How did the Americans contribute to the Canadian identity

Cultural characteristics in Canada

Endless expanses, vast forests, crystal clear lakes and icy cold winters. Bears, beavers, bison and elk. Maple syrup, poutine and fast food. Parliamentary monarchy, mounties and multiculturalism. Like every country in the world, Canada is associated with certain ideas and clichés. Anyone planning to spend some time in Canada while studying abroad should also prepare for it culturally. Anyone who has dealt with the cultural differences between home and host country before starting their studies can avoid a possible culture shock.

For a long time Canada, especially in cultural terms, was only perceived as the little brother of the USA. There are Nothing worse for Canadians than being constantly compared to their southern neighbors. For historical reasons alone, there are at least as many, if not more, cultural similarities with Europe. In addition, one should not forget that Canada is an independent state with its very own eventful history and its very own culture is. Canadians are proud of their country and their culture, especially their health and education systems. Diversity, tolerance and social responsibility are very important.

Determining and describing the culture of a nation is generally not easy, but capturing the culture of Canada is particularly difficult. It's not just because Canada is a classic immigration country and is also a fairly young nation. In Canada it is Multiculturalism political and social reality and diversity is encouraged. Such a “mosaic” of many different cultures naturally makes it particularly difficult to identify a “typically Canadian” culture. A look at the origins of Canadian culture certainly helps to fathom the cultural characteristics of Canada.

Origins of Canadian Culture

© Annemarie D.

An eventful history of immigration and the influence of the indigenous people are among the cultural features in Canada.

The reason why Canadian culture and society do so differentiated and extremely diverse is, lies in the origins and the political and social developments of the country. Fundamental cultural influences are France, Great Britain, the culture of the First Nations and Inuit, the cultural elements of immigrants of various ethnic origins, and pop culture from the United States.

Ultimately, the British emerged victorious from the colonial wars between France and Great Britain in Canada. So Canada is still part of the Commonwealth to this day and Queen Elizabeth is the official head of state. The province of Québec emerged from the former New France. In order to avoid further conflict, the British Parliament granted the French Canadians French civil law, the freedom to practice their religion and French as the official language. Nonetheless, the decades that followed were also one Cultural battle between Francophone and Anglophone Canadians embossed. To this day, this has caused tensions in the country.

Contrary to expectations, Francophone Canadians did not become part of the mainstream Anglophone majority over the years. Instead, they pushed for more independence, especially in the areas of education and culture. The desire of some separatists in Québec to split off completely from the rest of the country culminated in the "Quiet Revolution" in the 1960s, Canada has been an officially bilingual country since 1969.

Live in Canada now over 200 ethnic groups and it will be over 100 different languages spoken. In general, the Canadian population is made up of four main groups in order of immigration to the country:

  • The indigenous people: First Nations, Inuit and Métis (the descendants of French and Scottish fur traders who formed relationships with First Nation women). They make up around 3.8% of the total population. Nunavut is the first Canadian territory with a predominantly indigenous population.
  • The Anglo and French Canadians, the descendants of the pioneers, conquerors and settlers of the founding nations of France and England.
  • Those who later immigrated European minorities from countries such as Germany, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Hungary, the Ukraine or Poland.
  • The so-called "visible minorities“(Visible minority) who have only come to Canada since the 1970s. The Canadian government defines “visible minority” as people who are neither indigenous nor “Caucasian” (ie of European origin) and who are not fair-skinned. The term is primarily used as a demographic category by Statistics Canada.

So Canada is a Amalgam from many cultures - started with the indigenous people. The country's laws and political structure are based on values ​​"imported" by settlers from Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the United States and Scandinavia. A new perspective comes from immigrants from India, the Philippines and China.

The Aboriginal culture has left a lasting impact on national culture. Countless indigenous words, inventions, concepts and games have found their way into the language and culture of Canada. Many places are names of indigenous origin. The name "Canada" itself comes from the Laurentian (Iroquois language family) and means village or settlement. The name of the capital of Canada, Ottawa, comes from the Algonquin language and means "to trade". Even if the First Nations had a formative influence on today's Canadian culture, it must not be forgotten that the indigenous people of Canada were also oppressed for a long time. Even today they are still dissatisfied with their situation and position within Canada.

