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Living in Canada

Canadian Culture and Lifestyle

Whenever we have traveled to foreign countries we are amazed at the cultural differences.  We have prepared this article on Canadian culture and lifestyle so that intended immigrants to Canada can properly prepare for the cultural differences.



Newcomers to multicultural Canada are encouraged to maintain their homeland's culture and language, unlike most countries, where they are expected to blend into the existing socio-cultural fabric.

Although participating in your ethnic community is understandable, adjusting successfully to life in Canada is easier if you involve yourself in mainstream Canadian activities.



Canada is officially bilingual.  The federal government works in the two official languages - English and French.


Human Rights

Canada and its provinces have human rights laws to protect people against discrimination on the basis of race, sex, skin colour, disability, or sexual orientation.  If you feel you have been denied a job, place to live, or service in a restaurant or hotel for any of these reasons, you can complain to national or provincial human rights commissions.

Racial violence, child and spousal abuse, assault and threats of assault are against the law in Canada.  You can call the police if you or your child experience these injustices.



Canadians are increasingly concerned about the environment.  Residents value neighborhood trees and often resent those who remove them, regardless of property lines.  People who litter may be fined.

Many Canadians take pride in maintaining green laws, hedges, and colorful flower gardens, which give their homes an attractive setting.

Canadians routinely recycle newspapers, cans and bottles by means of door-to-door pickup or recycling depots.  Many municipalities distribute recycling contains (called "Blue Boxes") to households for curbside pickup.  Deposits are paid for returnable beer and soft drink cans and bottles.


Legal Smoking Age

You must be of legal smoking age to purchase cigarettes in Canada.  The legal age is 19 in British Columbia and Ontario; 18 in Alberta and Quebec, and 16 in Manitoba.

Storeowners are legally obliged to refuse to sell to cigarettes to children.



Canadian currency is based on the decimal system.  One hundred cents equals one dollar ($).

Paper money is printed in $5, $10, $20, $50, $100, and larger bills.  Commonly used coins are:

  • Penny: $0.01
  • Nickel: $0.05
  • Dime: $0.10
  • Quarter: $0.25
  • Loonie: $1.00
  • Two-nie: $2.00

Quarters and looneys are widely used for street parking meters, public telephones, and coin-operated newspaper and laundry machines.

Canada's central bank, the Bank of Canada, is the federal institution responsible for the country's monetary policy.  Because Canadian currency is not fixed to other foreign currencies, its value rises and falls according to market conditions.


Telephone Books

There are two types of telephone directories:  the White Pages and the Yellow Pages.  These books offer a wealth of information, particularly to newcomers.

The White Pages list names, addresses, and telephone numbers of residences and businesses.  The front pages provide valuable information about telephone services, long distance calling, community organizations, and a list of numbers to call in emergencies (including the police, fire department and ambulance). 

The Grey or Blue Pages (located at the back of the White Pages) list government offices for Canada, for your province, and for your city of municipality.

The Yellow Pages list businesses by type (such as Lawyers, Physicians, Plumbers, etc.)  The front pages may provide useful information about your city, such as transit route guides.

Ethnic business directors may also be available in a particular city.  For information call your local public library, or community organization.



Canada Post operates post offices and smaller postal outlets in stores throughout the country.

Postage costs vary depending on size and weight.  If you mail a parcel out of Canada, you must fill out a customs form declaring how much is in the parcel and its value.  Canada Post also offers insurance on parcels and letters, registered mail, and express delivery services.

For more information, or to locate the post office nearest you, look in the White Pages telephone book under "Canada Post Corp."




Credit References

Many Canadian businesses ask for credit references.  They will probably request such information as your address and telephone number.  Social Insurance Number, employer's name and address, names and telephone numbers of several references, and your bank's name and account number (so that they may make a credit check with your bank).

In addition to credit references, employer and personal references are considered very important in Canada.  Newcomers must become part of the community in order to acquire good references.


Personal Identification

In Canada, the family name is a formal identification and used in lists such as the telephone book.  It is also called a "last' name or "surname".  The "first" or "given" name is more familiar and used by friends, family members, and business associates.


Canadian Families

Most Canadian families have no more than two children and many are headed by a single parent.  It is quite common for Canadian couples to live together even if they are not married and this type of relation is legally recognized as a "common-law" marriage.

Increasingly, both parents in two-parent families work, as two incomes are often required to maintain a reasonable standard of living.  Most Canadian couples cannot afford nannies, so they rely on daycare for their children while they are at work.



Daycare provides part- or full-day supervision of children from the age of six weeks to 13 years.  Children under 12 may not be left at home without adult supervision.

