Canadian cultural values and beliefs

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Canadians are known to be some of the most polite, tactful, and peace-loving human beings on the planet. In fact, a stereotypical Canadian is depicted as one who apologizes despite not being at fault. To a certain extent, this is true. The society greatly values tolerance, humility as well as non-violence.

To be sure, Canadians have individual traits and quirks. However, the following are 10 more cultural norms generally observed in Canadian society. These are what they value highly and underlie many of their behaviours. Having an idea of these will help you have a deeper understanding of Canadians and guide you in your own cultural immersion.

  1. Egalitarianism

    In an egalitarian society, people are deemed equal. This is why the hierarchy is not very evident. Everyone is deserving of equal rights and opportunities in this society regardless of gender, age, race or beliefs.

  2. Informality

    Most Canadians are casual in dress and language. You will notice that there are no strict dress codes in the workplace (unless you work in a bank or law office). Clothes are informal to casual. Generally, everyone is on a first-name basis. Even seniors (or superiors) are addressed by their first names. However, when meeting a person for the first time, it would be safe to address them by Mr./Mrs./Ms. (or a professional title like Dr.) and their last name. More often than not, they will tell you that you may address them by their first name especially when you become more familiar with one another.

  3. Order and space

    Canadians value order and preserving their personal space. They also value personal privacy. It will be wise to keep away from discussions of salary, family life, weight, religion and other personal topics. It is also understood that a person has rights over his/her own property, so make sure to ask permission before using anything that is not yours. Disruptive behavior, such as cutting in line, speaking out of turn, shouting, talking loudly are definitely frowned upon. Decorum is part of keeping order and respecting other people’s space.

  4. Individualistic yet community-oriented

    Canadians are highly aware of their responsibility to the community. Despite being individualistic in terms of personal values (such as guarding personal space), contributing to the betterment of the community is a priority. Canadians get involved by volunteering, donating, and by generally maintaining pride and affinity for their community.

  5. Punctuality

    Being on time is highly valued in Canada. Punctuality is a sign of respect. Everyone is expected to arrive on time or at least 5-10 minutes earlier. Similarly, deadlines are taken seriously. It is equivalent to honoring your commitments. It is also an indication of your integrity.

  6. Respect

    This trait often manifests itself through politeness, punctuality, tolerance and social order. It is considered harassment to talk disparagingly about a person’s looks, beliefs, age, gender and status in life. Most of the time, communication is moderately indirect as an effort to be polite and diplomatic. However, Canadians may openly disagree, but tactfully. Do take note that verbal communication is also pragmatic especially in the workplace. You are expected to be clear and direct, not to “beat around the bush” and speak up for yourself.

  7. Multiculturalism and diversity

    Historically, Canada began developing into a strong nation by welcoming immigrants. Today, it continues to value the richness and diversity that various cultures contribute to society. In 1971, Canada became the first country in the world to adapt multiculturalism as an official policy. This affirmed people’s rights to maintain their unique cultural identity and promoted cross-cultural understanding and harmony.

  8. Political correctness

    Political correctness is refraining from saying or doing things that exclude, insult or marginalize groups of people. And because Canada is diverse and multicultural, knowing how to be politically correct is essential in order to live harmoniously with everyone.

  9. Regionalism

    Most Canadians are said to have an affinity to their province or region, sometimes more than their country. According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, “regional identities were formed after Europeans settled across the continent among distinct First Nations tribes. Today, regionalism is expressed in various provincial identities, in our economy, and in the daily textures of life in different parts of the land.” These may be generalizations but it is said that the Atlantic provinces (the Maritimes and Newfoundland and Labrador) are somewhat reserved and old-fashioned; Ontario is business-like and conservative; people in Western Canada (Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan) are seen as open and friendly; British Columbia is unconventional and progressive; Quebec is distinct and autonomous; and the North (Yukon, the Northern Territories and Nunavut) has a strong pioneering spirit.

  10. Love for the environment

    Canadians bear a strong pride in their rich and bountiful resources and have 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.

Article updated July 20, 2021.
Sources: Cultural Information-Canada; Commisceo Global, Canadian Cultures, University of Winnipeg; and Regionalism, The Canadian Encyclopedia. Accessed and updated November 6, 2018.

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