I have been living in Canada for quite some time now and all in all, I think I adapted pretty well. Yet, there are a few cultural facts—habits, customs etc.—that I adopted without being entirely comfortable with.
Browsing: Cultural Differences
At school, I learned that the three largest countries in the world were Russia (and at the time, the USSR was larger than current-day Russia!), Canada and China. As a kid, it was hard to comprehend how big these territories actually were. But as a new Canadian, the country immediately struck me as humongous.
Thanks to globalization, no matter where you go these days, you will probably experience a lesser culture shock than the great explorers did a few centuries ago. Familiar brands and franchises took over the planet and local customs and lifestyles were exported well beyond their original boundaries. But it’s not always the same. Or rather, it’s the same… just different. Here are a few examples between France and North America.
Dating is so heavily codified you’d need The Da Vinci Code’s symbologist to understand all the subtleties. It starts in high school, where guys are supposed to take women to the prom—a relatively formal event for which women shop for princess dresses and guys really hope to take that dress out in the car at the end of the night. And dating apparently only ends when, as Beyoncé put it, you “put a ring on it”.
I learned about local customs and laws little by little, in context. For instance, my journey to Canada started with understanding the basic of immigration law. I learned to respect local traffic laws when I took my driver license.
But there are some laws or bans that you really, really can’t guess. Here are 5 things you wouldn’t believe are banned or illegal in Canada!
I never get tired of noticing the little cultural differences that exist between counties and culture—I even have a blog tag dedicated to them! My mother and my brother came to visit us in July and I eagerly wrote down what surprised them, and what probably surprised me as well a few years ago.
In July, part of my family (my brother, who is 19, and my mother) came to visit us for three weeks. I loved walking around with them because they noticed a lot of little Canadian quirks I don’t even see anymore. I changed over the years—I became more Canadian. Two pairs of fresh eyes was all I needed to rediscover the city and some aspect of our culture.
There are these obvious, yet strangely subtle cultural differences you may have never really considered. Driving rules are different. You spend hours looking for household products at your supermarket. You are really not sure what the cashier is saying when he is asking if you have a dime. Welcome to the wonderful world of immigrants!
I entered France with my Canadian passport and I decided to become a woman with a mission. I was going to find out if French were rude. About an hour after setting foot in my former country, I was ready to say yes. As soon as the plane landed, you could tell the French returning back home from the Canadians: the former loudly rushed out of the plane while the later politely let each other go first.
Years after years, I take the pulse of the population and I can’t help comparing France to Canada. While the former is still a great country on many aspects, there are many reasons why I won’t come back to live in France anytime soon. On the other side, I recently realized that Canada taught me a lot more than I expected.
As a French, I have being taught that bathroom humour is a low form of humour. But I cannot hold it any longer (pun intended) – I’m Canadian now, and if I want to write an article about bathrooms, well so be it.
So, are Canadian and French bathrooms different? You bet they are. And it is definitely part of the funny cultural differences you discover when you travel or live in a foreign country.
In North America, not spending money is almost a sin – what, don’t you want to help the economy? That’s probably why everything is conveniently set up so that people can shop anywhere, anytime.
In France, consumers have to abide by retailers’ will. Not so long ago, stores were closed between noon and 2 pm so that shopkeepers could go have a lengthy French lunch.
I fought hard with my parents for the right to put make-up on when I was in my very early teens and I intended to use that right fully. Pretty much all of my friends wore make-up (including some guys, but that’s another matter). I felt naked without it, I felt grown-up and mature with it.
If you really want to offend a French man, don’t ask him if you can see his wife naked – there is always the risk you will end up in one of Paris’ seedy swinging clubs. Instead, just ask him how much money he makes. That would certainly stop the conservation dead.
Overall, we are in a pretty good mood right now. Canada took gold medal against the U.S.A in men’s hockey at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, Sidney Crosby is now God, the snow is slowly melting and Spring is coming soon. In short, the country is doing fine. But eh, we still have our pet peeves, especially with both the tax season and the construction season coming soon…
On March 4th, I went to accomplish my duty as a new Canadian citizen: I voted for the first time in Canada at the provincial bylection in Ottawa West-Nepean.I drove to the polling station slightly honored I could now vote. I know, I’m weird.
By comparison, voting in France is more ceremonious. I received my carte d’électeur when I turned 18 and I couldn’t wait to use it.
In France, the saying goes that “le client est roi”. But in fact, the customer is anything but a king: at best he is an idiot, a minor annoyance in your day. As this funny article on “How to play the French service game … and win” explains: “The customer is king. But we all know what they did to their royal family. The guillotined head of Louis XVI bounced across the Place de la Concorde as a few thousand Parisians laughed at it”.
Everybody knows that Canadians are peaceful and polite people. Yet, I noticed my fellow citizens can be quite annoyed by a few things… that are Canadian in essence.
Disclaimer: this post is to be read with your morning/ afternoon coffee. It is not meant to be taken literally. I know some Canadians are going to disagree (but I’m sure they will apologize about disagreeing).
When I first came to Canada, I had been warned: there are much less holidays on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, and no public strike will change labor laws. Looking back, I can say the system is different but not in a bad way.
Some of my core values were challenged at one point or another after I moved to Canada. I had to reconsider what I had been taught as a French. What I had blindly believed in for all the years I spent in France. What had been passed on to me by my parents and by the education system.
Even the slightest things.
The scale in the corner of the kitchen was taunting me, and one morning, I finally climbed on it. I was just curious, I guess. Barely awake, my eyes still out-of-focus, I blinked several times, trying to bring the scale’s needle into focus. And I gasped.
When I first came to Canada, my English wasn’t good at all. I hated talking to people, especially strangers. I’d go to the stores and try to keep the conversation to a minimum.
I soon realized I just couldn’t do that. No matter how hurried I tried to look, or how clueless I may have seemed, people would always talk to me. Canadians love small talk.
I think prospective immigrants should be given the whole picture and I don’t believe wearing pink-colored glasses really helps on the long run.
This is not about bashing Canada or North America, or saying that other countries on earth are by comparison much better. This is about giving some other facts, for once a bit on the “minus” side.
I was absolutely unaware of our reputation abroad until I started traveling. Then, I realized that the French were said to have this little je ne sais quoi. In plain language: French were libertine, were doing it all the time, routinely had several mistresses and lovers and had a god-given talent for romance.