How To Communicate With Canadians

In general, there is an unspoken code of decorum that has to be observed in public places and which can only be broken in big gatherings such as an outing to a restaurant.

canadiandecorum_mediumLocal* Perspective - Canadians jealously guard personal space and privacy, making them very reserved people. It takes a while for them to warm up to newcomers, but this does not mean that Canadians are not welcoming. They are quite civil and polite. Thus a first contact will almost never include discussion on personal aspects of their lives, such as earnings, weight, diets, health conditions, etc. This may change as the relationship develops or if it fits with the purpose of the meeting.

When lining up in a public place, the bank for instance, Canadians require at least 14 inches of space and some people need more. This rule should be applied when speaking to Canadians, especially if the speaker is a man addressing a woman. Men and women need and protect their space, sometimes with an active signal or else with more subtle body language that has to be monitored at all times. The rules vary from province to province, eg: in Quebec people may not need as much personal space, and touching is more common. Typically, people from Quebec greet each other using more physical signs such as hugs and kisses and may offer kisses on the cheek to newcomers after a few encounters.

Men tend to gesture more while conversing than women, and young people more than older people. In general; there is an unspoken code of decorum that has to be observed in public places and which can only be broken in big gatherings such as an outing to a restaurant. Making eye contact is a sign of respect and sincerity. It also signals a real engagement between speakers. Most of the issues of communication, especially tone of voice, directedness, and even making eye contact are inscribed in a complex dynamics of gender and class; those with more prestige can afford to break the rules and have the licence to initiate or limit the degree of expression in the interaction.

* Local designates a person born in Canada as opposed to a person of Canadian origin.

Canadian Perspective - Canadians differ from one another. Ethnic background and place of residence are important factors in determining peoples’ level of comfort with touching and gestures.

In general, however, Canadians expect a high degree of respect for public and especially for private property and space. Canadians generally have a very strong sense of space (no more or less than an arm’s length); particularly when speaking or dealing with strangers. It is best to carefully observe each person’s degree of comfort with touching and their preference for personal space.

Canadians will not necessarily maintain constant eye contact, but it is considered a sign of dishonesty or insecurity if a person refuses to or is reluctant to make eye contact.

Also scorned are some personal habits associated with other cultures such as clearing one’s throat aggressively, not wearing deodorant, burping in public, slurping, chewing with one’s mouth open or spitting.

Canadians usually shake hands with both men and women, particularly in a public or professional setting. In some cases, especially among friends in French-speaking circles, men and women will often give each other a kiss on each cheek. In English Canada, good friends will sometimes hug each other. Generally, men do not touch other men beyond the standard handshake unless they have reached a fairly high level of comfort with that person or they are playing sports. This rule is similar for contact between men and women. Women are less bound by these rules. However, holding hands and repeated or prolonged physical contact is reserved for ’intimate’ and/or exclusive relationships or family (ie: not between friends). Family members will often maintain close physical contact with young children.

Many Canadians find a lot of hand movement while talking distracting or even annoying; some see it as a sign of insecurity. Nevertheless, Canadians may expect people of other cultures to use more hand movements and gestures. Mentioning the possible difference may be a way of gauging peoples’ responses.

One gesture to avoid is waiving the index finger from side to side. This is normally used with children and means, "no, you can’t do that".

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PHOTO: sfllaw

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