Canadian Culture

Etiquette

Basic Etiquette
  • Always say “please” when asking someone for help.
  • It is often considered impolite to ask a direct question about someone’s salary, wealth, weight or age. Asking personal questions about one’s marriage or relationship can also be seen as an invasion of privacy. Similarly, some people become very uncomfortable when asked about their political affiliations or who they voted for.
  • Spitting in public is considered rude.
  • If there is a line for something, always queue and wait for your turn.
  • To call over a waiter or person of service, do not wave or yell. Instead, keep an eye out for them until they make eye contact, and then nod or raise your hand. You can also gently say “excuse me” as they pass by.
  • Loudly clearing one’s throat can be seen as antagonising.
  • Yelling and strong outbursts of emotion are not appropriate behaviours in public.
  • It is very rude to speak with your mouth full of food.
  • If someone is using a cash point (ATM) in front of you, divert your gaze away from them and stand a few feet away to give them privacy.
  • Canadians are quite patient and are therefore unlikely to appear pushy or frantic for time in casual situations. That being said, they are very punctual people and expect promptness. It is not appropriate to be more than 10-15 minutes late to an appointment without warning the person beforehand.

Visiting
  • Arrange a visit before going to a Canadian’s house. Do not arrive unannounced or bring friends and family with you unless asked them beforehand.
  • It is usually necessary to call ahead if you will be arriving more than 10 minutes late to a small gathering of people, unless you are in Quebec. In French Canada, being ‘fashionably late’ is normal and arriving early to party or gathering can actually be socially embarrassing.
  • Ask whether you should take off your shoes before entering someone’s home.
  • When eating at someone’s house and they ask whether you would like more food or not, it is okay to decline or accept depending on how hungry you are. Neither is considered rude.
  • Offer to help clean up the meal with your host when everyone has finished eating.

Tipping
  • Waiters, waitresses and service attendants expect tips to make their living. Accordingly, restaurants that offer table service do not include the service charge in the cost of the bill.
  • Canadians usually tip 15-20% of the cost of the meal as a general standard. More or less can be tipped depending on the quality of the service; if it was so awful that you would never eat there again, you may leave a tip of 2 cents. Doing so shows that you did not forget to tip and were bitterly unimpressed.
  • Taxi drivers, hairdressers and barbers also expect similar tip percentages.
  • Bell hops or valet parkers only expect about $1 as a tip.

Gifts
  • Gifts are usually only given on special occasions and are almost always accompanied with a card.
  • People tend to open gifts in front of the giver, either upon receive them or later along with other presents.
  • For occasions that require a gift (e.g. birthday, wedding, baby shower), a modest value of about $25 is acceptable unless you know the recipient very well.
  • It is distasteful to give cash or money as a present, however gift cards are okay if the shop they are for holds a specific significance to the recipient.
  • Gifts that are given as a personal gesture outside of special occasions are often grander or more heartfelt. For example, to reflect deep gratitude for a favour someone has done for you, you may give them sports tickets or take them to an expensive restaurant.
  • Token gifts may be given when visiting a house (e.g. wine, chocolate).
  • In Quebec, flowers are commonly sent to the host before holding dinner parties. Expensive wine is a good gift for this occasion as well.
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