5 Personality Traits of Canadians You May Not Know

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At the Arena, Ottawa, April 2015

At the Arena, Ottawa, April 2015

Canada is a big place, home to a diverse population of about 35 millions of people—rural, urban, old, young, male, female, French, English, east, west… the demographic variations go on and on. As difficult (and maybe pointless) as it is to make a blanket statement about such a heterogeneous population, common characteristics and shared values do exist and bind people together.

And as an immigrant, they were quite obvious to me at first, before I adopted some of them!

Take this list with a grain of salt because it is based on my observations only. I’m sure other Canadians will (politely) disagree.

Canadians are casual and informal

Regardless of their income, social status or responsibilities, Canadians are remarkably casual. Sure, they dress for their workplace to meet a professional dress code, but they don’t flash expensive shoes, accessories, etc. Outside regular working hours, it’s common to see people walking around wearing very casual clothing, such as yoga pants, sweatpants, flip-flop sandals in the summer, shorts, etc. I think the brand Roots embodies this kind of practical outdoorsy casualness.

On a personal and a professional level, interactions are also largely informal. In large corporations, the CEO may be known as “Jane” or “Bob” and he/she can be surprisingly approachable—the work structure is less hierarchical and patriarchal than in France or China, for instance. In every large city, a few neighborhoods or areas are clearly “upper-class” but yet, the  divide between rich and poor doesn’t seem as deep as in several cities around the world, including Paris. As far as I know, there are no gated communities here or no-go zones where the police doesn’t even show up anymore (Canadians may disagree here but really, the country is remarkably safe by world standards).

Two silly anecdotes about how approachable Canadians are: when I first came to Canada and worked as a French as a second language teacher, one of my students was a very famous politician in office. Even though I didn’t share his views, he was very friendly (and introduced me to carrot cakes). And a few years ago, when Feng worked in a movie theatre, Steven Harper often came to watch movies with his family—this was right before he was elected Prime Minister.

Canadians eat early and snack throughout the day

Having dinner with Canadian friends? Don’t be surprised if they book or table or invite you over between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Canadians are the exact opposite of Argentinians—they eat dinner, and to a lesser extend lunch, very early… must be the British heritage. It’s common for people to start eating lunch before noon, and to be done with supper long before 7 p.m. If they sleep late, they will have a snack before going to bed (duh! I’d be starving if I were to eat dinner so early!). I never adopted this Canadian-ness and I eat late. I just can’t do dinner at five o’clock, no matter how early I get up.

Canadians also tend to snack like overactive toddlers. Food is available anywhere, anytime, and according to some, snacking has long-term health benefits including weight control. I grew up in France where snacking was frown upon and where meals were supposed to be eaten in the kitchen, at the table, so it’s still weird for me to see adults munching on nuts, celery stick and hummus (the healthy version) or candy bars and muffins. I’m not judging though, I think it really is a matter of preference!

Canadians value their personal space

Except for brief hugs (a traditional quick embrace that can be surprising and awkward at first if you are used to the kiss-on-the-cheek or handshake greeting), Canadians value their personal space, this invisible sphere surrounding us, and feel uncomfortable if people are too close or initiate physical contact. If they really have to take public transportation (Canadians would rather drive), they sit as far away from other passengers as possible and eye contact is to be avoided. This is not Asia, where people would sit on your lap during rush-hour commute.

This need for physical distance can also be seen in social contexts. For example, Canadians are very protective of their privacy and information such as age, weight, marital status, etc. Questions about political opinions, personal matters, family, etc. are reserved for later stages of friendship. Inviting guests over isn’t that common either, most of the time people agree to meet in a public place like a restaurant or a coffee shop. If you go to a party to someone’s place, don’t be surprised if the action is contained to one room only or to the backyard—chances are, you won’t tour the house, which is off limit to the guests.

Canadians behave in public

I don’t think I have ever seen anyone urinating in the street in Canada, a sight way too common in France. I can’t recall seeing Canadians drunk in the street, catcalling, spitting on the ground, or skipping the queue. Never seen a car being set on fire here, people putting their feet up on seats in the bus or littering (at least not when they are being watched).

Generally speaking, Canadians are pretty courteous and they behave in public. Even hockey games are fairly peaceful (read, you won’t get killed for supporting the other team). Oh sure, misdemeanors happen every day but they are the exception, not the rule… and such behaviour is unanimously frown upon. Canadians value their “community”—whether it’s their street, neighborhood, city or province—and play their part to keep it nice.

