The vast majority of Canadians claim European ancestry. Four in
nine Canadians claim some British ancestry and a little less than
one in three have some French ancestry. Eighty percent of the
residents in Quebec have French ancestry. Eighty percent of native
French speakers live in Quebec (the others are mostly in New
Brunswick, and parts of Ontario and Manitoba). Other European groups
include Italians, Germans and Ukrainians (especially in the prairie
Broadly speaking, Canada has been divided into two distinct
societies, one French-speaking (see "Quebec" below) and one
English-speaking. Because they don't form as cohesive a group as
French-speaking Canadians, only very general observations can be
made about English-speaking Canadians; they are generally thought of
(and consider themselves) more reserved, less aggressive and less
excitable than their neighbors to the south.
Most Canadians identify themselves very strongly with their
province. Canadians continue to wrestle with the question, "What
does it mean to be Canadian?" and take pains to differentiate
themselves from citizens of the United States.
Atlantic Canada (includes the Maritimes -- Nova Scotia, New
Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island -- and Newfoundland): Primarily
of British descent, the residents of the less prosperous Atlantic
provinces of eastern Canada are generally more reserved, stolid,
provincial and old-fashioned. Newfoundland is unique, with a dialect
and culture that draws comparisons with the Irish and the people of
Ontario: Residents of Canada's most populous province -- the
country's economic, political and cultural colossus -- are generally
thought of as more business-like and conservative than other
Western Canada (includes Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba):
Residents of Canada's western provinces are generally more open,
relaxed, friendly and direct than other Canadians (comparisons are
often made with inhabitants of the western United States).
British Columbia: Canada's unconventional westernmost province is
seen by Canadians as the land of the future, and has more in common
with Seattle than Toronto. Like many other western Canadians, many
residents of British Columbia feel somewhat estranged from
"easterners" (a general code word for those from Ontario and
Quebec (and other areas of Francophone Canada): French Canadians,
and especially the Québécois (or citizens of Quebec, pronounced
"keh-beck-wah") have a very strong sense of cultural identity and
are very nationalistic. The European influence is strongly felt in
Quebec, whose people consider themselves the "defenders of French
civilization in North America." Because of their animated good
nature, Québécois are sometimes called the "Latins of the North."
The North: Residents of the sparsely populated north are seen as
rugged embodiments of the Canadian pioneer spirit.
Meeting and Greeting
- In general, Canadians are more reserved and polite than
Americans, and take matters of etiquette a little more seriously.
- Shake hands and introduce yourself when meeting Canadians for
the first time. Always shake hands firmly when meeting or
departing. Eye contact is important.
- When a woman enters or leaves a room, it is polite for men to
rise. Men normally offer their hands to women.
- In Quebec, kissing on the cheeks in the French manner is quite
common. When close friends and family meet in Quebec, they use
first names and kiss both cheeks.
- An older French Canadian man may kiss the hand of a woman.
Accept this gesture graciously. A foreign man shouldn't kiss the
hand of a French Canadian woman, who would be quite shocked.
- Canadians are somewhat more formal than Americans with regard
to names and titles. Use last names and appropriate titles until
invited by your Canadian hosts or colleagues to use their first
names. First names are normally used only by close friends and
family. Western Canadians may use first names more frequently than
- In Quebec, coworkers of similiar status generally use first
names in private, but always last names in public. The formal
"you" is almost always used in a business setting, even after 20
- Academic titles and degrees are important to French Canadians.
You should know and use them properly.
- English and French are both official languages of business in
Canada. However, virtually all international business is conducted
- Most French Canadians speak and understand English, but prefer
to use French. Check ahead of time to find out if an interpreter
will be necessary.
- Generally speaking, Canadians are more reserved than
Americans. Canadians generally don't touch very much when
conversing. Maintaining a certain amount of personal space is
- French Canadians are generally more animated and expressive
than other Canadians.
- Take off your hat or sunglasses when speaking with someone.
