Canada is the second largest country in the world by land mass, but it’s estimated that as many as 75 percent of the nation’s 35 million residents live within 100 miles of the border it shares with the United States. A former colony of both the French and the British, Canadian culture involves plenty of carryover from those two nations as well as the indigenous people groups and immigrants who have called Canada home over the years.
The result is a highly nuanced and friendly culture that’s so polite, we’d likely never tell you if we spied you committing some egregious cultural faux pas. Whether you’re a first-timer planning a trip to Niagara, or you’ve been here dozens of times before, here are some of the truths about Canadian culture you may or may not know.
Canadian etiquette is similar to many other western and developed countries, but it gets expressed in ways that are uniquely Canadian. When you’re visiting Niagara, if you happen to make the acquaintance of a Canadian — and you probably will as Canadians really are amazingly friendly — keep in mind the following:
- Greetings and introductions should include handshakes with strong grips and good eye contact.
- Take your shoes off and leave them at the entrance whenever you enter someone’s house.
- Use titles or last names when addressing someone, as first names are generally reserved for close friends and family.
- If invited to a dinner party, bring flowers, high-quality wine, chocolates, or all three as a gift.
- Give people plenty of physical space in conversation.
Because of the wide variety of people who visit Canada and call it home, Canadians tend to be a pretty progressive and welcoming bunch. Universal health care, a commitment to sustainable agriculture, legal same-sex marriage, the abolition of capital punishment, religious freedom — these realities and others like them show Canadians’ commitment to progressive ideals.
When you visit Niagara, especially if you come from a major city in the United States, you’ll notice there is less honking and aggressive driving on the roadways. Canadians are also quick to take responsibility, apologizing for slightly brushing anyone on a sidewalk or in a grocery. Harsh words are so rarely exchanged between people in public that some Canadians would say it never happens.
Hockey is the one religion in Canada that you can always talk about in any kind of company. If you’re unfamiliar with the sport before you come for a visit, just talk with a local long enough, and we’ll fill you in on everything from the local high school team’s record to NHL trades and rule changes. Almost everyone has a favorite team and almost every Canadian can ice skate well, too — a reality that’s evidenced by Edmonton’s plan to build an ice skating “highway” for people to use when commuting to work.
While Canadian culture is often subtle enough to go unnoticed, keep these guidelines and touchstones in mind while you’re in Niagara, and you’ll fit in as one of the locals.