Culture: Common People’s Behaviors Misunderstood In Canada
We all know manners. When we were kids, our parents told us how we must act. In other words, what we should do or say to appear polite and well bred.
Except one little thing: our parents grew up in different parts of the world. In various cultures people approach other people – marry, eat dinners, say hi, show love, give gifts, etc. – in millions of ways which seem pretty normal at home. Here, in Canada, it all meets. Maybe you yourself have already experienced a couple of situations where you could not believe your eyes or ears.
For example, for someone from Bulgaria a head-nod means NO and a shake means YES. That’s why we all must—please! – keep an open mind. We write about it not to judge or say that someone is more polite or less polite than another person. It’s all about how funny life can be.
Here are some other examples:
- You saw the movie Meet the Parents? Imagine you visit your friend’s house and the whole family gives you hugs and at least two kisses. Don’t file sexual harassment charges. Most of the world expresses their welcome this way. Russians kiss three times and hug each other even if they are going to meet again later that day. Italians are pretty much the same. I talked to a Muslim woman from Uganda – touching people to introduce yourself is no big deal there as well.
- When you are pushed on the subway in Toronto, don’t expect a person to say “I am sorry”. In some countries it’s a good gesture to give you a reassuring back-slap (pat) that might mean something like “Oh, buddy, don’t worry, you are gonna be OK”.
- One of my Canadian friends was very surprised once: he agreed to meet his Brazilian friend at 1 pm to do some serious research in healthcare. When two hours later his business buddy showed up after an excellent lunch, relaxed and without any remorse, my friend was smart enough to speak freely with him about the incident. It turned out (forgive me, Brazilians) that it’s normal to take time and siesta (siesta – a nice little sleep in the middle of the day) and in general not to worry if the day’s schedule does not work out.
- The most weird things happen with engagements and marriages between families with different ethnic backgrounds. I’ve heard that in North America traditionally it’s the relatives of a bride who organize and pay for a ceremony. The groom’s responsibility is to buy a ring and suit for himself, take care of a car and see that his family arrives at the wedding. Hindu weddings traditionally take place in a bride’s home and her parents present gifts to the groom (in the context of religious blessings). But most girls with a Slavic European background would never marry someone if he cannot or will not pay for the wedding. It is considered to be a very bad match and parents of a bride would be ashamed even to invite their relatives—if such a wedding ever happened at all. Also, pay close attention to a gift choice. A nice knife set might look great on the North American wedding gift table but in Asian countries it means a bad luck.
- We all eat. Hispanic cultures normally eat a big meal in the early afternoon. When you are invited for an evening meal it might be a good idea to have dinner before coming. Or just ask. Sitting at the table with someone with an Asian background can be a surprise as well: it is good manners to make a big slurping sound when eating great noodles. If a person does not like a meal you are probably going to hear an elaborate excuse as to why he is not eating.
This is only a glimpse of everyday Canadian life. It teaches us a valuable lesson: take time to learn about different traditions, talk to people that you work and live with openly about why they act certain ways. Approach people in a loving, friendly way. We have a unique opportunity in this country, each and everyone of us, to become a part of our world’s history and culture.