I am meeting someone for the first time and I want to make a good impression. What would be good discussion topics?
When meeting Canadians for the first time, there are a number of topics that can be touched upon. But the first question on first contact will be: what do you do? Work/occupation is important to Canadians, and it is also a social marker; it is what separates and defines a person in relation to another. Another related topic of conversation is educational attainment and/or professional experience.
Canadians are known for travelling and thus are curious about world geography and other lands. When meeting someone a conversation may also touch on places to visit, be it locally or overseas. They want to know about other places, including the food, customs, music, the political climate. These interactions may differ depending on how the contact is made. For instance, when meeting someone for business, the conversation maybe confined to very safe and neutral topics. When meeting people through friends or associations, the connection may take a deeper level.
Canadians are keenly aware of "otherness", and consequently it is common to hear: where are you from? as a first contact question. Asking questions like this one is a way to assert identity, and establish the boundaries of belonging. This is a question posed to Canadians from other regions, and newcomers to Canada, as there is a strong sense in Canadian identity of what one is not. This relation is expressed often to mark the differences between provinces and also to assert their difference between themselves and their Americans cousins.
Humour should be approached with caution in Canada, as in other places, because the sense of political correctness is very strong in many social circles. Take time to learn the appropriate and acceptable limits of humour to avoid the risk of offending someone. However, it is important to note that humour is region and city specific in some cases. In the East Coast of Canada, for instance, humour can be self-effacing and people’s sensitivities are tougher with more tolerant limits. Similarly, Quebec has a different threshold for humour and limits on the topics used.
Topics to be avoided on first contact are money, salary, religion, and politics, especially the separatist movement. Newcomers to Canada can use the interlocutor’s cues for approaching topics or subjects during a first rendezvous.
Good topics of conversation are: work, studies, the weather (a good opener), one’s house, vacations, sports (especially hockey, American football, baseball, water sports and, increasingly, soccer/football) and other leisure activities. Generally, Canadians are not comfortable talking about salaries or personal finances and tend to steer away from discussing emotions. Asking questions about marriage or children can be interpreted as too personal by some.
Generally, it is good to keep conversation light and, if possible, funny. If people really want to know a lot about a given subject, they will ask questions; otherwise, it is best not to get too seriously into any one topic.
Appropriate topics of discussion will depend a lot on the crowd. Most Canadians know something about local or national politics, but many do not concern themselves with such issues. In any case, you will hear Canadians complain about politics and politicians but they are also very sensitive to how they are perceived by outsiders, so it is best to refrain from criticizing. Many Canadians have travelled abroad and have differing degrees of exposure to the ways of other countries. The more they have travelled, the more curious they are likely to be about the perceptions of foreigners; I would not recommend making this a main topic of conversation, however.
Canadians are often very proud of their natural surroundings, Canadian weather and their heartiness with respect to enduring the weather. Canadian musicians, writers, film producers and actors (comedians especially) are also a great source of pride. Men in particular are proud of Canadian beer and hockey, although women are increasingly a part of this sub-culture. Virtually all Canadians are eager to distinguish themselves from Americans.
The best way to impress most Canadians is to show what you have noticed is different from the United States, as there is a great deal of sensitivity and concern about being lumped in with our powerful neighbour. Most Canadians see themselves as humbler, funnier, more tolerant and/or less aggressive than Americans. I would not recommend overly criticizing the US, however. Canada depends on its neighbour and has strong cultural and historical ties. Many Canadians have relatives who live in the US.
Canadians tend to be very politically correct and concerned with fairness, although this varies from one region to the next and depends on the crowd. As the cherished image of many Canadians is of a tolerant society that is also more socially minded than that of the US, discussions of social classes, racial or other discrimination and private medical care are to be approached with care.
Generalizations about Canadians can also raise sensitive issues of regionalism. Central Canadians typically claim to speak for the country and Quebecois, people from the East Coast, the North, the West Coast, the West and the Prairies frequently differ from Central Canadians’ perspectives and are eager to point out the differences. A similar dynamic operates between Toronto and anyone outside of Toronto and there can be large cultural differences between other cities as well.
What do I need to know about verbal and non-verbal communications?
Canadians jealously guard personal space and privacy, making them very reserved people. It takes a while for them to warm up to newcomers, but this does not mean that Canadians are not welcoming. They are quite civil and polite. Thus a first contact will almost never include discussion on personal aspects of their lives, such as earnings, weight, diets, health conditions, etc. This may change as the relationship develops or if it fits with the purpose of the meeting.
When lining up in a public place, the bank for instance, Canadians require at least 14 inches of space and some people need more. This rule should be applied when speaking to Canadians, especially if the speaker is a man addressing a woman. Men and women need and protect their space, sometimes with an active signal or else with more subtle body language that has to be monitored at all times. The rules vary from province to province, eg: in Quebec people may not need as much personal space, and touching is more common. Typically, people from Quebec greet each other using more physical signs such as hugs and kisses and may offer kisses on the cheek to newcomers after a few encounters.
