Hello! Bonjour! What comes first in your mind when you think of Canada? Is it Niagara Falls, Ice Hockey, or Justin Bieber? I get it. The list goes on and on! Well, if you are traveling to Canada anytime soon, remember these do’s and don’ts and you will fit in like a Canadian local. Pretty cool, eh?
As a multicultural country, Canada has many exciting festivals and cultural attractions that take place throughout the year. Thus, Canada continues to value the richness and diversity that various cultures contribute to society. More so, Canadians are generally very polite, and it is important to remember your manners if you want to get on well with people. In fact, they shake hands with everyone at the meeting upon arrival and departure. Canadians also bear a strong pride in their rich and bountiful resources and have a deep-seated respect for the environment. You will see this in how they appreciate nature and revel in camping. They also maintain their parks and open spaces and adopt and follow environment-friendly policies.
If you’re planning to visit or relocate to Canada soon, the following are the do’s and dont’s you need to know:
Do’s in Canada
1. Find out if you will need a visa to visit Canada.
Most travelers need a visa to fly to or transit through a Canadian airport. It is best to consult with the Canadian Embassy or consulate in your home country to inquire on these matters.
2. Make sure to get an ETA if you are a visa-exempt national.
An Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) is an entry requirement for visa-exempt foreign nationals who are traveling to Canada by air. It is electronically linked to a traveler’s passport, and it is valid for up to five years or until the passport expires, whichever comes first. With a valid eTA, you can travel to Canada as often as you want, for a short stay.
3. Use courtesy.
In Canada, it is quite usual to immediately move to a first-name basis. However, it is recommendable to wait for your Canadian acquaintances to make the first move. Among French Canadians, use courtesy titles such as “Monsieur” or “Madame”, followed by the last name.
4. Always have a waterproof jacket with you.
If you find yourself traveling through mountainous areas like the Canadian Rockies, do not underestimate mountain weather as it can immediately change from sunny to rainy, in an instant. You should always have a waterproof jacket with you- one that is easy to put on, take off and roll back up to stash in your backpack when the skies clear.
5. Expect an indirect form of communication style.
Canadians are relatively indirect communicators as they try to avoid creating conflict by taking careful measures to remain polite throughout the discussion. They tend to speak clearly enough that their intention and meaning are often apparent through careful word choice. They tend to disagree, openly but respectfully.
9. Expect physical contact as a common greeting.
A handshake is a common greeting between strangers in Canada. Shaking with a firm hand and eye contact reflects confidence. On the other hand, French Canadians may also greet each other by lightly kissing both cheeks once, starting on the left.
10. Be punctual.
Canadians are very punctual people, and they expect promptness in return. It is not appropriate to be more than 10-15 minutes late to an appointment, without warning the person beforehand.
11. Give a tip.
Service attendants expect tips to make their living. 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.
12. Be aware of the earthquakes in Canada.
Earthquakes in Canada are most common along the three coasts, the Pacific, the Arctic, and the Atlantic. Therefore, the regions most at risk of earthquakes are the coast of British Columbia, the St. Lawrence River, and the Ottawa River valley, and in certain parts of the three northern territories.
13. Keep an arm’s length distance, especially with queues.
Canadians do not appreciate it when others invade their personal space and often keep about an arm’s length distance between themselves as well as in crowded situations, such as in queues.
14. Wait for your turn.
On public transportation, wait until everyone has exited the door before entering. Pushing through people who are trying to get out is considered extremely rude. When merging on motorways, vehicles from each lane take turns, alternating one at a time from each lane. Pushing through behind another vehicle without allowing the vehicle in the other lane to merge in his turn, is considered bad driving.
15. Walk on the right.
When walking on sidewalks or in grocery stores, you are expected to walk on the right. Not doing so is considered very rude. Also, stand to the right on escalators.
When visiting someone’s home, the serving of coffee at the end of an evening is a signal that it is time for the visitors to prepare to leave.
Don’ts in Canada
1. Do not talk about politics.
Non-Canadians are not advised to initiate a discussion on Quebec/Canada politics, because of the sensitivity of the subject. Even good-natured criticisms or commentary about Quebec are just as likely to offend their English Canadian audience.
2. Do not discuss religion.
Canadians tend not to discuss religion in public or explicitly with those that they do not know very well. Conversations around religion are still welcome, but people may not like it when others try to promote their faith or speak defensively about it.
3. Do not compare French and English Canadians.
French and English Canadians can be culturally divided. Expecting an English-speaking Canadian to know how to speak French well, or vice versa can create awkwardness.
4. Do not expect everyone to speak in French.
If you are visiting Quebec, you need to know a little bit of French. People in Quebec also speak English, but you will have an easier time if you know some French. Once you leave Quebec however, French may not be spoken at all, even though it is one of Canada’s official languages.
“First Nations”, “Indigenous” or “Aboriginal” are more appropriate descriptions. Several words used to refer to aboriginal people can have very negative connotations and should be avoided by everyone
6. Do not say that Canadians are like Americans.
There is almost nothing that will unite Canadians faster than if someone comments on certain similarities between Canada and the United States.
7. Do not criticize Tim Hortons.
Tim Hortons, founded by and named after a hockey player, is basically a cultural institution in Canada. It is a multinational fast-food chain that is best known for its coffee and donuts. Even if you find the coffee and/or doughnuts as bland, it is better not to insult this Canadian cultural icon.
8. Do not say that you do not like maple syrup.
With the silhouette of its leaf on the flag, the maple tree has come to represent Canada in many ways. In addition to its symbolic value, the tree also yields one of the few food items that can appropriately be labeled as Canadian.
9. Do not display your anger in public.
Avoid public displays of anger or other emotions which could cause a social distraction. Canadians generally avoid raising their voices or crying in public.
10. Do not be overly combative or argumentative.
A Canadian is more likely to engage with you if you remain respectful and intellectually-informed about the subject, as opposed to emotionally charged.
11. Do not over-share with your personal life.
Canadians value their privacy and thus like to keep a line between those they do business with and those they socialize with outside of the workplace. Over-sharing one’s personal life with them can make Canadians feel uncomfortable, especially if you expect to ask them about their personal lives as well.
12. Do not use intense fragrances at work.
When at a business meeting, avoid intense fragrances such as perfume, aftershave, or heavily scented body lotions. It is still assumed as it seems for a perfume to be worn to cover up poor personal hygiene.
13. Do not get out of your car when you see a bear.
If you are lucky enough to spot a bear or other wildlife, be sure to pull over safely. When a bear encounters people, it can alter its path of travel and be displaced from important habitat. They can also react aggressively or become habituated and more likely to enter a campground.
14. Do not feed the wildlife.
Feeding animals or wildlife in Canada may do more harm than good. Some municipalities have by-laws that allow you to be charged and fined for animal cruelty.
15. Do not pay for an item right away.
The price you see listed on a price tag or restaurant menu is never the price you actually pay. With added sales tax and tipping, be prepared for sticker shock on some Canadian prices. Canadian sales tax varies by province.