A multitude of languages are spoken in Canada. According to the 2006 census, English and French are the preferred language ("home language", or language spoken most often in the home) of 67.1% and 21.5% of the population, respectively. English and French are recognised by the Constitution of Canada as "official languages," which means that all laws of the federal government are enacted in both English and French and that federal government services are required to be available in both languages.The five most widely-spoken non-official languages are Chinese (the home language of 2.6% of Canadians), Punjabi (0.8%), Spanish (0.7%), Italian (0.6%), and Arabic (0.5%).
Canadian Society and Culture
Canada is culturally diverse. This goes back to the 1890s when it began inviting people from all over the world to settle in the country to help it develop and grow. Canadian immigration policy was historically open, welcoming and egalitarian in its philosophy. This has also manifest into the psyche of the nation where people are encouraged and to retain their cultural identities, traditions, languages and customs.
Individuals concerned with the group
Canadians are generally a tolerant, polite and extremely community-oriented people. Although they are individualistic in terms of their basic cultural traits, they nevertheless place a great deal of emphasis on the individual's responsibility to the community. This is seen as giving balance and a good quality of life.
Most Canadians have a strong allegiance to their province or region, sometimes more so than to the country. There are some broad differences between regions, which can generally be summed up as follows:
- Atlantic Provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland): The people are somewhat reserved and provincial, to the point that they are seen as old-fashioned.
- Ontario: This is the business hub and the people tend to be business-like and conservative.
- Western Canada (Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan): The people are open, friendly and relaxed.
- British Colombia: The people are less conventional. This province is often viewed as the Canada of the future.
- Quebec: The French region, has a distinct cultural identity. The people are extremely regionalistic/independent.
- North: The people have a strong pioneer spirit.
Meeting and Greeting
- The most common greeting is the handshake.
- It should be firm and accompanied by direct eye contact and a sincere smile.
- Wait until invited before using someone's first name although Canadians tend to move to a first-name basis rapidly.
- French Canadian friends may greet each other by lightly kissing on the cheeks (once on the left cheek and once on the right).
- If using French in Quebec always use the formal pronoun "vous" (you) when speaking to someone and do not switch to the informal "tu" unless invited to do so.
- In general, Canadians give gifts for birthdays and Christmas.
- If invited to someone's home for dinner, take a box of good chocolates, flowers or a bottle of wine.
- In Quebec, sending flowers in advance of the dinner party is proper protocol.
- In Quebec, if you give wine, make sure it is of the highest quality you can afford.
- Do not give white lilies as they are used at funerals.
- Do not give cash or money as a present.
- Gifts are usually opened when received.
- Table manners are relatively relaxed and informal in Canada.
- Quebec does see a little more formality.
- Table manners are generally Continental, i.e. the fork is held in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating.
- Wait to be shown to your seat.
- Do not begin eating until the hostess starts.
- Do not rest your elbows on the table.
- Feel free to refuse individual foods or drink without offering an explanation.
- Leaving a small amount at the end of the meal is generally acceptable.
- In formal situations, the host gives the first toast. An honoured guest should return the toast later in the meal. Women may give toasts.
Meeting and Greeting
Canadian businesspeople often begin relationships in a reserved manner; once people get to know one another is becomes friendly and informal.
- Canadians appreciate politeness and expect others to adhere to the proper protocol for any given situation.
- Shake hands with everyone at the meeting upon arrival and departure.
- Maintain eye contact while shaking hands.
- Men may offer their hand to a woman without waiting for her to extend hers first.
- Honorific titles and surnames are usually not used.
- However, academic titles are important in Quebec and are used with the honorific Monsieur or Madame.
- Business cards are exchanged after the initial introduction.
- In Quebec, have one side of your business card translated into French. Hand the card so the French side faces the recipient.
- Examine any card you receive before putting it in your card case.
It is difficult to specify any national trait in terms of communication in Canada due to its regionalism and cultural diversity. However, there are some basic communication styles that are fairly standard across the country. For example, businesspeople are generally polite, easy-going and somewhat informal.
In general, communication is” moderately indirect” perhaps reflecting an amalgamation of both North American and British tendencies. Although most Canadians can disagree openly when necessary, they prefer to do so with tact and diplomacy. Their communication style is essentially pragmatic and relies on common sense. If you come from a culture where communication is very direct, you may wish to soften your demeanour and tone so as not to appear threatening.
Communication styles vary most between Anglophone and Francophone parts of the country. Francophones are generally more indirect than Anglophones, although less so than the French. They also tend to be more exuberant than Anglophones. Anglophones do not generally interrupt someone who is speaking. They consider it rude not to let a person complete their thought before entering the discussion. Francophones are more likely to interrupt another speaker.
Canadians communicate more by the spoken word rather than non-verbal expressions. Non-verbal expressions are only really used to add emphasis to a message or are part of an individual’s personal communication style.
Canadians like their space and prefer to be at an arm’s length when speaking to someone.
Canadians are reticent to discuss their personal lives with business associates. They expect people to speak in a straightforward manner and to be able to back up their claims with examples. They do not make exaggerated claims and are suspicious of something that sounds too good to be true.
Canadians begin meetings with a minimal amount of small talk although one should expect to spend a few minutes exchanging pleasantries and the like. In Quebec there may be more time spent on relationship-building.
Meetings are generally well-organized and adhere to time schedules. They tend to be informal and relaxed in manner even if the subjects being discussed are serious. When meeting with Anglophones, meetings may seem more democratic as all participants will engage and contribute. Meetings with Francophones, due to a greater respect for hierarchy and position, may revolve more around the most senior attendees.
Meetings in Canadian companies are used to review proposals, make plans, brain-storm and communicate decisions. Attendees will generally represent a variety of levels and experiences; all are expected to express opinions.
When presenting information, it is important to have facts and figures to substantiate claims and promises. Canadians are essentially rational and logical and thus they will not be convinced by emotions, passion or feelings.