Men tend to gesture more while conversing than women, and young people more than older people. In general; there is a unspoken code of decorum that has to be observed in public places and which can only be broken in big gatherings such as an outing to a restaurant. Making eye contact is a sign of respect and sincerity. It also signals a real engagement between speakers. Most of the issues of communication, especially tone of voice, directedness, and even making eye contact are inscribed in a complex dynamics of gender and class; those with more prestige can afford to break the rules and have the licence to initiate or limit the degree of expression in the interaction.
Canadians differ from one another. Ethnic background and place of residence are important factors in determining peoples’ level of comfort with touching and gestures.
In general, however, Canadians expect a high degree of respect for public and especially for private property and space. Canadians generally have a very strong sense of space (no more or less than an arm’s length); particularly when speaking or dealing with strangers. It is best to carefully observe each person’s degree of comfort with touching and their preference for personal space.
Canadians will not necessarily maintain constant eye contact, but it is considered a sign of dishonesty or insecurity if a person refuses to or is reluctant to make eye contact.
Also scorned are some personal habits associated with other cultures such as clearing one’s throat aggressively, not wearing deodorant, burping in public, slurping, chewing with one’s mouth open or spitting.
Canadians usually shake hands with both men and women, particularly in a public or professional setting. In some cases, especially among friends in French-speaking circles, men and women will often give each other a kiss on each cheek. In English Canada, good friends will sometimes hug each other. Generally, men do not touch other men beyond the standard handshake unless they have reached a fairly high level of comfort with that person or they are playing sports. This rule is similar for contact between men and women. Women are less bound by these rules. However, holding hands and repeated or prolonged physical contact is reserved for ’intimate’ and/or exclusive relationships or family (ie: not between friends). Family members will often maintain close physical contact with young children.
Many Canadians find a lot of hand movement while talking distracting or even annoying; some see it as a sign of insecurity. Nevertheless, Canadians may expect people of other cultures to use more hand movements and gestures. Mentioning the possible difference may be a way of gauging peoples’ responses.
One gesture to avoid is waiving the index finger from side to side. This is normally used with children and means, "no, you can’t do that".
Are public displays of affection, anger or other emotions acceptable?
Consistent with a strong sense of personal space and with protestant prudence, it is not that common to see Canadians displaying affection in public. Strangers have verbally scorned me when I am hugging my partner on the street.
There is an implicit acceptance of ’positive yet neutral’ affection, for instance, old friends meeting after a long time, congratulations for achievements, etc. Yelling in public is uncommon, unless people are inebriated or having a fit of road-rage. In the event that there is scene of violence or someone is being attacked (verbally or physically), it is likely that the Police would be called to intervene. Canadians, in general, avoid conflict and confrontation and thus it is not common for people to intervene directly.
The rules for reacting and displaying affection and emotions are quite similar in offices (private or public sector). Decorum is highly valued and this implies limits on the types of displays of affection. The greeting is a handshake, irrespective of the rank or gender of the persons. Well-acquainted colleagues may permit themselves more open expressions of affection, including kisses on the cheeks (Canadians - if and when they kiss - usually would give two kisses, one on each cheek).
Canadians do not appreciate aggressive behaviour or driving and have a low tolerance for shouting and public displays of affection. Many Anglophone Canadians are uncomfortable with strong demonstrations of emotions, particularly if it is with someone they do not know well. In Quebec or in many immigrant communities, emotions may be more freely expressed.
What should I know about the workplace environment (deadlines, dress, formality, etc.)?
For the most part, Canada is a relatively informal and relaxed country. The common dress code for offices is informal to casual for both men and women. This may vary when comparing private and public sectors, the latter being the more informal. Larger cities are dressier than smaller towns. Canadian women wear little make-up and their clothes can be relatively conservative and comfortable. Younger women can be seen in more revealing clothes and wearing more flattering outfits, especially in schools. Younger men stick to the accepted kakis and chinos, with some verging on the sport jacket and/or vest. In general, Canadians wear very dark and sober tones. In summer, white and brighter colours are permissible.
In keeping with the relaxed yet reserved attitude of the country, it is important to observe some basic rules when meeting someone for the first time:
- address the person by Mr. or Mrs. plus last name and in some cases by their title (e.g. Dr.) until the person asks to be addressed differently;
- arrive on time (if possible 5 to 10 minutes earlier) as punctuality is highly valued while lateness is looked down upon, unless due to valid extenuating circumstances;
- speak directly and in a assertive manner to avoid misunderstandings, while ensuring not to appear aggressive.
