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Customs & Traditions in Canada

Updated: Oct 22, 2021

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Canada is a multicultural country whose culture is formed from a variety of influences. Here are Canada's Traditions & Costumes...



General Etiquette

  • 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.



Family

  • 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:

  • 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 a 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 a 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.


Giving gifts

  • 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 style:

  • 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.




Tipping Etiquette,

  • 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.



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