Guide to social customs and life in Canada

Social customs

Strangers talk to you in Canada

Don't be surprised when strangers talk to you!

You will find that many Canadians will smile at you as they pass in the street, or say something to you like 'Hi' or 'How's it going?'. Being from the crowded UK I found this very strange at first. Just reply with something similar. In the UK the reply would be "I'm fine"' but in Canada they say "I'm good", which means the same thing.

In company

In company when someone is offering you a second helping of food or more wine or something like that, then if you don't want any more use the same expression - "I'm good" - in that case it means no thank you, I've had enough. You will find that most Canadians don't press you to eat more than you want.

In shops and supermarkets

In a restaurant your plate will be cleared away almost immediately you look like you have finished eating. If there is a lot of food still on your plate then the server will usually ask you 'Are you still working on this' or 'Is this done with' before taking your plate. If you have not finished then say something like "I am still working on it".

When you go into a shop or store, do not be put off when the staff ask you how you are, or if they can help you. I think this is their way of being friendly and making conversation with the customers. If you don't want to be bothered then reply that you are 'just browsing' and that will be enough.

In the UK I would think that they wanted to put some pressure on me to buy something, but that is not how things are in Canada.

You will also find the same thing in supermarkets. The staff who are stacking the shelves will ask you if they can help you find things, or if you have found everything you are looking for. Personally I find this behaviour very annoying. I don't want the staff to keep interrupting me with these questions. I regard it as a form of harassment or a suggestion that I don't know what I'm doing.

At the supermarket checkout or in other stores the staff may invite you to a different checkout or till by saying "I can help next in line here" or "I can help someone here". In this case the word 'help' is being used in the same sense that 'serve' would be used in the UK, and 'line' means queue.

At Safeway Supermarkets there is a written instruction on all the checkouts telling the staff that when the customer has a Safeway Card (loyalty card that enables the customer to pay lower prices) then the staff are to look at the customer's name and thank them by name for shopping in Safeway. I do not want the staff to say 'Thank for Mr cccccc for shopping in Safeway'.

'Carry out' at supermarkets

Another grossly annoying trait of Canadian supermarkets is that the checkout operator will load all your shopping back into your cart (trolley) for you, and then ask if you want 'carry out'. What they mean is 'do you want someone to push the cart out to your car for you?'

Why do I find that so irritating? I have pushed the cart all around the store, collecting the items of shopping that I want, then to the checkout, then unloaded the cart. Why would I need someone to push the cart out to my car? Do they think that I have suddenly been overcome by fatigue?

Going to someone's house or apartment

Canadians eat early and go home early. When you are invited to a Canadian's home you may be asked to arrive at 5.30pm or 6pm, by UK standards that is very early. Guests there do not expect to arrive until 7.30pm or 8pm. I think the most important thing to remember is that you take off your shoes and leave them inside the door without being asked.

Don't be offended if your host asks you to take off your shoes, it's not a religious custom of something like that, it's just practical. In the winter there can be a lot of snow and dirt on your shoes, once you are in the warm house it melts and falls off, making a mess. Canadians tend to have light coloured carpets or hard-wood floors. It's really just simple consideration for your host.

If you're invited for supper, it means the same as dinner or an evening meal in the UK. It will be a full sit-down meal. Probably meat. Meat is usually barbequed even in the freezing cold of winter. You will also find barbeques on small balconies of apartments, Canadians love them.

When you go, take something with you, like a bottle of wine. Arrive on time, and don't overstay your welcome. By that I mean leave before your host starts to yawn or wind up the clock. 10 O'clock is quite late here, after that is late.