As time passes, the initial formalities will be replaced by a more comfortable relationship. Junior people may address managers and superiors by their first name and establish a more equal relationship. Most often than not, the direction of the relationship is determined by those in higher ranks.
Another important rule for Canadians is deadlines (the basic word made up by adding the qualifier ’dead’ to the word ’line’, in my view, conveys the meaning that Canadians attach to it); they are taken with utmost seriousness.
Work styles and pace differ between workplaces but it is important to be clean. Most Canadian work environments are very relaxed in terms of dress and level of formality, although shorts and jeans are not that common in office environments. Women tend not to wear very revealing or tight-fitting clothing, although this depends on the individual and on the workplace and the sector.
Canadians tend to address each other on a first-name basis, although it is always best, especially with one’s superiors, to start out with Mr. or Mrs. (or Dr.) and the person’s last name. Ms. is used to refer to a woman without inquiring about her marital status (considered a private matter) and should be used by default. In French, madame is used by default. Do not use Madam or Madame in English. Madam is frequently used sarcastically and disrespectfully and Madame is associated with the managers of brothels!
Quebec culture tends to be more hierarchical and the formal vous form is frequently used for strangers and elders (especially in rural areas). However, the informal tu is used much more freely than in France or many other French-speaking countries.
Many workplaces have some degree of flexibility in terms of hours worked and punctuality. Generally, however, Canadians work diligently and office chitchat is considered somewhat delinquent; it is not acceptable to openly waste an employer’s time. Serving clients well and rapidly is usually a high priority. Overtime is often expected, especially in management positions. Lateness is not received well but, depending on the workplace, arriving five or ten minutes late occasionally (with a good excuse) is usually within the realm of the acceptable.
What qualities are most highly regarded in a local superior/manager? How will I know how my staff view me?
Canada is a place where innovation and hard work are well-regarded qualities at work and elsewhere. A combination of high level of education, experience, hard work and charisma is the winning ticket for success for most managers/superiors. Canada, as many other industrialized countries, is seeing a growing trend towards credentialism. Thus, young and experienced managers may possess 2 or 3 university degrees, and some see the necessity to retrain in order to stay competitive and current with the job market needs and increase their chances at a job. Similarly, newcomers to Canada have better chances of being successful in the market if they have suitable credentials.
Personal charisma, diplomacy and tact as well cultural sensitivity are quite crucial for the success of a manager in facing and adequately dealing with the challenges of a new cultural setting which may have different work ethic and codes for behaviour. Depending on the degree of openness, the size of the staff and the internal culture of the office, a manager will learn how the staff views him/her. Some workplaces hold regular meetings and these can be places where people would voice positive opinions about a manager’s decision or action. If the issue is a contentious one, some people may voice their opinions, and others may not since they may think that voicing their objections may threaten their job security. Canadian directedness and assertiveness must be used strategically in difficult cases.
A manager is expected to deal with and handle conflict in a constructive manner to minimize disruptions to normal activities the office. As persons in a position of leadership, they must lead by example. They are expected to meet deadlines and observe procedures and rules of the office.
Academic and professional skills give some indication of background but experience is also highly valued and ultimately you will be judged by your performance and ability to get the job done. Age, social status and connections are not typically given a lot of weight; however, their importance should not be underestimated.
Teamwork is often considered an ideal form of working. A person who comes across as ’knowing it all’ may be seen as uncollaborative or even arrogant and inflexible. It is important to show confidence as well as humility and good listening skills. Canadians tend to appreciate approachability and problem-solving abilities over authoritarian styles of management.
The same would apply for a non-local manager, although fair degree of adaptation to the Canadian environment would be expected since most foreigners are not distinguished from immigrants.
In the workplace, how are decisions taken and by whom? Is it acceptable to go to my immediate supervisor for answers or feedback?
By and large, big decisions are taken by managers/superiors. In some places there can be consultation prior to making the decisions and non-manager’s opinions may be considered when proceeding. This does not mean that decision can go unchallenged, and for the most part, it is at this point that managers may take steps to include other voices.
Ideas for decisions may come from subordinates as well from management. This can happen in a meeting, a consultation, or a survey. Many places reward and encourage participation and initiative, which may include asking clarifying questions, or offering an alternative to an idea. While participation may be encouraged, the venues and opportunities may be limited by the structure of the organization, and/or prevalence of the culture of hierarchies (mostly based in many cases on educational levels and experience).
Younger employees expect to be mentored and guided to grow professionally. They also expect to be given space to make contributions and express innovative ideas, although, as indicated above, the opportunities may be limited.
NGOs make more efforts to flatten the hierarchical structures and strive for working from a consensus-building point of view. This type of situation is more desired than actualized. Canadians in general believe that authority can be challenged, and they raise questions when the situation is propitious. The success of these challenges rests largely on the fear/respect of public opinion.
