delicious-looking dishes I see through the restaurant windows, but would not have a clue what to order if I stepped in," said Northcote resident Jane Reeves.

Ms Reeves said dining out at her town centre - which had been tagged an "ethnic precinct" because of the concentration of ethnic businesses and eateries - had been limited to the food hall because she could not read Chinese.

At Bi-Won Korean restaurant in Wairau, customers would not know what was on its $10 lunch special unless they could read Korean.

Manager Andy Jeong denied the signage was an attempt to keep the specials only for its Korean customers, but "we haven't thought about translating it into English".

A Massey University study claims the proliferation of signs using ethnic scripts in Auckland is making some Kiwis uncomfortable, and their reactions range from "annoyance" to "repugnance".

Most people the Herald spoke to yesterday at Northcote, Dominion Rd and Mt Albert said they were not opposed to ethnic businesses having signs in their language, but preferred them to be translated into English too.

An online poll of readers yesterday also found 38 per cent thought immigrants should use English on their business signs and 40 per cent thought English should be offered beside the ethnic scripts.

Just 22 per cent thought the signs should be accepted as New Zealand was a diverse society.

Hundreds also took to social networking sites, such as Facebook, discussing whether it was appropriate to have signs with little or no English.

Tavia Kane wrote: "I avoid places ... that purposely refuse to acknowledge our language, culture and pretty much do not want our business."

Simon Wright said: "I'm pretty tired of immigrants refusing to become part of NZ culture, and this is one symptom of that."

University of Auckland Professor of Asian Studies Manying Ip said the reactions were "as expected".

"People will always be uncomfortable with things they cannot make out and don't know," she said.

The Massey study said these signs were used to "exercise control" and create barriers for those who did not speak the language, but Professor Ip believes the explanation is far simpler.

"These migrants come from countries where everyone understood their language and it might not even occur to them, when they put up these signs, that there are people here who don't."

- NZ Herald

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