- Some gestures have different meanings in Quebec. For example,
"thumbs down" is considered offensive in Quebec, as is slapping an
open palm over a closed fist. Like the rest of their countrymen
and women, French-Canadians use the "thumbs up" sign to mean
"okay. "The "okay" sign made with the index finger and thumb means
"zero" in Quebec.
- In Quebec, sit straight with your legs crossed at the knee, or
with your knees together. Don't sit with your legs apart, or with
your feet propped up on tables or chairs.
- It's considered bad form by many in Quebec to talk with your
hands in your pockets.
- Sneeze or blow your nose as quietly as possible using a
handkerchief or tissue. If possible, leave the room. Do not yawn
or scratch in public. Toothpicks, nail clippers, and combs are
never used in public.
- Punctuality is demanded for business meetings and social
occasions. If a conflict arises, you are expected to let your
Canadian counterpart know immediately. That said, Canadians are
not as obsessed with time as Americans.
- Business cards are commonly exchanged in Canada.
- For Quebec, print your business cards in English or French,
including your academic degree(s) and/or title. A double-sided
business card (one side in English, one side in French) is best.
- Canadians get down to business quickly. Meetings are
well-organized, and extraneous discussion is kept to a minimum. A
premium is placed on time.
- Business communication is quite direct in Canada, but more
reserved than in the United States. Letters and telephone calls
should be direct and succinct. Pleasantries are dispensed with
- Business culture varies somewhat throughout Canada, depending
on the region.
- Although the relationship between Canada and the United States
is generally quite good, some Canadians may be wary about the
intentions of American businesses and put off by what they
perceive as American arrogance. Some Canadians may dislike the
American "hard sell" approach.
Dining and Entertainment
- To beckon a waiter in Quebec, quietly to say "Monsieur" or
"S'il vous plait. Say "Mademoiselle" to beckon a waitress. Never
beckon a waiter or waitress by snapping your fingers or shouting.
- The host normally offers first toast. Wait until everyone is
served wine and a toast is proposed before drinking. It is
acceptable for women to propose a toast.
- Wine is normally served with meals in Quebec.
- In Quebec, it's considered bad form to ask for a martini or
scotch before dinner — French Canadians consider them "palate
numbing." Typical before-dinner drinks include Pernod, kir,
champagne, and vermouth. Cognac, Grand Marnier and/or other
liqueurs are served after dinner.
- Business entertainment is common, but the focus usually
remains on business. The person who invites is normally expected
- Etiquette and formalities are more important in Canada than in
the United States.
- While continental-style table manners are employed in Quebec,
American style table manners are seen in other parts of the
- Eating while walking or standing on the street in Quebec is
considered bad form.
- Never arrive early for a social occasion. Opt, instead, for
being "fashionably late." Showing up early at a bar or disco in
Quebec (at, say, 10 o'clock) immediately marks you as an "Anglo."
- Generally speaking, Canadians dress more conservatively (and
more formally when going out) than their American neighbors,
although practices vary by region. Dress in Vancouver, for
example, is somewhat more casual; in Toronto more British. French
Canadians dress in a more relaxed European style than their fellow
- For business meetings, men should wear suits and ties; women
should wear conservative suits or dresses.
- Bring flowers, fine wine or chocolates for the hostess when
invited to a Canadian home. Avoid red roses (associated with
romantic love) and white lilies (associated with funerals).
- Do your homework about Canada. Most Americans are appallingly
ignorant of Canadian history, culture and geography.
- Recognize that important regional differences exist in Canada
and prepare to adapt.
- When in Quebec, learn a little French; Québécois greatly
appreciate it when you take the effort to talk to them in their
- Do not compare Canada with the United States.
- Do not use the term "Native Americans" to refer to indigenous
peoples. Many Canadians find the term offensive. Canadians refer
to members of these groups as "people of the First Nations."
- Do not take sides in debates about contentious national issues
(especially when they concern such issues the status of Quebec,
the place of the French and English languages in Canadian society,