Decisions tend to be made by managers and there would be a direct correlation between the seriousness of the matter and the level of authority at which a decision would be made or resolution sought. Consensus is considered desirable but not imperative.
It is generally accepted in Canadian society that young people have a lot of ideas and that older people have more experience and perhaps more knowledge. Frequently, in the private sector, initiative is encouraged and employees are encouraged to promote and develop their ideas. How much latitude the employee is given will depend on the sector, the scale and importance of the work or idea, the size of the company or organisation and/or the manager’s style. Generally supervisors act as gatekeepers and filterers of ideas.
It is entirely acceptable to go to your supervisor for answers or feedback, however you will be expected to demonstrate your analysis of the situation at hand. In some cases you may be expected to take initiative and complete an assignment with minimal supervision; this will vary between workplaces and managers and is worth clarifying early on.
Briefly describe the local culture’s attitudes regarding the following: Gender, Class, Religion and Ethnicity. What impact would the above attitudes have on the workplace?
Canada is a very ethnically and religiously diverse and rich country. Almost all countries in the world are represented in the Canadian population. For its diversity, Canada is a place with a relatively low level of conflict. The population is generally tolerant of diversity, and it has a very liberal approach to social and political issues. This is not to say that there is not conflict and controversy or that everyone in the country sees eye-to-eye on all issues.
On issues of gender for instance, larger metropolitan centres are more likely to tolerate and even support the various expressions of gender, including the extension of rights and benefits to same-sex couples, or celebrating with them on Pride Day (first weekend in July). This is also true when it comes to support for women or men to try non-traditional jobs. Despite all these advances, women can still experience what some refer to as the ’glass ceiling’, which is the invisible barrier that impedes women’s job mobility into higher positions.
Most offices operate in a relative secular way and it is very uncommon to find someone who would try to proselytize in the office environment. It is noteworthy that most holidays observed in Canada are still directly connected to the Christian religious observances; however, people of other faiths can also take time off to observe their own holidays.
There is an unspoken class divide am tong Canadians. People of lower social classes are also relegated to low-paying jobs that only serve to perpetuate their condition. There is a high degree of civility while in the office, and no person would be made to feel inferior on account of their lower socio-economic condition. However, the division become more evident in he extra-office associations and social ties and friendships originating at the office tend to be socially horizontal rather than vertical (up or down). This is a not a straightforward pattern and can be complicated by educational level and other factors.
With ethnicity, the situation is more complicated. Visible minorities, (in Canada defined as people who are not direct descendants of Europeans), are gaining ground in their integration into the Canadian social fabric. Minorities can be seen in public and private offices, and much work is going on to increase their representation in managerial positions. Similar to the situation of women, minorities may also face the ’glass ceiling’ and covert forms of discrimination. Policies and steps have been taken to address these issues, and much has been gained, but the road ahead is still a long one.
A visible minority person can expect the same services from public offices, banks, hospitals and educational institutions as European descendants, and there are mechanisms to report abuse or discrimination, should the situation arise.
It is common to find women in the workplace at all or most levels, although they tend to be concentrated in more vulnerable, lower paid and lower skill sectors. Treatment also differs enormously between sectors and workplaces, and highly educated and ambitious women still face an old-boys network at upper levels of authority. Nevertheless, there are lots of women in positions of authority and women and men are encouraged to take initiative and make decisions in many workplaces.
Sexual overtures in the workplace are considered inappropriate and threatening and may result in legal action being taken; the law protects women. Avoiding any references to sexuality or appearance, unless on good terms with that person, is a good way of ensuring that any such comments will not be misinterpreted.
There is tremendous diversity in the beliefs of Canadians, religious or otherwise. In fact, Canada’s constitution protects the right to publicly funded religious schooling in a limited sense. Many groups are lobbying to have this right extended to include a range of different religions.
It is advisable to be respectful in any event and to be sensitive to this diversity. Most Canadians believe it is important to respect people regardless of their religious beliefs but see religion as a private matter. Canadians tend to separate work and private life a great deal and may be uncomfortable when religion is brought into the workplace. Many Canadians, regardless of their religious background, do not actively participate in religious activities.
Many Canadians are very uncomfortable talking about social classes and would prefer to identify themselves as middle-class, whether or not this is true. Mostly, a person’s class is defined by their level of education and income, although connections are important for upper-middle and upper classes. Work environments are usually organised on the basis of some hierarchy and those at the top have more education than those lower down. Nevertheless, fair treatment of all staff is expected.
Ethnicity in Canada is a concept that has evolved throughout its history and can refer to the English-French divide (which is much more than linguistic), the difference between Canadians of European origin/settlers and indigenous peoples and, more recently, ’whites’ or Canadians of European origin and those of non-European origin. Canada`s immigration policies have led to a truly diverse population, mostly in urban areas.
