Customs in Canada
Customs in Canada
Canada is a land of vast distances and rich natural beauty. Economically and technologically, in many ways she resembles her more famous neighbour to the south, the United States, although there are significant differences between the two countries.
One should not make the common and embarrassing mistake of assuming everything is more or less the same in the two countries. Canada for one is perfectly happy with its British heritage and most Canadians are proud of this. Moreover, Canada has always composed of two main European immigrant nations, the English and the French. This dual nature is very different than the United States.
Canada became a self-governing dominion in 1867 by an act of the British parliament (making it younger by nearly 100 years), and is still a proud member of the Commonwealth of Nations. By 1931 it was more or less fully independent of the United Kingdom.
Though a medium sized country by its population (35 million), Canada has earned respect on the international stage for its strong diplomatic skills as a kind of "Switzerland of North America." Domestically, the country has displayed success in negotiating compromises amongst its own culturally and linguistically varied populations, a difficult task considering that language, culture, and even history can vary significantly throughout the whole country.
In contrast to the United States' traditional image of itself as a melting pot, (now also falling out of use), Canada prefers to consider and define itself a mosaic of cultures and peoples. Canadians are used to living and interacting with people of different ethnic backgrounds on a daily basis and will usually be quite friendly and understanding if approached in public. The country is largely urban-based, where peoples of all backgrounds rub elbows with one another (although this will be less so in rural areas).
As emphasized in many places Canada is a multicultural country - as such the paramount point of respect to embrace this attitude as much as possible. Outward displays of racism, sexism, or homophobia will be met with extreme hostility. Even slight preferences may be noticed and noted.
Of equal importance is to avoid assuming positions or cultures based on identifiable signs. For example the Chinese girl you might meet may not speak a word of Chinese and may never have been anywhere near China. This point is especially true for individuals from areas with ethnic strife - don't assume that anyone you meet is either personally connected to or shares the viewpoints of their ethnic-origin Nation.
Beyond that be aware of the complicated Canadian-American relationship. Canadians can wax and wane about the U.S. for hours but rarely invite opinions, or comparisons to the U.S. Mentions of "The 51st State" and "America's Hat" will be considered grave insults, as well as any derision of Canada's status as a distinct nation. Equal to that is references to British or (In Quebec) French relationships as those are either in decline or rife with potential faux pas.
Be aware of politics - there is a large degree of regionalism in Canada, and the learning curve is steep when you attempt to explore these differences. In particular, Quebec's somewhat strained relationship with the rest of Canada - the result of a still-active secession movement - may be a sensitive topic.
When entering a private home in Canada it is expected that you take off your shoes.
Gay and Lesbian Travellers
Canada is very open to all forms of LGBT travelers, indeed Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal are all famed for their LGBT communities. Even smaller cities are very open and liberal, although not to the same extent. Outside these Metropolitan areas, open displays of affection shouldn't generally present a problem despite a more conservative outlook. However certain rural areas may be more problematic; as always use your discretion. Human Rights Codes protect against discrimination in all areas; including accommodation, access to health care and employment - should you encounter any negative responses, especially violent or threatening episodes immediately phone the police and they will be glad to help you. Same-sex marriage is legal.
The terms "Aboriginal" ("Autochtones" in French) or "First Nations" are used as catch all terms for all indigenous people of Canada. Most Aboriginal communities are rural and not used to tourists (note that some so-called reserves may restrict access to residents or invited guests - watch for signage at the entrances to these areas, which can range from official advisories to crude handmade signs saying "Stay out". Visitors to Canada with an interest in Aboriginal culture should seek out an Aboriginal cultural centre in a city. Be aware that tension exists between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations in some areas, though outright violence in extremely rare.
The largest aboriginal group are the Indians, found throughout Canada and divided into various ethnic groups ("tribes"); traditions, language, history and way of life will vary based on background and location. Some will be offended by the term "Indian", though they may use it themselves (note this differs from the U.S. where "Indian" appears to be much more widely accepted). The term "Native" may also cause offense among some. "First Nations" is the safer politically-correct term.
The Métis (pronounced MAY-tee) are descendants of European (mostly French) fur traders and Indian women. Found mostly in the Prairies and especially Manitoba, they have their own distinct culture and history. Back in the late 19th century, they rose in rebellion under Louis Riel (the closest thing to a true civil war Canada has yet experienced) but they were defeated and Riel hanged.
The Inuit are the smallest group, found mostly in Nunavut, with smaller populations in Quebec, Labrador and the Northwest Territories. Historically they were known as "Eskimos", but the term is no longer politically correct in Canada ( but it still is in much of America) and should not be used. Inuits are only one group of Eskimos, and using Inuit as a blanket term is offensive. As a result, Eskimo is still the accepted term in all of the U.S. bar Alaska, where the native Inuit-derived tribes (such as the Inupiaq and Yupik) find the term offensive as well. The term "Alaska Native" is generally the safe term there.
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