As a newcomer experiencing Canada for the first time, there may be some cultural differences you’re not familiar with. Adjusting to a new environment and culture can be difficult if you have no idea what to expect. In this article, we will share a few tips, resources and advice that will help you to better adapt to life in Canada and avoid culture shocks.
1. Be polite – use the words “please,” “sorry,” and “thank you” frequently
Canadians are known to be very polite – the words, ‘please,’ ‘sorry,’ ‘thank you,’ ‘may I,’ and ‘excuse me’ are frequently used in social settings and interactions. Being polite is valued and expected, even with strangers. Note that these common courtesies don’t necessarily signal a desire to be friendly; they’re merely a social standard.
Canadians use the word ‘sorry’ so much that in 2009 they had to pass an Apology Act in Ontario. It means that if any Canadian says ‘sorry’ at the time of a crime or incident, it won’t count as an admission of guilt – just an expression of sympathy. Without this, there’d probably be many apologetic Canadians in prison.
2. Be punctual
In Canada, punctuality is a sign of respect – everyone does their best to arrive on time for all personal, professional and social engagements. If you’re late, people will worry that something has happened to you or that you have forgotten about your appointment. It may also come across as being disrespectful. If you anticipate reaching late or if you cannot make it, social protocol dictates that you inform the host or meeting organizer about your change in schedule and remember to do this as much in advance as possible.
3. Network as much as you can
Canada is an attractive destination for talent from all across the world. Many candidates have relevant qualifications, compelling track records, and winning personalities. This makes Canada diverse and multicultural, with a competitive job market.
Tapping into the hidden job market and gathering valuable referrals are just two of the many benefits that networking offers; it also serves as a way to stand out from the competition and get noticed. The hidden job market refers to positions that are filled without the employer advertising them publicly. As much as 65-85 per cent of the jobs are not posted online, and approximately 40 per cent of positions are filled through a referral. This is why building your network in Canada can be very helpful in finding a job.
Tip: When reaching out to a connection to ask for a job referral, establish a “warm” connection first. Start by asking your contact to learn more about their career journey through an informational interview and share your learnings and experiences as well.
Resources to help you learn more about networking in Canada:
- How to build your network in Canada: The basics
- Where to build your network in Canada
- How to build your network: The coffee interview
- Coffee chats: Questions you should ask to network better
- 8 ways to meet new people and grow your network in Canada
4. Reach out to settlement services when you need help
Settlement services and agencies exist in Canada to provide free support to newcomers at every step of the newcomer journey. They are available in both pre- and post-arrival and are funded partially or fully by the Canadian government to promote the comfortable integration of newcomers into Canadian society.
Settlement services provide support in various areas, including career, housing, healthcare, immigration, education, and more. When you begin using settlement services in Canada, you may be connected with a settlement worker who will work with you one-on-one to support your settlement process.
Tip: You can also visit the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) website to learn about settlement agencies and newcomer centres in your area that offer free newcomer services near you.
Accessing settlement services in pre-arrival can fast-track your transition to Canadian life and help you adapt better. See Pre-arrival settlement services for newcomers to Canada for detailed information on various programs that may be available to you in your home country.
5. Familiarize yourself with cultural differences and keep an open mind
Canada is a diverse and multicultural nation – people from different countries, all with their unique values, traditions, faith, languages, food and cultures reside here. An important part of adapting to Canadian life is being open to learning about other cultures and making a conscious effort to live in harmony while acknowledging the differences that exist. Having a positive attitude and keeping an open mind is key to this transition. Remember that in Canada, everyone is treated equally and with respect, irrespective of their gender, occupation, race, religion, or sexual orientation. Therefore, you shouldn’t let any stereotypes, biases or prejudices influence your words and actions while interacting with others.
Respect personal space and privacy
Canadians value their personal space and privacy. It’s best to stay away from discussing topics related to salary, family life, weight, religion, political views, etc. Disruptive behavior such as cutting in line, speaking out of turn, shouting, talking loudly are frowned upon. And remember to always ask permission before using anything that’s not yours.
Allergies and sensitivities are common in Canada
Allergies are very common in Canada. It is estimated that one in 13 Canadians have at least one food allergy. Most prevalent food allergies include shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, milk, fish, egg, wheat, sesame, and soy. Hence, before offering food to someone, it is always advisable to check with them for allergies. Some people also have sensitivities. For instance, strong colognes and perfumes aren’t recommended because many people have sensitivities or allergies to strong scents.
6. Volunteer often
Volunteering is an integral part of Canadian culture. Children are encouraged to do it, and high school students must complete mandatory volunteer hours. Adults volunteer their time and skills at charities, non-profit organizations, political parties, religious faith organizations, youth groups, and many other places. According to Statistics Canada, in 2013, 44 per cent of the population, aged 15 years and older, participated in some form of volunteer work.