In bilingual (English-French) workplaces, language is perhaps the biggest dividing factor. Socialising in such workplaces is frequently among people of the same language. In non-bilingual workplaces, which represent the majority, the region, cultural considerations and the expectations of linguistic ability will often have an important impact on to which Anglophone and Francophone Canadians will find themselves working together. Mastery of a specific language is often an important hiring criterion.
My work experience has been in fairly ’white’ settings and so I cannot say to what extent ethnicity is an issue in workplaces, except to say that it is a complex issue. Racial and ethnic prejudices certainly exist and, like other prejudices are likely to manifest themselves at work. In many cases, the ethnic make-up of a workplace depends on the sector and some sectors are considered less accessible to visible minorities than others. There have been recent efforts in the Federal Government to increase the representativeness of the public service. In the past, ethnic minorities have tended not to benefit from the same networks of connections and contacts as those of European backgrounds. This is quickly changing with the increasing percentage of highly qualified members of ethnic minorities in the workforce. The relative vulnerability of ethnic minorities in the workplace is likely to be a more pernicious feature and is not really talked about.
The situation of indigenous peoples in Canada is considerably more complex and problematic.
How important is it to establish a personal relationship with a colleague or client before getting to business?
Building rapport is very critical to conducting successful business affairs in Canada. The type and depth of the rapport would greatly depend on the sort of business. A good starting place is a meal, and the person who hosts usually covers the hospitality costs. Some company/institutions would invite candidates for an interview or to meet him/her in person and cover the costs. When offering any services and the meeting takes place over lunch, the person offering the services may pick up the tab.
In general, meals are good spaces for rapport building. Most Canadians cover their own costs. Restaurants are considered neutral territories, and so are cinemas, or concert halls. It is important to set boundaries to prevent misunderstandings, and accept or extend invitation to people’s homes only when the relationship’s boundaries are clearly defined. Men and women have to be aware of potential accusations of sexual harassment or any other type of inappropriate behaviour.
Also, it is important to build good friendly relationships across the whole organization, from the concierge to the managers; all of them make a very important support network in the office. To strengthen relationships with concierges, for example, it suffices to exchange greetings and a chat when arriving to or leaving the office. Also they can be invited or included in some way where there is a special event in the office. If the goal is to build rapport with administrative assistants (in Canada the word secretary is not politically correct to describe an administrative support position) regular expressions of appreciation of their work and contributions are key.
It is important to introduce oneself and to be clear about reasons for being there and aims, either in the meeting or before discussing the project at hand. This does not have to take a lot of time and business matters usually follow quickly after such introductions. Nevertheless, some degree of superficial chitchat is common and can help break the ice.
Workplace relations, which tend to be among peers, are often kept quite separate from personal relationships and many Canadians like it that way and value their privacy. A personal relationship (as opposed to a friendly professional relationship) with a client would be unusual in many Canadian workplaces.
Would a colleague or employee expect special privileges or considerations given our personal relationship or friendship
Yes, connections are important to doing business in Canada, although not necessarily for the same reasons as in other places (eg: corruption). Rather, because people are connected through networks of expertise and know-how. I have heard in Canada a variation of the saying: "it is not what you know, but who you know, that gets you the job", which goes like this: "it is who knows what you know/your skills that gets you the job". What I take this to mean is that connections exist and are used to get people jobs, but it is very important to be qualified for the job/contract to get it. The reputation of the person in charge is on the line if s/he was to hire a person without considering if the person if fit for the job. Friends and family members may (and do) recommend someone for a particular job or task, but the decision rests entirely with the manager.
Networks and contacts are important for finding out about and even taking advantage of opportunities in the workplace; nevertheless, fairness, or at least the appearance of fairness is expected. Virtually always, qualifications are important in hiring or promoting, but they may not be the only criteria and they may be defined rather openly. This is less true of small or family-run businesses, which make up a significant proportion of the economy in Canada, and where it is entirely acceptable for a business owner to hire his or her own family members (Note: a manager or any other employee would not be able to do so quite as easily).
I would definitely not recommend granting special favours as this could expose you to very grave disciplinary measures or at least to unwanted attention and notoriety. This is especially true in large organisations and in positions that are high profile. If you do wish to consider hiring or promoting someone who is a personal friend based on merit, it is probably best to distance yourself from the process and be very transparent about the criteria used for making the decision, especially in public sector workplaces.
I have a work-related problem with a colleague. Do I confront him or her directly? Privately or publicly?
Direct questions, more often than not, get direct answers. Most people are prepared to talk out differences of opinion with another colleague, although it largely depends on the nature of the issue and how contentious it is. A private conversation in a neutral place (restaurant, or café) is the preferred setting for such conversations. If there is sense that a colleague has taken some distance, or shows less interest in previously shared things, chances are that there is something the matter. The extent of the issue can be negligible in many cases, but it is important to address it early on so as to prevent a future escalation. A simple direct question can give the desired answer and be the key for a renewed dialogue; Canadians do not like confrontation, but respond well to any sincere attempt to mend any situation.
