I hear you’ve just moved to Canada. I bet you’re wondering just how to fit into Canadian culture. If you’ve done any research online, you’ve surely found that to act like a Canadian, you’ll need to say “eh” a lot, eat maple syrup-covered bacon, play hockey, be super nice to everyone, and pronounce it “a-boot” instead of “about.” Well, I hate to break it to you, but most of that stereotypically “Canadian” stuff is a bunch of over-exaggerated bologna. Sure, these things make for great punchlines in jokes about Canada, but they aren’t going to be much help if you actually find yourself in the land of the maple leaf. So, for you who are new to Canada, here are some dos and don’ts that will actually help you navigate the True North Strong and Free.
Do be nice
Canada has a reputation for being one of the nicest countries in the world. And while you shouldn’t expect every Canadian you encounter to shower you with love and affection, you definitely can expect us, as a group, to be very nice to you. For example, in Canada, it is generally considered pretty rude not to hold the door open for someone—even a stranger—who is entering a room or building behind you.
So, what can you, as a recent immigrant to Canada, do to fit in when out and about? The easiest thing you can do to be accepted by Canadians is just to be excessively polite. When you’re buying something at a store, being served at a restaurant, or receiving any other type of service, say “thank you.” And when somebody else thanks you, be sure to accept that thanks with a “you’re welcome.” Here is an example of a typical conversation between a cashier at a store and a customer in Canada:
Cashier: Hi, how are you today?
Customer: I’m great, thanks. How are you?
Cashier: I’m good, thank you. Did you find everything you were looking for today?
Customer: Oh yes, thank you.
Cashier: Good. Okay, your total comes to $15.00, please.
Customer: That will be on my Visa, please.
Cashier: Okay, you’re all set (sets up the Visa machine).
Customer: Thank you (completes the Visa transaction).
Cashier: Thank you. Here’s your receipt.
Customer: Great, thanks.
Cashier: No problem. You have a great day.
Customer: Thanks, you too.
Cashier: Thank you.
You may think that conversation is an exaggeration, but as someone who worked in retail for a long time, I can assure you that it isn’t. Most courteous Canadians treat service workers as if they are friends doing us extremely generous favors rather than as employees who are simply doing their jobs. The service workers, in turn, act as if the customers are their grandmothers, teachers, or other people who are generally treated with a high degree of respect. Of course, there are some rotten people who don’t treat service workers very well at all, but we prefer to believe that the mean people are actually all secretly American.
In addition to thanking people excessively, we Canadians tend to apologize profusely, usually when we have done nothing even remotely wrong. Some studies have shown that about 70 percent of Canadians will apologize when someone else bumps into them. That’s right––we say “sorry” for being in the way of people who aren’t paying attention to us. We also apologize when we don’t know what to order at a restaurant, when we can’t get our credit cards out of our wallets fast enough when there is a line behind us, when our small children cry in public, and so on. Even though it’s ridiculous, not apologizing for such things just seems rude.
Don’t say “eh”
The art of naturally integrating the word “eh” into a sentence is one that takes years of practice to master. Just like you can’t walk into a synagogue and toss around the few slang Hebrew words you know, you can’t just come into Canada and start saying “eh.” Most people who aren’t Canadian seem to think that we say “eh” in every other sentence. It takes a certain level of finesse to integrate it into your speech, and while some Canadians might be liberal with their “ehs,” most of us tack it onto sentences without even knowing it. Here are some proper and improper uses of the Canadian catchphrase that are good to know for those new to Canada:
Correct: “I know, eh?”
Translation: “I agree completely with what you’ve already said.”
Incorrect: “So, eh, I hear you’re an, eh, Canadian!”
Translation: “I’m doing a very poor imitation of a Canadian based on what I’ve seen on television.”
Correct: “It’s beautiful outside, eh?”
Translation: “Don’t you agree that the weather today is very pleasant?”
Incorrect: “Eh, don’t look at me like that.”
Translation: “What I really wanted to say was ‘hey,’ but I was trying to be clever.”
Unless you start saying “eh” without thinking about it, you would probably be better off avoiding its usage altogether. While we’ll probably just think it’s cute that you’re trying to be like us, we may be slightly annoyed if we think you’re mocking us (though it’s not likely that we’ll express that annoyance; instead, we’ll probably just offer you a beer).
Do accept hockey as a regular part of your life
You know that joke about all Canadians loving hockey? Well, it’s kind of true. I mean, no, we don’t all play, and I dare say, we don’t all even like hockey. But even those of us who don’t give a hoot about the sport itself do tend to take a certain amount of pride in our nation’s ability to dominate on the ice. Canada is a very large country, and hockey is one of the only universally Canadian things out there. From British Columbia all the way to Newfoundland, you’ll find small towns whose members regularly congregate at the local arena for hockey games. Many young girls and boys across the country grow up playing, and the amount of time, energy, and passion put into our hockey leagues can’t be ignored. We raise good hockey players, then proudly send them out into the world to represent us on our Olympic team and in the National Hockey League.
You don’t have to play hockey to live in Canada, but learning a thing or two about the game certainly won’t hamper your efforts to integrate into Canadian society. Tune in to Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday evenings once in a while to get an idea of what this hockey thing is all about.
Don’t think that all Canadians are the same
This may be an ironic bit of advice in an article on how to fit into Canadian society, but trust me, it’s still very valid advice for those new to Canada. Ever looked at a map of Canada before? If not, take a gander. If you haven’t noticed, Canada is huge. In terms of land area (no water), Canada is the fourth-largest country in the world. (If you count the water, we’re second only to Russia.)
This huge geographic span means that Canada has some pretty intensely different climates and intensely different people. For example, someone who grew up in Ontario would have a much easier time relating to a person from Michigan, USA than with a person from Newfoundland, Canada.
So, no, it isn’t always cold everywhere in Canada—in fact, not many people live in the places where it is always cold. And no, Canadians don’t all have the same “Canadian” accent. And no, we didn’t all share the same culture growing up. Saying so would be like saying that someone who grew up in Hollywood had the same upbringing as someone who grew up in Jackson, Mississippi. While stereotypical Canadian jokes are fine, people need to realize that they are just that—jokes. In reality, Canada is a uniquely diverse country.
Do ask questions, make friends, and feel welcome
I hope you’ve read the above points and thought to yourself, “Gee, I’m glad I moved to Canada.” If you are, I can’t blame you. It is a great place to be. We Canadians are fun people to get to know. We’re pretty accepting of others, too––if you respect us, we’ll respect you. So, come on in. Take off your shoes, get comfy on the couch (never the “sofa”), crack a pop (never a “soda”), and get to know us a bit better. I promise, you won’t regret it.
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