Looking for a cultural / national identity

© Muskoka Stock Photos /

In the meantime, all elements reminiscent of Great Britain have been removed from the Canadian national flag.

Even if Canadians are very proud of their country, they have less to do with a strong patriotism, as we know it from Americans. The question arises again and again in the Canadian media whether Canada even has a cultural or a national identity and it is always hotly debated. Why Canadians find it difficult to identify a uniform national culture for themselves is certainly also due to the fact that Canada, unlike the US, does not have a strong founding myth. From the beginning, two European cultures also competed with each other: the British and the French. In addition, there are the different cultures of the First Nations, the Inuit and the Métis.

Canada was not formed around one ethnic group, so it is difficult to make out a general cultural identity. What unites Canada, according to a survey: The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the universal health system, hockey and multiculturalism. The Nordic landscape is also a significant link between Canadians. It makes the country appear more uniform than comparatively the United States.

Many ethnic groups, except those of the indigenous people, often refer to themselves as "Hyphenated Canadians" (Anglo-Canadian, Franco-Canadians etc.). For many, being Canadian means having more than one identity. The Canadian national holiday (Canada Day) is a national holiday, but in terms of identification potential can hardly be compared with the 4th of July, Independence Day, which is celebrated in the USA. Canada Day is a reminder of the formation of Canada on July 1st, 1867, but as a state of the Commonwealth.

However, Canadians also put cultural identity through Differentiation from the neighboring country USA here. For Canadians, there is nothing worse than being lumped together with Americans. The strong need for demarcation is already evident from the fact that Kandiers always refer to Americans as "Americans" or "Yanks", but always refer to themselves as "Canadians" and never as "Americans". Frequent criticisms of the USA are the existence of the death penalty in individual states, the extreme social injustice, the aggressive foreign policy and the non-existent health system.

By the way, there are now various programs and institutions of the federal governmentin order to support and protect cultural particularities in Canada and thus to work out an independent Canadian culture.

Traditions, holidays and symbols

For one thing, there is national holidays, on the other hand, many regional holidaysthat are only committed by individual provinces / territories. In addition, all ethnic minorities have the right to celebrate their own religious holidays and to freely live out their customs and traditions. The Chinese New Year celebrated in Vancouver, for example, has long since become famous. National holidays are

  • New Year’s Day (January 1st)
  • Good Friday
  • Canada Day (national holiday on July 1st)
  • Labor Day (first Monday in September)
  • Thanksgiving (second Monday in October)
  • Christmas Day (December 25th)

Canada is associated with various symbols. The best-known symbol, especially since it is also featured on the Canadian national flag, is the maple leaf. Other symbols are the beaver, the Canadian horse, the moose and the uniform of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (Mountie). Also the totem poles of the First Nations as well as the stone formations of the Inuit, the Inuksuit. Incidentally, an Inuksuk was also the logo for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The The national sport of Canadians is of course ice hockey, also simply called hockey. Official summer sport is lacrossewhich, by the way, has an indigenous origin.

The Cuisine in Canada varies greatly from region to region and is of course strongly influenced by the many immigrant nations. However, many Canadians now agree: the Quebec dish poutine (french fries with cheese and gravy) and the cake dessert butter tart are the Canadian national dishes. Not to forget of course the maple syrup! The inhabitants of the Atlantic provinces, on the other hand, have nothing better than their lobster.

Features of Canadian culture

© Florian B.

Courtesy and friendliness are very important. Canada is not an elbow society.

Each culture has certain characteristics that set it apart from other cultures. Working out the characteristics of a culture helps to understand them better. Of course, this approach is generalizing and not every characteristic generally applies to all Canadians. Above all, it helps to deal with the cultural peculiarities in Canada and with the characteristics of Canadian culture for initial orientation. Life in Canada has some cultural pitfalls in store for German students that can certainly be avoided with appropriate preparation.

Local patriots

Canada is considered the most decentralized country in the world. Given this fact, it is not surprising that Canadians identify more strongly with the region in which they live than with the country itself. There are by no means slight differences between the individual regions Differences in mentality. The people in the Atlantic provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland) are seen as more reserved than their fellow nationals and also as a bit old-fashioned. The residents of Western Canada (Alberta, Manitoba and Sasketchewan) are particularly open, friendly and relaxed. While Ontario is considered to be quite conservative, the people of British Columbia are more unconventional. The main difference is between Anglophone Canadians and the minority Francophone Canadians. Here one can speak of cultural differences and less of deviations in terms of mentality. Incidentally, the Quebecois are considered to be extremely regionalist.