Go find daycare services, consult the Yellow Pages under "Daycare Centres".  It's also a good idea to ask other parents.



(particularly dogs) may have to be licensed and/or wear identification tags in Canada.  To check the rules in your city, call the Animal Shelter or Pound listed in the municipal Blue Pages of your telephone book.

"Veterinarians" are listed in the Yellow Pages.


Grocery Shopping

The majority of Canadians cite food, transportation, and shelter as their three greatest expenses. 

Most people shop weekly for food and other household items at supermarkets.  Many stores advertise weekly "specials" (items at reduced prices) in inserts of local newspapers or flyers delivered to your home.  Because prices vary from store to store, you can save money by comparing prices.  Weekly food expenses can be reduced in the following ways:

  • buy in-store specials in quantity
  • buy products "in bulk"
  • buy fruits and vegetables in season
  • use discount coupons (found in newspapers, magazines, and internet)

Many ethnic foods, such as Chinese , are readily available in grocery stores located in ethnic neighborhoods, such as Chinatown.


Social Skills

It is essential to be on time for business appointments and not later than half-an-hour for social events.  If you must be late, a telephone call stating your expected time of arrival is appreciated.

Canadians are accustomed to more personal space than in some other countries.  For example, people using Automated Bank Machines expect the next person in line to stand a few feet behind them.  Pushing and shoving are considered extremely discourteous.

People routinely line up or "queue up" for movies, cash registers, bank tellers, and buses.  Even without a formal queue, expect to be served on a "first come, first served" basis.  Be patient when waiting to be served.  Canadians strongly resent people who push ahead in line.

Common courtesies such as holding open doors for the person behind you are appreciated.

You may experience the pace of life in Canada as slower than in your home country.  Even within Canada, many people notice a difference between fast-paced Toronto and more relaxed Vancouver.  In many Canadian stores or business establishments, for example, "good" service tends to be defined as friendly, rather than as fast or efficient.  You may have to allow more time for your shopping, banking, and other services.



The following are some common Canadian social practices, which may differ from those in your country:

  • Don't be surprised if people smile and say "hi" despite the fact that they do not know you.
  • They often ask "How are you?" as part of a greeting and shake hands when they meet you for the first time.  Most people simply replay, "Fine, thanks".
  • It is polite to say "please" and "thank-you" when purchasing goods or receiving information and "Excuse me", "Sorry", or "Pardon me" if you accidentally bump into someone.
  • "Have a nice day" is often used to end a conversation.
  • Most Canadians try to be tactful in their dealings with others.  They generally avoid loud discussions and argument in public places.  Most respond to public conflicts, such as car accidents, by trying to stay calm.
  • It is considered offensive for strangers to speak in another language about others in their presence.  Tone of voice and eye contact can signal to them that they are being talked about.  It is extremely impolite to stare.
  • Newcomers should respond to the attitudes and expectations of long-time Canadians calmly without overreacting.  Many seemingly "racist" reactions may simply indicate unawareness, curiosity, or surprise.  Try not to take offence quickly or jump to the conclusion that discrimination is being shown.


Being a Dinner Guest

When someone invites you to his or her home for dinner or the evening it is common to take an inexpensive gift such as flowers, chocolates, or a bottle of wine.  Ask the host or hostess what time to arrive and whether to dress casually or formally.  For casual events, dinner guests often ask if they may prepare something for the meal, such as a dessert.

The hostess customarily begins her meal before anyone else.  Always offer main dishes to others before serving yourself.  Most Canadians appreciate directness.  If you prefer not to eat something, simply say , "No, thank you".  If you want something which is passed to you, accept it by saying "Thank you".

Toward the end of the evening be alert for lulls in the conversation or signs of fatigue from your host and hostess, indicating that it is time to leave.

A few days after a dinner party, a telephone call or note to thank the host of hostess is much appreciated.  It is good manners to reciprocate with a dinner invitation to your hosts in a few weeks.


Dining Out

Most restaurants in Canada have smoking and non-smoking sections, except in cities where smoking in restaurants is not allowed.

Restaurants charge 7% Goods and Sales Tax (GST).  Gratuities are not included in the bill, but it is customary to tip 15% for good service.

When several people dine out together, each person usually pays his or her own share.  If unsure, you may ask politely after the bill is paid, "How much do I owe you?"

If you plan to dine out at a formal or very popular restaurant, it is wise to call the restaurant ahead of time and make reservations.

Except in formal restaurants, people often ask the waiter to put remaining food in a container (called a "doggie bag") so that they can finish it at home.