Volunteering involves giving personal time freely for the benefit of another person, group, or cause. It can help you –
- Build and grow your network: During your initial days or months as a newcomer in Canada, you may not know many people. Volunteering offers a forum to meet other like-minded individuals – newcomers and locals alike – and build your social and professional networks.
- Gain Canadian experience: Volunteering can help you bridge gaps in your work history while you look for a job and is a good way to gain the much-coveted, Canadian experience. Moreover, you can always ask the company you volunteered with to provide reference letters, which can be useful in your job applications. Volunteering also offers the opportunity to learn new skills and brush up on your English or French language skills.
- Integrate with Canadian society: Besides offering career-specific benefits, volunteering in non-traditional setups such as at your local religious/faith organization, at your child’s school, or at a park in your neighbourhood will help you broaden your social circle and smoothen your transition to Canadian life.
To discover the importance of volunteering in Canada, and learn how to find volunteering opportunities, read The benefits of volunteering as a newcomer in Canada.
7. Tipping for services is ingrained in Canadian life
Canada, like many other countries, has a prominent tipping culture. Tipping (also called, leaving gratuity) when receiving any services tells the staff how good you thought their service was. It is not mandatory but in certain situations it is customary and expected. Not tipping for services is considered rude.
Why tips matter
In Canada, service and hospitality industry workers (such as bartenders, servers, hairdressers, drivers, food delivery persons, etc.) are generally paid only minimum wage. Some provinces have a separate (lower) minimum wage for the hospitality industry: the expectation is that tips earned will make up the difference for these workers.
Who should you tip
It is common to tip when paying for services in the hospitality industry. This includes but isn’t limited to: restaurant wait staff, food or grocery delivery personnel, bartenders, coat check personnel, hotel staff (like, housekeeping, maids, bellhop, valet, and room service), hair stylists, beauticians and masseurs, taxi drivers and ride-share (Uber/Lyft) drivers.
Note: You are not expected to tip for counter service (e.g. at coffee shops and cafes – where you place an order over the counter, food trucks, ice cream shops, bakeries, etc.). You’ll often see tip jars at these places. You can tip if you receive good or exceptional service, but it isn’t expected.
Tip: Sometimes the tip may be automatically added to the bill; be sure to check that so you don’t tip twice.
Read Tipping in Canada: Things to know as a newcomer to learn how to calculate tips and get information on average tips for varied services.
8. Customize your resume and cover letter to the position you’re applying for
Merely having a one-page Canadian-style resume and cover letter isn’t enough. You should customize it to suit the job description and requirements of the position you are applying for. Tailor your work experience, skills, and any additional information to the role. Include keywords from the job posting and always start your sentence with relevant action verbs like spearheaded, achieved, managed, trained, etc. Also, remember to craft a compelling summary for your resume.
While working on your resume, avoid including very detailed information for each position you have held; you can share relevant details in the interview instead. Recruiters and hiring managers prefer seeing quantified accomplishments on resumes. The ‘CAR’ approach is a good way to help you structure individual sentences:
C = what was the Challenge,
A = what Action did you take, and
R = what the Result was.
For free, downloadable resume templates and more valuable tips on creating a stand-out resume and cover letter see, Canadian resume and cover letter: Format, tips, and templates.
9. Familiarize yourself with Canadian slang
You may have heard of the famous Canadian phrase ‘eh’ – some locals append it to the end of almost any sentence. Other popular slangs are:
- Toque = beanie (winter hat)
- $1 CAD coin = loonie
- $2 CAD coin = toonie
- Kilometre = klick or click
- 6ix = Toronto
- Timmies = Tim Hortons (chain of coffee shops)
- Double-double = a coffee with two milks and two sugars; only used at Tim Hortons
- Mickey = a 375 ml (26 oz) bottle of liquor
- Two-four = a case of 24 beers
- Pop = soda, a soft drink, or any flavored carbonated beverage
- That’s jokes = something is hilarious or funny
- Darts = cigarettes
- Mounties = The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)
- Parkade = a multi-story parking lot
- Washroom = Canadian term for a bathroom or restroom
- Beavertail = deep-fried dessert pastry resembling a beaver’s tail
10. Familiarize yourself with ice-breakers and small talk
It is very common for Canadians to open any conversation/meeting/coffee chat with small talk. So, don’t be shy to initiate small talk – it’s part of Canadian culture. You can chat about the weather, your hobbies, how you spent your weekend, things you do outside of work, food, fitness, your travel to the meeting location, or sports. Avoid sensitive topics such as politics, religion, physical appearance, or age.
As you settle in, common courtesy combined with curiosity will enable you to better understand Canadian culture. When in doubt or if you’re confused, it’s a good idea to ask people around you. Patience, understanding and immersion in local culture will help you to learn and adapt faster.
Clem Leveau-Vallier Head of Marketing
Clem Leveau-Vallier is a marketing professional with corporate and start-ups experience and a passionate supporter of newcomers to Canada.