The Regionally anchored culture appears to many to be identity-forming. Cape Breton Island, for example, is shaped by Scottish Gaelic traditions, while Calgary, for example, is Canada's “cowboy capital”. The original cultures are also reflected on the regional holidays: St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in Newfoundland and Labrador, the Journée nationale des patriotes in Québec and National Aboriginal Day is an official holiday in the Northwest Territories.

The Canadian "Mosaic": Officially Multicultural!

Canada recognized early on that the country's economic success and independence from the United States would depend on one open immigration policy are dependent. As many well-educated people as possible should feel encouraged to start a new life in Canada in order to further advance progress. After several waves of immigration since the country was founded, Canada is now one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world. At least since the 1970s, when non-European cultures increasingly poured into the country, the question arose of how to deal with this great diversity in order to avoid conflicts.

Canada has taken its own path here: Canada has been officially multicultural since 1971 and multiculturalism has been enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms since 1982. This means:

  • Ethnic and cultural diversity is seen as positive and enriching.
  • Cultural difference is a right: All people have the right to maintain and cultivate their cultural characteristics.
  • Tolerance and Equality: All cultures are equal.

June 27th is the Canadian Multiculturalism Day.

While the US is seen as a melting pot of cultures, Canada sees itself as one cultural "mosaic". Instead of the different cultures merging into a single new culture, the peaceful coexistence of the most diverse cultures is celebrated here. "Integration" instead of "assimilation" is the Canadian creed. US immigrants are under pressure to become "American" as quickly as possible and to adapt their original cultural identity as much as possible. Immigration policy in Canada is very different: Immigrants should integrate, but they have the right to preserve and cultivate their own cultural identity. Successfully integrated and naturalized immigrants are then officially Canadians, but often make themselves "Hyphenated Canadians". For Canadians, the most natural thing in the world is to have multiple identities. The "hyphenated Canadian" is primarily Canadian, but then there is also identification with ethnic origin. Many Canadians can trace their own roots far back and are as proud of them as they are of being Canadians.

Individualists with a sense of community

Canadians are considered pronounced individualists. An individualistic society is characterized by the fact that the individual is more important than the group. Most of all, Canadians care for themselves and their core family. All other relationships are loosely linked and everyone is responsible for themselves. Likewise is the Individual performance is more important than where he comes from. German culture is also considered individualistic, although individualism is not as pronounced as in Canada.

Nonetheless, Canadians are at the same time very community-oriented and also believe that everyone has an individual responsibility to the community. Quality of life is very important, as is empathy. Voluntary commitment plays an important role in the social life of Canadians and neighborly help is also a matter of course. While Canadians strive to achieve high levels of performance in all areas, this applies to them Work-life balance a lot. People simply shouldn't be neglected and so, unlike in the USA, performance, success and profit play a rather secondary role.

Polite but mostly direct: Canadians' communication behavior

Just like Germany, Canada is a so-called in terms of communication style Low context-Culture. Canadians prefer one clear and precise way of communicationin which you mean what you say. So there is no "hidden" information between the lines that can only be made clear through allusions, gestures or facial expressions. This of course facilitates communication between Germans and Canadians. But be careful: When it comes to criticism or negatives, Canadians are much less direct than in Germany.

Understatement and instinct are important elements in the communication style of Canadians. Criticism that is too open can quickly come across as aggressive or even hurtful. Discussing loudly is preferred to avoid in order to maintain harmony.Especially when it comes to small talk, you shouldn't get too deep.

Canadians appreciate harmonious conversation and Small talk plays an extremely important role in everyday interaction. While Germans tend to get straight to the “heart of the matter” and are extremely factual, Canadians are first of all about finding a nice and personal atmosphere to accomplish. In general, they are therefore more open to personal issues than Germans, although Canadians actually only have a different perspective on what “personal” issues are. This openness and speaking about things that you as a German tend not to talk about when you first get to know each other should not be overestimated or even viewed as an invitation to friendship. This has nothing to do with superficiality, but rather with the need of the candies to create a personal and harmonious atmosphere through small talk.

