Costumes & Traditions in Canada
Updated: Mar 7, 2020
Canada is a multicultural country whose culture is formed from a variety of influences. Here are Canada's Traditions & Costumes...
Always say “please” when asking someone for help and "Thank you" after that.
It is often considered impolite to ask a direct question about someone’s salary, wealth, weight or age.
Asking personal questions about one’s marriage or relationship can also be seen as an invasion of privacy.
Similarly, some people become very uncomfortable when asked about their political point of view or who they voted for.
Spitting in public is considered rude.
If there is a line for something, always queue and wait for your turn.
To call over a waiter or person of service, do not wave or yell. Instead, keep an eye out for them until they make eye contact, and then nod or raise your hand.
You can also gently say “excuse me” as they pass by.
Yelling, crying and anger in public are not appropriate behaviors in public.
It is very rude to speak with your mouth full of food.
If someone is using the ATM in front of you, divert your gaze away from them and stand away to give them privacy.
Canadians are quite patient and are therefore unlikely to appear pushy or frantic for a time in casual situations.
Canadian are very punctual people.
It is not appropriate to be late more than 10-15 minutes to an appointment without warning the person in advance.
Respect the multicultural nature of their country.
If you do something inappropriate, it can be good to apologize for them, Canadians are generally open to forgiving those who acknowledge their mistakes.
Do not point at people.
Do not confuse Canada with the US.
It is best not to initiate discussions about Quebec separatism, politics, sex or religion because it can be considered distasteful and rude.
Until the middle of the 20th Century, most families in Canada were run by married couples but, by 2010, most of the couples choosing to cohabit rather than to marry.
The Canadian family has changed during the last thirty years so, there has been an increase in the number of single-mothers due to the increase in divorce rates.
In 2005 same-sex marriage became legal giving couples the same rights in marriage and common-law unions.
Trends in the family have also been changing over the last thirty years with more than 70% of women working outside the home.
On the other hand, many families incorporate LGBTQI+ relationships. Thus, same-sex couples with children are becoming more common.
Women enjoy equal rights in the Canadian community however they tend to have interrupted careers in order to be available to raise their children instead of their father.
Nowadays both men and women want to establish a career for themselves and travel before starting a family.
So that the average age to start making a family or for women to have their first child is 29-30, unlike the previous generations.
Children are also starting to live in their parents’ households for longer than before.
Naming conventions slightly differ between those who identify as Anglophone ( English speaking) or Francophone (French-speaking).
When it comes to naming babies, it’s a relatively common Canadian tradition for children to be given names from within the family.
A son might be named after his father or uncle, for instance; a daughter for her sister or grandmother.
Middle names, which most Canadians have, are very often chosen this way.
Children usually take the last name of their father.
If children are born to parents who aren’t married or simply don’t use the same last name, they’ll sometimes be given a hyphenated last name combining the names of both parents, for example, “Martin-Jones.”
Most Canadian Anglophones take their husband's last name at marriage. However, Quebec women follow traditional French customs and retain their maiden names throughout their lives.
Meeting & Greeting:
Greetings are usually informal in social life.
First names are normally used in initial introductions or shortly thereafter.
A handshake is a common greeting between strangers.
Shaking with a firm hand and eye contact reflects confidence.
Canadians may laugh lightly over handshakes to diffuse the formality.
French Canadians may also greet each other by lightly kissing both cheeks once, starting on the left.
Hugs, back-slaps, and nods may all be used to greet someone they know or friend.
Some older men may even kiss a lady’s hand.
Shake hands with everyone at the meeting upon arrival and departure.
Men may offer their hand to a woman without waiting for her to extend hers first.
Visiting a home
You have to arrange a visit before going to a Canadian’s house.
Do not visit someone without telling him or bring friends and family with you unless asked them before and take their permission.
If you will be late so it is necessary to tell the host that you will be late for more than 10-15 minutes unless if you are in Quebec being late is normal and arriving early to party or gathering can actually be socially embarrassing.
Before entering someone's home ask whether you should take off your shoes or not.
When eating at someone’s home and they ask whether you would like more food or not, it is okay to decline or accept depending on how hungry you are.
Offer to help clean up the meal with your host when everyone has finished eating.
Generally, in Canada, gifts are only given on special occasions such as birthdays, weddings & Christmas and accompanied by a card.
Weddings tend to be the only events in which it is absolutely expected that every single person will give a reasonably high-quality present
Gifts are usually opened when received, either upon receiving them or later along with other presents.
It is unpleasant to give cash or money as a present, however gift cards are okay.
Gifts that are given as a personal gesture outside of special occasions are often grander or more heartfelt. For example, to reflect deep gratitude for a favor someone has done for you, you may give them sports tickets or take them to an expensive restaurant.
If invited to someone's home for dinner, take a box of good chocolates, flowers or a bottle of wine, Expensive wine is a good gift for this occasion as well. (especially in Quebec)
In Quebec, sending flowers in advance of the dinner party is the correct protocol.
Do not give white lilies as they are used at funerals.
Dining & Food:
Table manners are relatively relaxed and informal in Canada.
Table cutlery manners are generally Continental, i.e. the fork is held in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating.
The tines of the fork should face down.
Wait to be shown to your seat.
Do not begin eating until the hostess starts.
Do not rest your elbows on the table.
Leaving a small amount at the end of the meal is generally acceptable.
In formal situations, the host gives the first toast.
An honored guest should return the toast later in the meal.
Women may give toasts.
Do make sure to say please and thank you.
Communication styles vary between Anglophone and Francophone parts of the country.
For example, Anglophones are generally less comfortable interrupting others and speak in softer volumes but Francophones are more likely to interrupt another speaker.
On the other hand, people from Quebec tend to use more expansive gestures, are slightly more tactile and keep a smaller distance of personal space between one another. They also use formal pronouns more frequently.
Canadians like their personal space and prefer to be at an arm’s length when speaking to someone.
Canadians communicate more by the spoken word rather than non-verbal expressions. Non-verbal expressions are only really used to add emphasis to a message or are part of an individual’s personal communication style.
Canadians are careful to discuss their personal lives with business associates.
They expect people to speak in a straightforward manner and to be able to back up their claims with examples.
Waiters, waitresses and service attendants expect tips to make their living.
Accordingly, restaurants that offer table service do not include the service charge in the cost of the bill.
Canadians usually tip 15-20% of the cost of the meal as a general standard.
More or less can be tipped depending on the quality of the service; if it was so awful that you would never eat there again, you may leave a tip of 2 cents. Doing so shows that you did not forget to tip and were bitterly unimpressed.
Taxi drivers, hairdressers, and barbers also expect similar tip percentages.
Bellhops or valet parkers only expect about $1 as a tip.