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7 Canadian Work Culture Differences You May Not Know

Not A Funny Place, Ottawa, Spring 2011

My work experience in France is fairly limited since I left when I was 18. I basically embraced the Canadian work culture—I didn’t really have a choice anyway. It’s only when I talk with my family or friends back home that I notice the many little differences that exist between the two cultures.

So, where are my two-hour-long lunch break? My subsidized meal vouchers? Oh right, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean… That said, working in Canada also has good sides, and the unemployment rate is lower than in France.

Payday is every two weeks

In France (and in most countries, as far as I know), you get paid once a month, usually towards the end or the very beginning of the month. Hence French sayings such as “boucler ses fins de mois”, literally “make ends meet at the end of the month”.

But Canadian payroll employees apparently work harder than their French counterparts and you will likely get a cheque (or more a direct deposit) every two weeks.

Employees usually “brown bag”

In North America, the “brown bag” is a symbol for the meal you bring to lunch at work, typically in a brown paper bag. Lunch boxes are mostly used by schoolchildren to take packed lunch from home to school.

In France, most large companies have their own cafeteria, where low-cost meals (usually subsidized by the company) are served to employees. Alternatively, the French can use their “ticket restaurants”, company-subsidized meal vouchers.

In Canada, no such luck. The best you can hope for is a non-subsidized vending machine and if you don’t want to waste money and gain too much weight, you’d better start packing your own lunch!

You can be lost in translation

Canada is officially a bilingual country. But a “Jones” may not speak a word of English, and a “Tremblay” may not speak a word of French. In short, don’t assume anything about people’s official language abilities! In Ottawa, we are regularly lost in translation, starting a conversation in English before we realize we both speak French.

Since Canada is also a country of immigrants, people around you may also have various language abilities, various accents etc. It’s usually not a problem, Canadians are not as picky with their language as the French are, and communication is more important than perfect grammar.

Monday a suit, Friday jeans

Casual Fridays, where people are allowed to dress down, are always a popular tradition in North America.

So don’t be surprised if the entire office wears denim on Friday to celebrate the upcoming end of the work week.

You’d better eat fast

Forget about the famous two-hour-long French lunch break during which you can enjoy a cooked meal, take a walk outside, run errands or go to an appointment.

In Canada, you get 30 minutes to eat and that’s it! Even then, a lot of people simply eat at their desks while working. So when you brown bag, don’t bother making a three-course meal unless you can chunk it fast.

Don’t expect to sign a detailed work contract

A few years ago, I was working over 10 hours a day. I was exhausted and when I complained to my parents, they gave me this piece of French advice: “Check your contract of employment!”

However, as I soon realized, contracts are a bit on the light side here and are definitely not as detailed as in France. For instance, working in a “permanent” position only means you are hired until further notice. Contracts may also be very vague, stipulating that your schedule may change without notice and that working hours are not guaranteed.

Work schedules can be flexible

In Canada, you can shop pretty much anytime including late at night and on Sundays. Most companies’ customer service is only a toll-free phone call away, even late at night. Remember, the customer is always right!

The downside is that if you are working in a customer service position, you can expect a rather flexible schedule, including working late at night or during weekends. And no, you won’t get paid extra for that.

How about you? Did you notice any difference when you came to Canada?

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French woman in English Canada.

Exploring the world with my camera since 1999, translating sentences for a living, writing stories that may or may not get attention.

Firm believer that nobody is normal... and it’s better this way.

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