Avoid publicly confronting someone. A third party may not be willing to intervene but talking to a neutral party who is familiar with the situation may be useful. I recommend trying indirect methods for resolving the dispute and leaving direct confrontation as a last resort. Going to a supervisor might be called for in desperate situations.
What motivates my local colleagues to perform well on the job?
Good performance on the job depends on a host of conditions such as job satisfaction, commitment, recognition for contributions made, fair remuneration, loyalty, and of course, good working conditions. This is true in Canada and elsewhere. In Canada there is a very strong work ethic, and most people want to work, although less than desirable conditions can lead to frustration and discontent among workers.
In general, people like to be part of the team and feel appreciated and consulted about decisions that can affect their lives, such as restructuring, lay-offs, etc. They also like to receive recognition for outstanding contributions, such as promotions, or any form of incentive to encourage further participation.
This differs between individuals, sectors, ages and culture. Most young Canadians consider money important but would be as concerned about possibilities for advancement, fit and work conditions, if not more. Job prestige and the degree of responsibility one has are important for most professionals. Older Canadians might be more concerned about job stability and benefits although benefits are also important to those who are having families. On-the-job training is also an important motivator as most Canadians are acutely aware of the need to keep their skills up-to-date and diversified.
To help me learn more about the local culture(s), please recommend: books, films, television shows, foods and web sites.
A nice place to start to learn about Canada is to see a series entitled, "Canada, A People’s History"; this television series provides an historical overview of the history of this country.
Canada has fine writers; my favourites: Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Rohinton Mistry, Carol Shields, Will Ferguson, John Ralston Saul, Lawrence Hill, David Suzuki, Bernice Morgan, among many. Reading these authors can provide not only an idea of Canadian culture, but also how some Canadians view world issues.
Canadian films (short and long) are powerful and peculiar; there is something that sets them apart from American productions, I can think of a few: "Buried on Sunday", "Leolo", "Jesus of Montreal", "Black Robe" and "Highway 51".
Books: Timothy Findley (any); Lucy Maud Montgomery (especially the Anne of Green Gables series; Robertson Davies (any, but especially Fifth Business); Margaret Atwood The Edible Woman, Mordechai Richler, Rohinton Mistry’s Family Matters, and Will Ferguson’s Why I Hate Canadians, Pierre Berton Why Canadians Think the Way They Do. For a better understanding of Quebecers, read works by Quebec authors Michel Tremblay, Gabrielle Roy and by poets Émile Nelligan and Anne Hébert (especially "Speak White").
Music: English: Avril Levigne, Sarah McLaughlin, Spirit of the West, Susan Aglukart, Jann Arden, Great Big Sea, The Moody Blues, The Tragically Hip, Blue Rodeo, the Rankin Family, Leonard Cohen, Diana Krall, Neil Young, Bryan Adams, Holly Cole, Oscar Peterson, K.D. Lang, Alanis Morrissette, Anne Murray, Our Lady Peace, Bruce Cockburn, Crashtest Dummies and the Barenaked Ladies. French: Daniel Lanois, Roch Voisine Celine Dion (sings in both languages), André Gagnon, Harmonium, Paul Piché, Daniel Lanois, Claude Dubois, Garou, Richard Desjardins, Eric Lapointe, Les Chiens, Natasha St.Pierre, Marie-Hélène Toupin, Claude Léveillé, Thérèse Montcalm, Diane Dusfresne, Robert Charlebois, Beau Dommage, Richard Séguin, Michel Rivard, Vilain Pingouin, Daniel Bélanger, La Chicane, La Bottine Souriante, Gilles Vignon, Les Colocs, les Respectables, and Felix Lelerc.
When in this country, I want to learn more about the culture(s) and people. What activities can you recommend?
Canada’s multicultural character offers a host of cultural experiences and possibilities. The most visible ones are culinary and cultural (writing, music, cinema, clothes) expressions. It is possible to have breakfast in China (dim sum), lunch in Lebanon (shawarma) and dinner in Italy (fettuccini Alfredo or Mushroom Risotto), or, if one prefers to stay more local, there are great places to enjoy mussels, good fish or lobster, or fish n’ chips in the Maritimes, or a good portion of poutine in Quebec. To celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, families get together and they enjoy turkey dinner complete with cranberry sauce and, many times, wild rice.
Of course one should not miss any opportunity to canoe in Canada. During summer time hardcore nature lovers embark in projects such as "portaging" which involves walking and canoeing for miles into the heart of the forest, a very Canadian experience. There are number of national and provincial parks and nature reserves with facilities and campgrounds for amateur and experienced campers.
