'Beer and hockey:' Government-hosted webpage outlines Canadian culture
People take in the Canada 150 celebrations on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Saturday, July 1, 2017. Ottawa is preparing for a hot, sunny Canada Day, with concerts, speeches and fireworks on Parliament Hill to mark the country's 152nd birthday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Sean Kilpatrick
Published Friday, August 2, 2019 4:57PM EDT
What do you do when you meet a Canadian?
According to a page on the government's website, you might want to ask about the weather.
"Good topics of conversation are: work, studies, the weather (a good opener), one's house, vacations, sports (especially hockey, American football, baseball, water sports and, increasingly, soccer/football) and other leisure activities."
That's an excerpt from Global Affairs Canada's "Country Insights" page for Canada. It's a little-known corner of the government-operated website run by a third party group called the Centre for Intercultural Learning, where travellers can find etiquette and cultural information about more than 100 different countries – including our own.
The stated purpose of these Country Insights is to "provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country," according to the website.
It publishes the perspectives of both a Canadian and a person born in the selected country in order to paint that picture for the would-be traveller.
A disclaimer on the website warns that "the content of Country Insights in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning."
So, what exactly does this government-hosted page say about us Canadians? Let's dive in.
How to talk to Canadians
"The best way to impress most Canadians is to show what you have noticed is different from the United States, as there is a great deal of sensitivity and concern about being lumped in with our powerful neighbour."
Once the topic of how Canadians are "humbler, funnier, more tolerant and/or less aggressive than Americans" has been exhausted, the webpage lists multiple other subjects travellers can use to bait Canadians into conversation, such as world geography, our endurance of the weather, and "Canadian beer and hockey."
However, there are some topics to avoid.
Canadians do not like to chat about religion, politics – "especially the separatist movement" – money, or salary on first contact. Take heed of this if Canadian musician Drake’s song Money In The Grave starts playing in a Canadian club and one feels the urge to sign along.
Humour "should be approached with caution in Canada." The web page says this is due to a strong sense of political correctness in many circles. However, it admits that East Coasters' sensitivities are "tougher with more tolerant limits."
The page also has a not-so-subtle warning for close talkers.
"Canadians jealously guard personal space and privacy, making them very reserved people," it says.
"When lining up in a public place, the bank for instance, Canadians require at least 14 inches of space and some people need more."
Be sure to have your ruler with you.
The website also warns that Canadians favour the use of deodorant and scorn those who burp, spit or slurp in public.
How to dress like a Canadian worker:
Any good Canadian knows the importance of fashion, whether it's the always-appropriate denim on denim combination or the desperate pursuit to replicate a marshmallow in the winter.
However, fashion can get sensitive in a workplace environment. While the Country Insights page says "Canada is a relatively informal and relaxed country," it still has some guidelines.
"Canadian women wear little make-up and their clothes can be relatively conservative and comfortable. Younger women can be seen in more revealing clothes and wearing more flattering outfits, especially in schools," the government-hosted web page describes.
"Younger men stick to the accepted kakis and chinos, with some verging on the sport jacket and/or vest. In general, Canadians wear very dark and sober tones. In summer, white and brighter colours are permissible."
While the web page misspells khakis, its clear understanding of what underpins our collective reputation as a fashion-forward country cannot be underscored. Just make sure to iron those chinos.
Diversity and cultural information:
"The population is generally tolerant of diversity, and it has a very liberal approach to social and political issues. This is not to say that there is not conflict and controversy or that everyone in the country sees eye-to-eye on all issues."
The web page describes Canada as a place where progress in being made on racial, gender and class divides, but it doesn't sugar coat the work to be done on all fronts.
"There is an unspoken class divide among Canadians…the division becomes more evident in [the] extra-office associations and social ties and friendships originating at the office, [which] tend to be socially horizontal rather than vertical (up or down)."
It also identifies that Indigenous issues in Canada are "complex and problematic" and warns of the "glass ceiling" women and visible minorities face in Canada.
The guide also warns that sexual overtures in the workplace are considered "inappropriate and threatening," adding that they could result in legal action.
"Avoiding any references to sexuality or appearance, unless on good terms with that person, is a good way of ensuring that any such comments will not be misinterpreted."
What tunes Canadians enjoy:
While this list is strangely devoid of any mention of Justin Bieber, Arcade Fire and Drake, it does lay out the names of some of the legendary musicians of our time, like the Barenaked Ladies, Our Lady Peace and "Avril Levigne."
There are also some true Canadian musical greats that made the gently outdated list: Leonard Cohen, Oscar Peterson, Neil Young, The Tragically Hip and Celine Dion.
It also lists Susan Aglukark – whose name was also misspelled on the page as "Susan Aglukart," Jann Arden, Great Big Sea, Blue Rodeo and k.d. lang, among others.
While the playlist that draws on this website's recommendations might not contain any songs released after 2003, at least young Canadians will be able to channel Neil Young as they tell previous generations: "Take a look at my playlist, I’m a lot like you."
Thanks to this webpage, travellers and Canadians alike can understand how to fully enjoy Canadian culture as they sit back in their chinos and chat about the weather while the Barenaked Ladies caress their eardrums.
Remember not to burp.