Canada is almost everyone’s idea of the “Promised Land” for so many different reasons. The most primary will be that Canada derives its culture from the combination of different immigrant cultures, so when many come in, they find it quite easy to simply blend in since they find bits and pieces of their own culture scattered throughout what is known as the Canadian culture. In fact, of most countries in the world, Canada has one of the lowest chances of giving its visitors a culture shock. As an international student, you’ll find it almost seamless blending with the culture. However, there are still a few things you ought to know just before you pack your bags to go.
This is probably the biggest challenge you’ll face in Canada as the country is a bilingual one, with many speaking French, or English or both. In fact, the second largest French speaking city in the world after Paris is in Canada and that’s Montreal. But worry not if that’s where you’ll be staying though, a number of them still speak English too; although, truth be told, you’ll be much better off if you can speak French cos it’s a predominantly French-speaking city.
Another city where you will experience a language barrier is Quebec. Quebec is way worse than Montreal when it comes to language. It’s predominantly a French-speaking city and differs a great deal from other parts of Canada in terms of culture. So, it’s pretty much aloof, even though after Ontario, it’s the next biggest city in Canada. In fact, the lingua franca in Quebec is French, and the town is very reminiscent of France. It has, many times, even tried to secede from Canada without success. Yeah… very stressful city… lol. So, if you’re to school in Quebec, you might want to go and brush up on your French, or even buy a French phrase book. If you aren’t schooling in Quebec though, then relax, tu est bien! Oops! I mean, you’re fine!
Rather than an integration of cultures that the American system adopts, Canada adopts a coexistence system instead. That is, each culture is allowed to exist in its own space unfettered; none is forced to imbibe another’s system by the virtue of staying together. Instead, every culture is given the freedom to do them fully. In spite of this though, Canada never allows the practice of any religious, ethnic, or cultural rites that do not work in tandem with their own democratic rules and values. Rites like the Sharia Law, female circumcision, polygamy, child marriage, wearing a niqab at work or public functions, or corporal punishment, are not permitted.
Remember that we said that Canadian culture is actually a hodge-podge of different kinds of cultures from various immigrant culture groups around the world, therefore, the cultural heritage and dynamics of the country differ city to city. Let’s see Toronto and Victoria for instance, they reflect a very strong British heritage, and you can guess why. Vancouver, on the other hand, is where you have the mix of the Indian and Asian cultures. Montreal, as we earlier pointed out, is French through and through. So, you see it’s a rich cultural mosaic.
Canadians are generally very cheerful people, maybe because there is no supreme culture and all cultures are given a space to thrive and develop a kind of mutual respect for, and camaraderie with one another, with none having the upper hand. So, be prepared to hear some self-deprecating jokes, a lot of friendly “how ya doin?”and a lot of warmth from the locals. Maybe because of the cold climate or just an innate kindness, most locals are welcoming and warm towards strangers. Unlike the U.S and Europe where immigrants are often times met with resentment and a bit of hostility sometimes, Canada is very welcoming and appears to be pretty much unconcerned about where you’re from. There’s a space for every culture to thrive in Canada. But then, don’t expect every stranger in the street to offer candy even without asking. Yes, they are kind but they aren’t your family. I hope you catch the drift.
Canada is incredibly large in land area, so going out can appear like traveling to another state in Nigeria. Especially if you live in clustered places like Lagos, you might see these distances as quite long. To give you an idea, traveling across Canada almost feels like traveling from UK to Saudi Arabia. Check your map, it is far. A good part of the North of Canada is hardly driven to at all. In fact, even within the town, it’s almost impossible to get around without a vehicle, so you might want to start thinking of getting one. But you might run into some luck if you reside in a large city where they have a public transport system similar to what you see in parts of Europe.
The weather is another tough one to battle in Canada; probably the toughest after the language barrier. The winters are usually long and many times, harsh (it is so very possible, and it happens, that the temperature drops to a zero. So just prepare yourself). And just like we have it here in Nigeria, the northern sides are at the receiving end of the harshest and most extreme cases of the winter blues. Cities found close to the U.S are usually luckier though, the weather is usually more clement and even somewhat enjoyable. Once winter is past though, you could literally say that the worst is over as summers are usually quite pleasant and lovely. If you find yourself in the East and West Coasts, then congratulations to you as these areas have been said to enjoy the mildest of conditions as concerns weather in Canada.
Meeting and Greeting
As in the U.S and other European countries, endeavour to use only titles and last names except when invited to do otherwise.
Staying in Quebec, you would find kissing once on each cheek as a form of greeting a regular occurrence, just like it’s done in France. Some older guys could even go as far as kissing a lady’s hand. It’s very normal in Quebec because of the prevalent French culture.
Shaking hands is very important in greeting Canadians. You are supposed to shake on meeting people, and shake them when you’re leaving. It’s only polite. And while shaking hands, be sure to maintain eye contact. Don’t worry. It’s not a sin over there.
Due to the amalgamation of American and British mannerisms, Canadians tend to be a little more pragmatic in their speech. You shouldn’t have issues with that as a Nigerian, as most Nigerians are typically political when speaking. So, they do not have the directness of the Americans, neither are they as diplomatic as the Brits; they appear to be somewhere in between.
You’d also find that the Anglophones tend to be less in your face and more indirect than the Francophone though. Just take it all in stride. So, typically, an Anglophone will let you finish with your statement before making a comment while it isn’t altogether strange for a Francophone to interject in between due to their exuberance.
Gifting is a big part of the Canadian culture and they gift on almost every occasion that requires gifting: birthdays, Christmas, etc. When going for a dinner where you were invited, it’s only expected that you take something with you, it could be flowers, chocolates, a bottle of wine, or any other thing you possibly can find. Now the rule to bringing flowers and wine are these: flowers cannot be white lilies as these are specifically for burials; and if you’re getting wine in Quebec, it has to be the best, else just forget it. Those guys have a taste for wine like their long-distant French cousins. You wouldn’t want to embarrass yourself by getting a gift that falls short in their eyes. Now, finally, on this note, unlike in Nigeria, money is never considered a present, and gifts will not be kept till the visitor has left before they are opened. They are opened the moment they are received.
Dining and Eating
Except you’re in Quebec, you’ll most likely not need to observe the formalities of eating at the table. Generally, you hold your cutlery continental style: that is with the fork on the left, tines facing down. You should wait till you’re shown your seat before deciding on where to sit, and you shouldn’t eat till the hostess has started. Make sure your elbows aren’t on the table and please, do not scrape every bite of food off your plate.
Please do not point at people. It’s a great thing that Nigeria has that culture too so I don’t think you should be caught dead doing such.
Canada is not the U.S as you have seen, and confusing both countries is not usually something to laugh about in Canada.
Please just leave Quebec and their separatist system alone. Avoid engaging in such discussions for your own sake.
Now, I believe we’ve given you a full rundown of all the major things you need covered before traveling to Canada. Like you have seen, what might be culture shock, is actually more of much else aside the actual culture itself, as the rich blend of different cultures that form the Canadian culture make Canada a very friendly place for international students.
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