Of course, one cannot come to Canada and not attend the national sport: HOCKEY! It is a Canadian must!
"Summertime, when the living is easy" goes the line in one of Gershwin’s songs. Nowhere is this as true as in Canada. After a long winter (6 to 8 months), Canada wakes up to a very intense period of activity including music and cultural festivals. In Calgary, for instance, it is the time to challenge wild bulls and horses during the Stampede; in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa, Edmonton one can catch a good Jazz festival, the largest being the Montreal one; if one prefers to be tickled, the "Just for Laughs" and Ha-Ha- Halifax comic fests might just be the ticket; one can also celebrate difference during the Pride Parade in Toronto, which is the kick-off of a series of cultural days culminating with largest Caribbean fete in North America in August.
In terms of radio and television, I would recommend the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), on radio I am particularly fond of "The House: the week on national politics", the local morning radio show (which varies from city to city), "As it Happens", "The Current", "The Vinyl Café" among others - My personal favourites on television, "This Hour has 22 minutes", "Made in Canada", "The Nature of Things", and of course "The National" with Peter Mansbridge. Of course, one must do this in both official languages. CBC (the English network) and Radio Canada (the French network) are the best sources of information on Canadian culture and current issues. The networks are also an alternative to the overwhelming presence of American culture, news and programming in Canadian television.
Canadians are very sports-oriented and love to go to cottages and camping. Joining a team sport or sports club is an excellent way to make friends and gain the trust and respect of Canadians. Also, Canadians are very proud of their musicians and are pleased when a foreigner takes an interest in Canadian music. The words of the music may help you understand how Canadians define themselves. Canadian literature is also very revealing of Canadian history, culture and lifestyle.
If you are in Quebec, do not miss the experience of spending an evening with friends at a Cabane à sucre. The Montreal Jazz festival and St. Jean Batiste (June 24th) celebration are a good time to be in Montreal and no city celebrates Canada Day (July 1st) like Ottawa. The Calgary Stampede, which is held every July, is a great attraction as well. If you are in P.E.I, don’t miss a production of Anne-of-Green Gables.
There are many great things about many different parts of Canada and beautiful sites everywhere. Many people think of Canada and images of snow, rivers and mountains come to mind. While adventure travel is extremely popular in Canada, I would encourage Canadians and non-Canadians alike to visit small towns and big cities as well to get a true sense of the diversity of Canadians and the beauty that the country has to offer. That said, do not miss an opportunity to go canoe camping or to rent or visit a cottage by a lake!
It is hard to say what food would be typically and exclusively Canadian, and it depends on the area. Tourtière is very traditional in francophone Canada and poutine is a strong cultural reference and a must if you are living in Quebec. Pancakes and maple syrup, corn on the cob and field tomatoes (summer) are typical dishes. Cinnamon and sugar covered batter called beaver tails are definitely worth trying, as are homemade pies, butter tarts, nanaimo bars and cheesecakes. Chocolate chip cookies are a personal favourite of mine!
Who are this country's national heroes?
One of my most favourite people in Canada is David Suzuki, a man whose fierce commitment and dedication to the environment has inspired millions in Canada and abroad. He can be seen on the TV program, the Nature of things, and read in the many books he has published.
On the sports front, there are many Canadian heroes: Wayne Gretzky is the king and there are other hockey heroes every year. Check the NHL website for more info: www.nhl.com.
Canadian comedians are well known because of the power to make people laugh more than because they are Canadians of international repute, for instance, Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, Jim Carrey, Howie Mandel, Mike Myers all of them known for their appearances in "Saturday Night Live" and movies. More locally known are David Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, and Mark McKinney all from the "Kids in the Hall" show.
The music world also has a few Canadian stars: Bryan Adams, Barenaked Ladies, Bruce Cockburn, Leonard Cohen, The Crash Test Dummies, Celine Dion, Glenn Gould, Diana Krall, Chantal Kreviazuk, k.d. lang, Loreena McKennitt, Sarah McLachlan, Joni Mitchell, Alanis Morissette, Avril Lavigne, Oscar Peterson, Stan Rogers, Rush, Shania Twain, The Tragically Hip, Neil Young to name a few.
Astronauts: Roberta Bondar, Marc Garneau, Chris Hadfield, Michael McKay, Steven MacLean, Julie Payette, among others.
This of course depends on your perspective and few heroes are shared by both French and English speaking Canadians. Many would cite Pierre Trudeau as a hero, although others (particularly Quebecois) revile him. Francophone Quebecois tend to revere René Lévèsque as one of their strongest premiers and as someone who stood up for Quebecois and was one of the driving forces of the Cultural Revolution. Maurice (Rocket) Richard is probably universally considered a hero, as is Wayne Gretzky, both for being hockey icons. Some other Canadian athletes would also qualify as heroes, particularly Terry Fox who ran across Canada with a prosthetic leg to raise money and awareness for Cancer. Many Canadian musicians have acquired hero status, as have actors and comedians, although Canadians tend to accept fame only after the artist has made their name outside of Canada.