Canadians are agreeable

I can’t remember really arguing with a Canadian. And I can’t remember overhearing a passionate argument either. Even protests here are peaceful! Canadians are masters in the art of small talk, the innocuous, politically correct kind. When they complain, it’s usually about the weather. At most, angry people write letters to The Sun (although I’m convinced the ugly conservative tabloid makes up the letters to the editor).

The downside to this is that it’s very hard to know what people really think. If a Canadian say “sure, I will call you”, chances are, the person is just being polite. Same goes with common sentences like “we should grab coffee” or “let’s meet later”—they are not (always) to be taken at face value.

Did you notice these characteristics? Or am I failing at armchair sociology?

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

32 Comments

  1. Martin Penwald on

    1. It works in U.S too : seriously, wearing pyjamas outside ?

    2. Chips everywhere, even in a pharmacy. Is that useful ? 17h is goûter’s time, not supper time.

    3. No handshaking : very good, you avoid the spread of germs. I fully support this personal space thing.

    4. There is a reason why Canadian are known for their politness.

    5. Yes, indeed. But letters to the Sun can be very obnoxious. By some ways, Canadians are very conservatives.

    • Have you seen the latest trend, onesies for adults? Like you know, these one-piece pajama babies usually wear? Freaks me out.

      I found it weird to see so much junk food in “pharmacies” when I first came… but in OZ, ten years ago, you could buy cigarettes in pharmacies, so…!

  2. French men urinating anywhere, that’s something I don’t understand and still cound’t accept. I have a feeling that French tolerate miss-behavior when someone is drunk. They urine, they vomit, they throw empty bottles, they yell……that’s one side of France that I don’t appreciate.

  3. Talking about Canadians being polite, have you ever been accross the bridge, in Quebec? I watched a neighbour’s fight the other day – middle fingers, f-words, you name it, outloud, in the street. I was shocked! I’d say the people accross the bridge are waaaay too different, and not in a good way.
    And being in Canada since June 2014 I would say Canadians are terrible drivers, extremely polite and tolerant, but still terrible drivers.
    I was astonished by the pedestrians here, as well. They cross the streets as real kamikazze warriors – to hell with all of the vehicles and the red light, I gotta go NOW! Still, no one is honking or cursing on them!

    • Where are you from? I’m just curious, because our background influences our experiences 🙂 I find Canadian are very good drivers compared to French (or Chinese, or… many nationalities, actually!).

      Quebec is, like they often say with pride, a different society. I live in Ontario so my experience mostly reflects English Canada.

  4. Canadians also don’t have a flag obsession. We usually only put our flag on public buildings and know it is going to stay there. My American cousins always want assurance that there flag is still there so they put it on their clothing, their buildings, on their cars and most everything else. This concern is even shown in their anthem : ” And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
    Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
    Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave ”

    Dude, it was still there when the rocket lit it up so I am sure it is still there. OK we did take the flag in 1812 but we gave it back.

    • Actually, I do find Canadians are obsessed with the flag! Maybe not as much as Americans… but close. And definitely more than Europeans! I see the Canadian flag a lot in Ottawa but maybe it’s because of the national capital status.

      • I agree, we do love our flag. I myself put up my stick flag at work, especially on Flag Day and on Canada day (in particular).
        And why not? We have a lovely looking flag!
        Sorry if I sound biased….

        • No, that’s just fine! I agree, it’s a lovely flag and I’m glad it’s not tainted by political ideology, unlike in Europe where flags are often used with far-right nationalists.

    • Ah ben très bien! Il y a des valeurs qui me conviennent très bien, d’autres avec lesquelles j’ai plus de mal. Mais en gros, le Canadien est facile à vivre 😆

  5. Whole heartedly agree! When I first came here and started working I was amazed at how informal people are – especially with food, people often eat whilst working and there is none of the stiffness or formality. Professionalism means something totally different! Have to agree with you on all of these points – but also most especially with the persona space bit. I am so used to hugging my friends that it is weird not to do this here!

  6. If this is Canada, it is going to be awesome, for real!

    And I am surprised to read the urinating in the streets is found in France; I always thought it was an Indian thing 🙂

  7. I noticed the “eat early” one which always throw me for a loop especially when we get invited to dinners. Canadians are friendly and strike conversations often (even in line of grocery store sans baby) whereas i am so used to keeping to myself.

  8. My girlfriend is Canadian and she says they never speak about politics or rant like we do, I visited this year, EVERY shop I went in and spoke not ONE person commented on my English accent, most did not know it was English very very odd, considering their heritage, complete opposite of Americans, no chit chat or friendly talk I swear you could walk into a shop with a gunshot wound to the shoulder, buy something and walk out without ONE comment or acknowledgment …….

