Canada Cultural Etiquette - The Traveller's Guide
Hockey and Canadian Culture seem to be pretty much synonyms. Have you ever wondered why Maple Syrup is so important in Canada? Or about Cultural Etiquette in Québéc? I'm guilty of having friends from all over the world. I say guilty because my crime is to meticulously extract all the juicy knowledge they hold. Today, my smart-ass, kickass --excuse my Québécois French-- friend Courtney shares her Canadian wisdom, earned by endless amounts of Maple Syrup and Hockey games, with us.
Disclaimer: Before discussing the ins and outs of Cultural Etiquette in Canada, AKA the Great White North's, there are a few important things to note:
1) Canada is HUGE, we are the 2nd largest land mass in the world and so in saying that we have little pockets of culture spread out across the nation.
2) We pride ourselves on our diversity – the Canadian culture we’ve amounted to today is due to the mixing of cultures that have settled here from all over the world.
3) Les Québécois! Québécois culture is a different breed of Canadian culture. Due to their historical French influence, some may consider them... for lack of a better word much more uhm… passionate. This is why I’ve asked my good friend Jon Reskalla from Montréal to tag along on this project to shed some insight on French Canadian culture.
1 - How do people greet in Canada?
First question off the bat and it’s already difficult to pinpoint one answer. Personally, I am a hugger. Though many Canadians often resort to a handshake or even no form of physical contact at all, just a simple “hello”.
Though in Québec, it is custom to greet with 2 kisses on the cheeks. (As they have clearly held on to their historic European traditions)
2 - What are THE MOST Canadian things?
Hockey and Canadian Culture
Yes, we are 100% obsessed. This is not an exaggeration. Being from Vancouver I have witnessed firsthand the passion Canadians have for the sport. From dancing and cheering, in lively crowded streets for the victorious moment of our country being awarded the Gold Medal at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. To panicked, sprinting down the streets of downtown Vancouver to avoid riots and tear gas due to the heartbreak in consequence of our teams’ loss in the final match of the Stanley Cup (Pretty much the World Cup of Hockey). Safe to say – we take this s**t seriously!
It’s even a common wintertime occurrence for Canadians (particularly from Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario) to flood their backyards by letting the hose run and the water freeze so they can enjoy their own personal ice rink in the comfort of their backyard.
Why is Maple Syrup so important in Canada?
I think it goes without saying that Maple Syrup follows on this list. Canada produces 71% of the world’s maple syrup and 90% of that is from Québec alone. Foreigners never fully understand our obsession with maple syrup, but I’m telling you to drizzle some of that sugary goodness on your pancakes, bacon or breakfast sausage and you’ll question how you’ve made it this far in life without it.
Our trademark dish! For those of you who don’t know what poutine is. It is French fries, gravy and last but certainly not least…..cheese curds! *drooooooool* Cheese curds have a rubbery and sort of bouncy texture to them. It is to DIE for when it melts from being doused in hot gravy. We have many variations of poutine such as “hamburger” poutine, to “cheesy lobster” poutine but I recommend starting out with an original and expanding your palate from there. This fatty food gives us lots of cushioning in order to survive our harsh winters! … Or so that’s what we like to tell ourselves ;)
3 - How would you describe the Canadian Temper?
For the most part, I would say the stereotype of Canadians being very polite is accurate. We generally try to avoid any sort of confrontation and try to be as pleasant as possible. We value treating others with respect and using our manners. Some may see us as a little bit reserved.
Though there seems to be a different take on French Canadian culture. Not to say that they are not respectful but they can come across as much more enthusiastic and direct in their approach. Sometimes said they lack a filter and can passionately express what is on their mind.
4 - If I want to give a nice present to a Canadian I should get...
Generally, when gifting somebody a “thank you” present, we would give them a case of beer. Or going over to someone’s house for dinner, you would generally bring along a bottle of wine as a gift to share.
5 - What's considered polite in Canada?
Holding the door for someone behind you. Saying thank you when someone holds the door for you (this is very important). Acknowledging others (saying hello), thanking the bus driver when you get off.
A major one is saying “You’re welcome”. It drives Canadians nuts when we take a trip down to visit our neighbors’ and hear as a response to our thanks... “uh huh”. YOU’RE WELCOME IS VERY IMPORTANT!
6 - What's rude?
Cutting people off in traffic. Cutting in line for groceries, waiting for the bus, etc.
Not holding the door for someone (includes elevators).
It is custom to stand on the right side when taking an escalator in order to leave space for anyone who would like to walk up. If you stand on the left side and block that passageway that is considered very rude.
We generally just don’t have very much tolerance for any lack of respect or manners.
7 - When in Canada, visitors should definitely eat & drink...
Okay! Here is a list of some of the most Canadian foods I can think of! I am giving you fair warning for the mouthwatering experience you are about to indulge in.