Two things that are interesting about Canadians and heroes are that history is often not given a lot of importance and that charismatic leadership is controversial and fame suspect. Canadians often dislike making a fuss. This is less true in Quebec where there can be strong emotional identification with leaders and popular figures.
Are there shared historical events between this country and Canada that could affect work or social relations?
Canadians in general are very welcoming of people from abroad. Many Canadians also hold the view that most immigrants or newcomers come from places with little or no infrastructure where opportunities to study and to build knowledge is limited at best, or non-existing, at worst. This perception can result in two connected responses: altruistic and paternalistic. The altruistic response can make people react in a very positive way. For instance, many Canadians often urge the federal government to lend more support to less developed countries through investments and other forms of assistance. On the personal level, many Canadians get actively involved in awareness raising on international issues and participate in volunteer programs. Many more devote their lives to bringing about social change through a lifetime commitment of work with various international development agencies and organizations.
The paternalistic response to the perceived lack of development of newcomers can lead people to view "others" as unable to contribute to Canada, its economy and future, and less deserving of the rights accorded to Canadians as birthright. There are some that view newcomers and immigrants as potential threats: "immigrants will take away OUR jobs".
Canada is one of the richest countries in the world, it is very developed (some parts of the country more than others) and it offers countless amenities and the opportunity to lead a peaceful existence, which are conducive to learning and intellectual growth. Side by side, homelessness and poverty are very present in this country. Discovering this part of Canada surprised me and gave me my first and most striking cultural shock when I first visited Toronto 13 summers ago.
As mentioned under "First Contact", Canadians frequently assume that a non-Canadian is a recent immigrant and therefore as someone who has chosen to settle in Canada. Behind that assumption lies a widely-shared feeling among Canadians that Canada is one of, if not the best place in the world to live. That means that others, while they may have made sacrifices to come to Canada, have ultimately made the obvious choice: bettering their lives by coming to Canada. As a result, Canadians are not usually surprised by the presence of a foreigner and often expect the foreigner to accept Canadian norms and gain Canadian experience.
Most Canadians treat foreigners respectfully, even if there is no great fanfare or welcome. Large Canadian cities tend to be extremely diverse and accepting of difference; smaller cities and rural areas are more likely to see foreigners (visible minorities, in particular) as curiosities or possibly even threats. Americans may run into a certain degree of hostility combined with curiosity about why they are there.
What stereotypes do Canadians have about the local culture that might be harmful to effective relations?
Your cultural interpreter was born in Ibarra, Ecuador the oldest of nine children. She was raised in this town in the north Sierra of Ecuador until the age of 25 years. She graduated with B.Ed. from the Universidad Tecnica del Norte and later immigrated to Canada to continue her studies at Trent University (Peterborough) and Memorial University (Newfoundland). She has travelled extensively for work and pleasure in Ecuador, Germany and Eastern Canada, to a lesser degree in Cuba and Mexico. Your cultural interpreter is currently living and working in Ottawa and is involved with organizations looking at issues of diversity in Canada. She is married and has no children. Her cultural heritage is African-Ecuadorian.
Your cultural interpreter was born in Kingston, Ontario the oldest of two children. She was raised in Ottawa for the most part, although her family moved back and forth between Ottawa and a variety of other countries, returning regularly to visit family in other parts of Canada. She started secondary school in Switzerland and returned to Canada at age 16 to complete her studies. She obtained her Bachelor's degree in Political Science and Economics at McGill University in Montreal and then moved to Austria to study German and work. She later returned to Ottawa to study International Relations at Carleton University. Afterwards, she went to Chile on a CUSO-NetCorps internship to help a Chilean non-governmental organisation with its computer training needs. She has since returned from Santiago and is working in Gatineau with a consulting firm. She is not married and does not have any children.
Country Insights - Intercultural Issues are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. For each country, two perspectives are provided: one by a Canadian and the other by a person born in the selected country. By comparing the "local point of view" with the "Canadian point of view", you will begin to form a picture of that country's culture. We encourage you to continue your research using a variety of other sources and to use Triangulation as an evaluation process. Although cultural informants were asked to draw on as broad a base of experience as possible in formulating their answers, these should be understood as one perspective that reflects the particular context and life experiences of that person; they are not intended to be a comment on any particular group or society.
You may disagree with or object to the content of some responses. This is to be expected given the complexity of the subject and the problems associated with speaking generally about an entire country and its people. We would encourage you to share your experiences; your contributions will help to make Country Insights a richer environment for learning.
The content of Country Insights in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.