The E-mail traffic is in stark contrast to personal contact. This is where Canadians waste no time and they get straight to the point. Often even the salutation is missing, which is perceived as impolite in Germany. Questions or phrases are also perceived as annoying and are left out.

The most popular small talk topic is the weather. Sure, the weather conditions in Canada are ultimately extreme and therefore offer good topics to talk about and some Weather Forecaster even enjoy celebrity status. More good topics are work and profession, travel and other countries, ice hockey as well as the Canadian nature and internationally known Canadian writers, actors or singers. This is what Kandiers are particularly proud of. Less good small talk topics: Politics (especially related to the tension between Anglo and French Canadians or regarding the indigenous people), religion and sex. These areas are extremely personal to Canadians and are among the topics that are only spoken about with closest friends, if at all. Illnesses and body weight are also not good small talk topics in Canada. On Political Correctness is very important in Canada and people react accordingly sensitively to discussions about social class or discrimination.

Risky, short-term oriented and cheerful

It is common knowledge: Germans like to protect themselves by setting up many regulations and standards and setting up a huge bureaucratic apparatus for this purpose. An expert is always required for important decisions and everything is planned down to the smallest detail. Compared to Germany, Canada is considered to be much more willing to take risks: New ideas are quickly accepted, communication is rather informal and innovations quickly find acceptance. Go to Canada Flexibility and quick response before security.

Diligence, thrift and discipline are important cultural values ​​in Germany. The focus is on the future and long-term goals are pursued persistently and persistently over the years. In a very pragmatic way, traditions and concepts of truth are also adapted to current circumstances. It looks completely different in Canada. Just like the neighboring country USA, Canada is characterized by a very short-term thinking focused on the here and now out. The aim is to achieve the short-term goals as quickly and effectively as possible and to react quickly to changing circumstances. Instead of specially defined rules and standards, the Canadians are guided by long-established principles, recommendations for action and Traditions as well as a shared belief in a universal truth.

International students rave in their testimonials not only about the politeness and friendliness of Canadians, but also about that relaxed interaction with one another and a positive attitude towards life. In fact, Canada, unlike Germany, is one of the so-called “indulgent” cultures. Free time and personal enjoyment take up a large part of the life of Canadians. They also like to spend their money on it. Work to live is the motto here and not the other way around. The human contact is much more informal and comradely than in this country - you will notice that at the latest in your everyday study life and in the courses!

Behavioral tips for Canada

© Camosun College

Intercultural competence is inherent in Canadians - so there is no better country to acquire intercultural competence!

There may be a lot of cultural overlaps between Germany and Canada - but you can still slip into one or two faux pas during your studies in Canada (be it a semester abroad or a bachelor's or master's degree). That is certainly always a part of it and shouldn't put anyone off. With a few behavioral tips in advance, you will certainly succeed to avoid one or the other cultural slip-up!

The the most common form of greeting is shaking hands. The handshake should be firm and accompanied by a friendly smile. In Québec, a kiss on the cheek (one on the left and one on the right) is a common greeting. Canadians do tend to get caught up quickly to address them by their first names, however, you should wait until this is offered to you - especially towards higher-ranking or older people. It is the same with the Duzen (do instead of vous) in the French-speaking part of the country. "How are you" is the mandatory greeting and should not be misunderstood as an invitation to complain to the opposite of your suffering.

Canadians like to invite you to the so-called Potluck a. These are parties to which everyone brings something to eat and drink. BYOB means "Bring Your Own Bottle" and is often written on a sign in the entrance area of ​​smaller and cheap restaurants, as these usually do not have an alcohol license and therefore allow their guests to bring their own alcoholic drinks.

Dos and don'ts

Courtesy and friendliness, e.g. thanking the driver after the bus rideQuestions about the “real” nationality of Canadians who do not look European
Don't push and always queue at the backDon't tip
A lot and like to smalltalkCompare Canadians to Americans
Take off your shoes without being asked before entering the house / apartmentTell racist or sexist jokes
Pay attention to eye contact during the conversationCriticism of the Canadian health system or environmental policy
Always express criticism in an indirect and nice wayDrink alcohol in public
Keep an arm's length away and respect privacyUnpunctuality