Eight Canadian habits and cultural differences that immigrants have to learn

Emigrating is not an easy thing for anyone. Starting a new life in a different country, immersing oneself in a different culture and using a different language presents many challenges. It can range from getting used to new habits to facing big cultural shocks.

Moving to Canada is a big dream for many but when it’s accomplished and one lands in Canada, nobody knows what life is really going to be like. Are you going to be able to put up with the cold weather? Are you going to find a job easily? Will you be able to build a circle of new friends?

There are many things that we immigrants should learn in order to fit into Canadian society and start feeling like Canada is our new home. With a positive, open attitude towards the differences, the process should be smooth. It was for me.

These are the things that I learned living in Ottawa since 2018.

1. Personal freedom

The first time I met my Pre-K daughter’s teacher I was surprised to see her hair color. There were two colors actually, rose and purple. That was something that you would never see in my country, because the idea is to look as professional as possible. Rose and purple are not seen as serious hair colors.

I was told it’s a matter of personal freedom. In Canada the way people want to look doesn’t affect the way their professional capabilities are judged.

2. To check on the weather forecast all the time

In Canada the weather is a serious thing. It’s unstable and unpredictable. During my three years in Ottawa, I have experienced rain, snow, and sunshine the very same day. So, it’s a must to check on the weather everyday before leaving home. You never know how the day is going to turn out.

The same when you want to make plans for the weekend. Is it going to rain? Is it going to be cold? This doesn’t happen in my country. We have a weather service, but it’s very bad. We don’t need it anyway. The weather there is pretty simple and stable.

orange tulips in commissioners park in ottawa
Commissioners Park

3. They say “Good night” when the sun is shining

This one was very weird to me. I understand that in winter when it gets dark very early, people say good night at 4:30 pm, but in the summer when there is light until 9:30 pm (in Ottawa)?

I found out that from 4 pm onwards Canadians say it’s night, no matter if the sun is shining and it’s the brightest time of the day. People might say, “Have a great night”, or “What did you do last night” (meaning from 5 pm).

4. Take off our shoes before entering the house

In Canada it’s a common habit to take off your shoes when you enter your house or anybody’s house and put them by the entrance. This is something that doesn’t happen in my country. When we visit someone we step on the doormat to get rid of the dirt but we don’t take off our shoes.

With all the snow we carry in our snow boots in winter I understand it’s necessary to take off the boots, or when it’s raining, but when it’s not, I find it annoying to have to take off my shoes. I do it anyway; it’s the norm in Canada.

john by statue in major's hill park in ottawa

5. Differences in meal times

The times for lunch and for supper in Canada don’t match my biological clock and customs in my home country. Usually people here have lunch at noon, and have supper at 5 pm. That’s way early to me.

Of all the new habits that I have encountered in Canada, this one is the only one that I haven’t been able to assimilate. At home, we have lunch at 2pm and supper at 8pm.

6. No physical contact

Coming from Latin America I was raised in a culture that is not shy about physical contact. We say hi with a kiss or a hug all the time. So, when I moved to Ottawa it was weird to have to say hi or goodbye with just a wave of the hand or a nod of the head.

I felt that too impersonal and cold, but that was before the pandemic started. Now it’s normal not to get close to anyone at all.

statue the man in two hats in commissioners park in ottawa
Commissioners Park (The man in two hats)

7. No interest in socializing

In my country, and in Latin America in general, people have a knack for socializing. Anything can be an excuse to organize an informal gathering. It’s one of your colleagues’ birthday, one mom in your kids’ class is having a baby, somebody is moving to a new place, or whatever. It is all a good reason to meet or go for a coffee in a group.

In Canada people seem to be focused in their own lives, especially people with families. They seem to have a circle of family and friends, and they’re not interested in growing that circle. They say it takes time to be friends with Canadians, but it’s not an impossible task.

8. Going out when there’s good weather

It took me three years to understand the Canadian urge to go outdoors when it’s nice and sunny. It was something that is not in my DNA. I could perfectly well stay home doing just about anything no matter how glorious the day is.

Many times I wondered why people in Canada went crazy and had to leave their houses when it was warm. Now I am one of those crazy people. Staying home when it’s a beautiful day makes me feel awfully guilty. Warm and beautiful days in Canada are pure gold and the warmer months don’t last long, that’s why.

red tulips and the cathedral Notre Dame in the background

Do you relate to these facts about living in Canada? Do you have more things in mind? Please share your thoughts! Take care.

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5 thoughts on “Eight Canadian habits and cultural differences that immigrants have to learn

  1. I love this post, so funny…and true. In addition to #2, I would add to expect to be able to comment on the weather and the forecasts. With a Weather Cannel on TV for decades, detailled websites with stats and many apps, all Canadians became expert meterologists and can discuss polar vortex, jet stream, anticyclone… And to link to item #7, weather chitchat is often an opening topic for conversation. Even among friends and families, like if this topic needs to be solved first, and then we can talk about other things.
    #6: in the province of Québec, the French heritage is stronger, thus I experienced more contacts in those cities, before I moved to Gatineau/Ottawa. Go east for more hugs!

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    1. Thanks! I’m glad you find the post amusing. It’s funny that Canadians love to talk about the weather! The weather is a big topic here. In Peru, my country, we talk about food and soccer, ha, ha.

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  2. I don’t agree with your points, gives a wrong message about Canadians. Also, it is not a cultural issue, this is wrong. It is a cultural difference.

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    1. You’re right, better to say cultural differences. It’s not my intention to complain about Canadians. It’s just that we are different, but I like Canadians, they’re good and trustworthy people.

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