Culture: Manners in a Diverse Society

We all know manners. When we were children, our parents taught us how to act. We all learned what to do or say in order to appear polite and well bred.

Except for one little thing: our parents grew up in different parts of the world. In various cultures people approach other people - marry, eat dinners, say hi, show love, give gifts, etc. - in thousands of ways that seem pretty normal at home. Here, in Canada, they may not be normal.

For example, for someone from Bulgaria a head-nod means NO and a shake means YES. In Canada, that would most likely lead to misunderstandings.

Here are some other examples of things that may cause confusion:

  1. People from other cultures kiss, touch and hug far more than Canadians do. In some countries it's a good gesture to give someone a reassuring back-slap (pat). In Canada, that may seem pushy or aggressive.
  2. In some countries, it's normal to take time and even have a siesta (a nice little sleep or nap in the middle of the day) and in general not to worry if the day's schedule does not work out. But in the Canadian marketplace and business-world, being on time is important.
  3. North American tradition requires the relatives of a bride to organize and pay for a wedding ceremony. It is the groom's responsibility to buy a ring and suit for himself, take care of a car and see that his family arrives at the wedding. But modern weddings often pay no attention to these old "rules." And with so many people from different cultures getting married to each other in Canada - it is not good idea to make any assumptions. Something as simple as choosing a gift can be much trickier than you think. A nice knife set might look great on the North American wedding gift table but in Asian countries it means a bad luck.
  4. We all eat. But different cultures eat at different times of day. Table manners can be very different from culture to culture. When you are invited by someone for a meal it might be a good idea to ask about whether you should bring something (like a bottle of wine or a salad). You should tell your host about any food you cannot eat. And when you are dining with someone from a different culture, pay attention to their table manners and don't be afraid to ask questions.

Canadian society is growing more and more diverse and multicultural. It is wise to take time to learn about different traditions, talk to people that you work and live with openly about why they act certain ways. Approach people in a loving, friendly way. We have a unique opportunity in this country, each and everyone of us, to become a part of our world's history and culture.