Canadian Culture

In the 1890s Canada began inviting settlers from all over the world. This early understanding that welcoming immigrants from various cultures would benefit Canada and help the nation grow has created a culturally diverse and welcoming home for Canadians from any background.

With excellent immigration opportunities still available today, Canada carries on this tradition. Because this philosophy of welcoming immigrants has been part of the Canadian identity for generations, it has shaped the nation’s attitude toward migration. In fact, people who come to Canada are generally encouraged to maintain their cultural identity, traditions, and languages. This accounts for Canadians being famously tolerant, polite and curious about different cultures.

While Canadians are patriotic to their country, and community-minded in generally, they are also fiercely regional in their personal lives. The province in which they were born is usually the province they consider to define their home. Because each region has specific geographic, economic, political and cultural personalities the individuals raised in each region have specific values that relate to each. For example, in Eastern Canada people are seen as more reserved, with old-fashioned values; in Ontario, the hub for business in Canada, the vibe is conservative with an eye to capitalism; in Quebec the people view themselves as a separate cultural identity within Canada and are proud of their French culture and heritage; in British Columbia the attitudes are distinctly liberal and, in general, considered more modern.

Canadians are a very informal people. It is common for people to ask, “How are you?” as a form of Hello. This question doesn’t require a great deal of detail and the usual response is, “I’m well, and you?” Greeting friends and acquaintances is usually accomplished with a firm handshake and direct eye-contact. In Canada it’s acceptable to use the first name of an individual to whom you’ve been introduced after being invited to do so, this usually happens shortly after the first introduction. French-Canadians may greet with a quick kiss on each cheek, although that is usually reserved for closer acquaintances and friends.

When invited to someone’s home for dinner it’s customary to bring a bottle of wine or box of chocolate. In Quebec you may send flowers to the home, in advance of the party, or bring a very good bottle of wine with you. If sending flowers, be sure to consult the florist on what is in season and appropriate for the situation; certain flowers have specific meaning or are used only under certain circumstances.

Canadians exchange gifts for Christmas, birthdays and gifts are given at weddings. Although cash may be acceptable at weddings, most other gift exchanges should not be monetary. Often when a couple has invited you to a wedding they will also provide you with a gift registry. This is a list of all the things the new couple will need to start their life, it’s customary to choose a gift from this list.

Dining in Canada is generally a relaxed affair. Invitations that are more formal will usually specify that the event is either formal or black tie. At dinner parties you should wait until the hostess is seated to start eating, unless she insists you start. Elbows should never be on the table, and if you are wearing a cap it should always be removed when seated. Saying, “No, thank-you.” when offered something you don’t wish to eat or drink is acceptable in Canada and doesn’t require an explanation.

Canadians generally communicate with one another in polite, respectful and moderately indirect manner. The use of non-verbal communication is used only to reinforce or emphasize verbal communication. Letting someone finish speaking before speaking yourself is polite. Most Canadians require personal space when communicating with others, so standing less than an arm’s length away from someone with whom you’re speaking is considered impolite.

In business meetings Canadians will spend a few moments in polite informal chat before delving into the substance of the meeting. Developing personal relationships in business is done more slowly than in social situations. Although meetings will adhere to a schedule and agenda, they are generally informal and everyone in attendance will be expected to share their relevant thoughts and experiences.