Naturally, as I wrote this on Canada Day, I spent some time sending out our best wishes to clients, colleagues, family and friends. Yes, I am wearing red and shite. In fact, I just took delivery of a red and white car. All symbolically Canadian, eh! Yes, but what does that mean? This started me to take a more serious look at what cultural values make us uniquely Canadian.
Canadians are known to be some of the most polite, tactful, and peace-loving human beings on the planet. In fact, a stereotypical Canadian is depicted as one who apologizes despite not being at fault. To a certain extent, this is true. The society greatly values tolerance, humility as well as non-violence. To be sure, Canadians have individual traits and quirks. Some even venture to say that traits vary from one province to the next.
The following, in my opinion, are some cultural norms generally observed in Canadian society. These are what we value highly and underlie many of their behaviours. Having an idea of these will help you have a deeper understanding of Canadians and guide you in your own cultural immersion.
This trait often manifests itself through politeness, punctuality, tolerance and social order. It is considered harassment to talk disparagingly about a person’s looks, beliefs, age, gender and status in life. Most of the time, communication is moderately indirect as an effort to be polite and diplomatic. However, Canadians may openly disagree, but tactfully. Do take note that verbal communication is also pragmatic especially in the workplace. You are expected to be clear and direct, not to “beat around the bush” and speak up for yourself.
Historically, Canada began developing into a strong nation by welcoming immigrants. Today, it continues to value the richness and diversity that various cultures contribute to society. In 1971, Canada became the first country in the world to adapt multiculturalism as an official policy. This affirmed people’s rights to maintain their unique cultural identity and promoted cross-cultural understanding and harmony.
Political correctness is refraining from saying or doing things that exclude, insult or marginalize groups of people. And because Canada is diverse and multicultural, knowing how to be politically correct is essential in order to live harmoniously with everyone.
Most Canadians are casual in dress and language. You will notice that there are no strict dress codes in most workplaces. Clothes are informal to casual. Generally, first-name basis is the norm. Even seniors are addressed by their first names. However, when meeting a person for the first time, it would be safe to address them formally by their title and last name (e.g. Mrs. Jones) More often than not, they will tell you that you may address them by their first name especially when you become more familiar with one another.
Order and space
Canadians value order and preserving their personal space. They also value personal privacy. It will be wise to keep away from discussions of salary, family life, weight, religion and other personal topics. It is also understood that a person has rights over their own property, so make sure to ask permission before using anything that is not yours. Disruptive behaviour, such as cutting in line, speaking out of turn, shouting, talking loudly are definitely frowned upon. Decorum is part of keeping order and respecting other people’s space.
Canadians are highly aware of their responsibility to the community. Despite being individualistic in terms of personal values, contributing to the betterment of the community is a priority. Canadians get involved by volunteering, donating, and by generally maintaining pride and affinity for their community.
Being on time is highly valued in Canada. Punctuality is a sign of respect. Everyone is expected to arrive on time or at least 5-10 minutes earlier. Similarly, deadlines are taken seriously. It is equivalent to honouring your commitments. It is also an indication of your integrity.
Most Canadians are said to have an affinity to their province or region, sometimes more than their country. These may be generalizations but it is said that the Atlantic provinces are somewhat reserved and old-fashioned; Ontario is business-like and conservative; people in Western Canada are seen as open and friendly; British Columbia is unconventional and progressive; Quebec is distinct and autonomous; and the North Territories have a strong pioneer spirit.
Canadians bear a strong pride in their rich and bountiful resources and have deep-seated respect for the environment. You will see this in how Canadians appreciate nature and revel in camping. They also maintain their parks and open spaces, and adopt and follow environment-friendly policies.
Now of course, this last cultural trait is one that strongly resonates with me. The vast beauty of our natural Canada sums it all up. We should be envious on what we are blessed with as Canadians. I was privileged to spend our Canada Day weekend in the north. But Canada and being Canadian means something unique to each of its citizens. That’s the wonder of it. Being a proud and active Canadian is Keeping Life Current.