    • Strange! I can see people not commenting on your accent, maybe they thought it wouldn’t be proper to do so. Many people have an accent here, after all. But people usually chit chat easily. What part of the country was it in?

  9. You forgot to mention how us Canadians say “sorry” for apparently no reason; it’s virtually a habit!
    …and I’d say we are one of the friendliest nations on earth. Everyone is considered equal and racism is very low compared to many other nations.
    This is why I’m glad I chose Canada to immigrate to…I’ve always felt that I belong. Proud to be Canadian…we are simply unique!

    • Oh, sorry! 😆

      Yep, you are right, Canadians are very polite.

      I’m happy to hear you are happy here! Where do you come from originally? How long have you been here?

      • ..oh I’m sorry :-)…should’ve introduced myself 🙁
        We have Bangladeshi heritage and I was also fortunate to have finished my undergrads in the U.S…we(including my siblings) started moving to Canada(one by one) from 2005…if I had to choose between the U.S and Canada, I’d always choose Canada, mainly because of the wonderful people…my fellow Canadians!
        …very kind of you to take an interest…may I also add that I really enjoy your blog…I also follow Bob’s Australia related blog (http://www.bobinoz.com/) . I’m not advertising for him, but you should also check it out…just goes to show how fascinating and diverse the world can be!
        Encore une fois,..Merci beaucoup!
        Please keep up the good work!

        • Did you just apologize like a true Canadian? 😉 Don’t be sorry, I’m just forever curious about readers!

          Thank you for the link, I’ll check it out. You have an interesting background, Bangladesh to the US to Canada… wow! What made you move from the US to Canada exactly? I understand you like Canada best, I’m just curious about your experience!

          • Oh my, looks like I HAVE truly become Canadian…except hockey still doesn’t take as much precedence(Cricket and Football/Soccer do, though) 🙁
            I appreciate your curiousity(for a simple reader such as myself)…not sure where to begin..I suppose it started when I (fortunately) visited both countries when I was a teen and we entered Canada first. I was delighted and mesmarized by the friendliness of the people and much cleaner cities like Montreal and Toronto, so much so that upon entering the U.S afterwards, I just found life to be too hectic there and people over there were just too brash for my liking (of course, that doesn’t apply to everyone in the U.S. Nevertheless, my apologies if anyone is offended). I’m also one of those rare people who actually enjoy cold, freezing weather, so all in all, Canada had me hooked! By the Almighty’s grace, I had the option to move to either Australia or Canada, and since my siblings were already in Canada, well, the choice was straightforward. I don’y have to tell you that it’s not easy qualifying as a skilled person for either countries, but by God’s grace, I finally made it and the choice was Canada!
            Only time will tell as to whether that was the best decision or not, but I don’t think it matters much for a simple guy like myself or the nations in question…unless of course (if) I become a celebrity or someone famous(fat chance!).
            Still, grateful to be able to call Canada my home..I’m sure that you feel the same way.
            Once again, please keep up the good work.
            Merci et a bientot!

          • Thank you for sharing insight! I feel like Canada is a very welcoming place, more than Australia (I’m talking about permanent immigration here, not travelers) and maybe more than many places in the US. It’s great that you had the option to move somewhere else and that you feel good about your choice!

            Cricket is an awesome sport. Many Indian/Bangladeshi practice here in Ottawa in the summer at Rideau Hall 😉

  10. Cricket is not a Canadian sport, if you come here get used to watching and playing hockey. Plus, cricket is really boring and basically no one in Canada plays it because it’s just stupid.

    • That’s a pretty ignorant and biased statement. Cricket is pretty popular with our large immigrant community. All sports have their fans!

  11. I enjoyed your article. I am Canadian born and raised 43 years. I was curious to see how other countries view us Canadians. I was pleasantly surprise with your article as it really was spot on. The one thing u missed was Canadians always say “EH”. That’s what I always hear from people from the states anyway. It is so true about personal space. I never thought about that before, I found that interesting.
    Jennifer

    • Hi Jennifer,

      Overall, my opinion on Canada and Canadians is pretty positive 🙂 I do complain about some aspects of life here (I’m French, complaining is still in my genes…) but I do feel I’m also Canadian, therefor Canada’s issues are also mine to speak about and solve.

      Funny enough, I don’t hear people saying “eh” that much around me… or did I get used to it?!

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