Four Canadian Social Etiquettes to Know as a Newcomer
For newcomers in Canada, understanding basic social etiquette can play an important role in integrating and building positive relationships with the community. Canada is often called the land of immigrants, with diverse cultures and traditions. Some aspects of Canadian social customs may differ depending on your area. Here are four Canadian social etiquette newcomers should know:
Greetings while making eye contact
It is common in Canada to shake hands while making eye contact when meeting someone for the first time. This can happen in a social setting or a business workplace setting. After the COVID-19 pandemic, people are more cautious about shaking hands.
However, there are other greeting alternatives that are common in Canada, such as a fist bump in informal settings or verbal greetings with a friendly smile that can be used in both formal and informal settings. Making eye contact is an established cultural norm in Canada to establish trust and show respect.
Cultural awareness tip: If someone refuses to shake your hand, please don’t take it personally. It can be because of their cultural/religious restrictions. The same thing applies; if you have cultural/religious restrictions, let them know that you don’t shake hands politely and give a brief explanation to avoid misunderstanding.
Stand on the Right, Pass on the Left
This is a common practice in Canada when walking on a sidewalk and using the escalator or moving walkways. When using an escalator, especially during rush hour in a public space, you should typically stand on the right side to allow others who are in a hurry or wish to walk up or down the escalator to pass on the left.
Why should we do this? As a general guideline, “stand on the right, pass on the left” is a courteous practice in Canada. This helps to ensure a smoother and more efficient movement of people, especially in busy areas.
Walking on the right side is a social norm in Canada. When you are using the sidewalk and see another person coming from the opposite side, walk on your right. Doing this promotes a smoother and more efficient flow of pedestrian traffic, avoids awkward encounters/bumping into each other, and shows respect to other pedestrians.
Respect for People’s Personal Space
Always maintain a comfortable distance from others in any social or public space. Generally, about an arm’s length distance or approximately one meter when interacting with others. Canadians value their personal space and may feel uncomfortable if someone stands too close.
This social etiquette is important to observe when you’re chatting with someone you just met or waiting in line. Similarly, when travelling on public transportation, it’s good to give yourself and others plenty of space, as long as there’s enough room to do so.
In Canada, showing consideration for others by respecting personal space and holding doors open is a common and polite practice. Additionally, allowing others to exit a bus, train, building, or elevator before you enter to ensure a smooth flow of traffic is also a way to show respect for those around you. These simple gestures can create a more welcoming environment in our daily interactions.
Waiting in Line
Waiting in line or queueing is also a common social etiquette in Canada. When you see a line, wait patiently for your turn. It’s considered impolite to cut in line or push ahead of the line. This etiquette applies when you are:
- Waiting in line to enter the store
- Waiting for the bus/train
- Using the public restrooms
- Using drive-thru services
- At the cashier
Remember that while these guidelines can be helpful, individual preferences and cultural norms may vary. Remember that Canada is a multi-cultural country. As a newcomer, it’s important to listen and observe the people around you to understand their cultural behaviour. This can help you navigate and adapt to cultural differences, which can help you learn new perspectives and build stronger relationships.
Are you new to Canada?
The YMCA Newcomer Information Centre is a welcoming place for newcomers in Toronto to get trusted and reliable settlement information.