Again, our signature dish! This is a must try! Hit up the Québécois chain restaurant La Belle Province (La Belle Pro for short) to have a life-changing French fry experience!
Montreal Smoked Meat sandwiches
Brace yourselves for a MOUNTAIN of smoked brisket seasoned with “Montréal spice mix” slabbed between two pieces of rye bread with mustard. YUM
Essentially a “Canadian Bloody Mary”. Let me walk you through the ingredients of this cocktail. To start – the rim of your glass is coated in lime juice and celery salt. You add vodka, Worcestershire sauce, and horseradish. Fill the rest of the glass with Clamato juice. What is Clamato juice you say?? Well, Clamato juice is tomato juice, flavored with spices and clam broth. You heard it CLAM BROTH! And garnished with a celery stick. (Sometimes pepperoni or other treats as well)
As unappetizing as this may sound. We LOVE them! So you definitely need to add this to your tab when out for brunch!
This isn’t as cruel as it sounds (I promise!) A beaver tail is a piece of fried dough topped off with sugar and cinnamon, or Nutella or sprinkles! A delicious treat especially on a cold winter day!
Nova Scotia is world famous for their lobster! They have some of the most fertile lobster fishing grounds on the planet! It is normally prepared as simply as possible and served with melted butter and lemon!
Salmon & Bannock
Over on the West Coast of British Columbia, we are famously known for our salmon. Whether it be smoked and seasoned with maple syrup, turned into jerky or served traditionally grilled on a cedar plank. This is a MUST! Indigenous communities tend to serve their salmon with an array of veggies and bannock. Bannock is a simple flatbread, that was originally brought over by the settlers and then Canadian First Nations transformed it into one of their traditional foods.
Tire d’érable (Maple taffy)
Going to “la Cabane à Sucre” or “sugar shack” in English is truly one of the most Canadian experiences you can have. These are small cabins in the woods of Québec where they collect sap from maple trees and boil it down to maple syrup. They’re best to visit in the winter or early spring. Here you can try “la tire d'érable” or “maple taffy” by pouring hot maple syrup directly on to the snow and letting it cool down and get sticky. Then you take a popsicle stick, wrap the sticky maple syrup on to it and… voilà!!! Tire d'érable!
Tim Horton was a hockey player who played for the Toronto Maple Leafs back in the 50’s – 70’s. He opened his first doughnut shop back in 1964 and since it has become a staple Canadian fast food chain! Tim Hortons are everywhere! Even most Canadian small towns have a Tim Hortons. They are infamous for their “Timbit” which is basically just a doughnut hole. But damn are they good!
A pickleback is simple. You take a shot of whiskey followed by a shot of pickle juice. Sounds nasty but it works! Personally, I think it’s the best chaser you can find!
Sushi & Asian food in general
As mentioned earlier Canada is a very diverse country. We take pride in that we are influenced by cultures from all over the world. Which also means we have some pretty high-quality ethnic foods. Vancouver is known to be one of the “Sushi Capitals of North America”. It is very common to go out for Vietnamese Pho, Chinese Dim Sum, Japanese Ramen, Korean BBQ, and Thai Food. This is a major part of Canadian culture.
8 - How do Canadians socialize?
For the most part, Canadians socialize over food and beer! We’re known for catching up with friends at local microbreweries or hitting up the sports bar to watch the hockey game together!
Canadians are great storytellers! Canadians tend to share stories back and forth of their experiences. Particularly the east coast Maritime Provinces are known for telling detailed, elaborate, generally pretty funny stories.
9 - At what time do people eat dinner?
For the most part, Canadians eat dinner anywhere between 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm.
10- Any other customs or quirky details about Canada travelers should know before going?
I’ve listed some important Canadian slang and their definitions!
Loonie: What we call our $1 coin. It has a loon bird on it, hence “loonie”.
Toonie: What we call our $2 coin. I guess we just decided to rhyme it?
Double-double: A Tim Hortons' coffee with 2 cream and 2 sugar.
Toque: Pronounced “toohk” this refers to a winter hat or beanie.
Mickey & 2/6: A Mickey is a flask of alcohol (375ml) and a 2/6 (two six) is a standard 750ml bottle of booze.
Keener: A “keener” is someone is very eager or an overachiever.
Chirping or beaking: To make fun of someone or call someone out.
Give’r: To put in a lot of effort.
Gong show: A situation that is out of control, generally referring to a party.
Going ham: Refers to going hard or getting crazy
Well... I reckon Courtney and Jon have gone ham with this! If you enjoyed this Cultural Etiquette in Canada article Courtney wrote for you, check her Slam poetry videos on youtube!
Leave me your comment! Please consider that by no means this article covers all there is to Cultural Etiquette in Canada. This is a fun way to showcase how fascinating cultures can be! And also, how important it is to be mindful when traveling to Cultures we don't know much about!