Traveller's guide to understanding Canadian culture

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Traveller's guide to understanding Canadian culture

Anyone who travels to a new country for the first time would quite naturally like to familiarize him or herself with that country’s culture. If the country in question is Canada, you should prepare yourself for an amazing time. This is one of the most culturally diverse and progressive nations in the Western hemisphere.

While much of Canadian culture can be traced back to Britain, France, and the neighboring U.S., it has also been shaped by the millions of people who immigrated here over the years from all over the globe. And, of course, the culture of the indigenous people who lived here long before the arrival of foreigners has also made a significant contribution to the amazing diversity of the country’s culture.

It comes as no surprise, therefore, that Canada is a real melting pot of languages, customs, cultures, food, and art. Add to that the country’s genuinely progressive government policies on things like taxation, health care, poverty eradication, same-sex marriages, gun control, and ethnic and cultural diversity, and you have one of the most liberal and progressive nations anywhere in the Western hemisphere.

If your future plans include a visit to Canada, continue reading to find out more about this exciting country, its people, and its amazingly diverse and often quite unique culture.

Generally speaking, people are friendly and polite

The first thing you might notice about Canadians is the fact that they are a genuinely friendly and courteous nation. Even the bus driver will apologize when the bus arrives a minute or two late. Many of them might go as far as holding the door for a stranger. If you stay long enough, don’t be surprised to find yourself starting to do the same!

They line up at bus stops

Canadians are normally a very polite and orderly group of people – and nowhere else is this more obvious than in the way they line up at bus stops. You won’t easily see a disorderly crowd of prospective passengers fiercely jostling to get to the front of the queue. What you will rather find is a long, silent queue that sometimes snakes halfway around the block. The people who arrive first will always have the privilege of boarding the bus first and choosing where they want to sit.

Canadians are often nationalist and multicultural at the same time

You might already be aware of the fact that Canada is a really huge country. It is, in fact, the 2nd largest country on earth. It is a significant credit to Canadians that somehow all these millions of people manage to have a shared sense of belonging. The average Canadian seems genuinely proud to be a citizen of this massive country with its amazing human diversity.

That does not mean that everyone looks, dresses, and talks the same. Because this is a nation of immigrants, there is a wide variety of different cultures that all treasure their differences. Yet, in some way or another, they all seem to have a shared loyalty to their new home country.

Every second one of them owns a cottage

You will quickly find out that a surprisingly large percentage of Canadians own a cottage, usually ‘up north’. And those who don’t have that luxury very often have friends who do and who regularly invite them along for a visit.

When we say ‘up north’ we mean places like the Laurentians, Shawnigan Lake, or Muskoka. During June, July, and August, what seems like millions of Canadians will get into their cars and drive to a cottage where they will spend their days enjoying the fresh air and beautiful scenery around one of the many lakes in the region.

It’s one of the most quintessentially Canadian things to do. Once you’ve made a Canadian friend or two, you will soon notice them posting photos about ‘cottage life’ on their Facebook pages showing them doing outdoorsy things such as barbecuing, hiking, or fishing. You will even find special ‘cottage time’ supplements in newspapers. And your new Canadian friends will sometimes casually mention the term ‘cottage country traffic’ just to show that they are part of the ‘in’ crowd.

When traveling, Canadians love to proudly show the world where they come from

Before embarking on an overseas trip, thousands of young Canadian travelers will sew or iron a little maple leaf onto their luggage. Whether you find this quaint or not, it is by now a quintessential part of Canadian culture that sets them apart from the rest of the world. Sometimes they might make an even bolder national statement by, for example, humming Nickelback songs or bringing their own syrup with them on the journey. But the maple leaf flag is the most popular way to show the rest of the world where they are from.

Many Canadians love growing playoff beards

Call it superstition, or weird, or wonderful – but growing playoff beards during the final stages of the hockey season is now as much part of Canadian culture as cottages ‘up north’. The New York Islanders started the trend during the 1980s. It quickly caught on, and soon, the whole National Hockey League followed suit. Not long afterward, other professional sports leagues joined the new custom. Amateur teams didn’t take long to join the new trend and hot on their heels were many amateur teams. As could be expected, fans soon followed the example set by their teams. And now, just about everyone is part of the new playoff beard tradition and will probably remain part for many years to come.

Their cuisine is sometimes strange but always interesting

Not all Canadians will agree when you ask them what their national cuisine is. Having said that, there are a few dishes that make most Canadians proud to be Canadian.


A very filling bread with a long Canadian history. It consists of a disc-shaped mixture of water, flour, and lard or butter that is either fried, baked, or cooked on an open fire until it is golden brown.

Maple syrup

The abundance of maple syrup in Canadian diets comes from the fact that the country produces no less than 80% of the planet’s maple syrup. No wonder the maple tree is also Canada’s national tree! You will find maple syrup in just about everything, from cakes to salads to roasts.

Smoked Meat Montreal Style

This smoky, salty deli beef is a very popular Canadian option that’s often served with mustard as part of a delicious rye bread sandwich. It is dry-rubbed with more spices and garlic than, e.g., pastrami. Afterward, it’s steamed, smoked, and sliced.

They prefer cream in their coffee

Once you’ve arrived in Canada, you will quickly discover that Canadians are not satisfied with enjoying their coffee with sugar and milk. Millions of them also opt for a more significant amount of cream. A term you might find useful when ordering coffee is ‘double double’. This refers to a coffee with two sugars, two creams, and enough calories to kill an army. If you are health-conscious, you might find this very strange – but in the Great White North, it is considered entirely normal.