When you think of Canada, the second largest country in the world after Russia, what immediately springs to mind? Most likely such things as maple syrup, elk, beavers, ice hockey and its stunning landscape will register. But did you know that this nation is able to beat any another country hands down as the biggest consumer of ‘donuts’, as well as offering a seven-month ski season?! It doesn’t stop there. This North American country houses more lakes than the rest of the world combined and the longest coastline of any nation at 125,570 miles. It also boasts a remarkable stretch of awe-inspiring natural beauty from the well-known and diverse wilderness of the Canadian Rockies, full to the brim with forests, canyons, lakes and ancient glaciers, to the all-powerful Niagara Falls, and the lesser-known Dinosaur Provincial Park, accommodating the world’s biggest dinosaur graveyard. And let’s not forget its expansive amount of natural resources; it ranks third in the world for its oil reserve and offers the highest educated workforce, as well as a flourishing tourist trade. Who wouldn’t want to invest in such a prosperous and dynamic country whose strong and steady economy and financial stability offers a wealth of investment?
Nevertheless, it is always worth bearing in mind when exporting to another country, their culture and way of business. Researching ahead of time allows you to make the most out of your international venture. Simply put, if you want to build as strong a partnership with Canada as the roots of their national maple tree, it will serve you well to tap into their business and cultural etiquette thoroughly, to bring you the sweetest of business alliances. Below you will find just a smattering of Dos and Don’ts to help you get started.
Do learn about the Canadian region with which you are doing business, as cultures and business practices vary across the board. Going the extra mile will be much appreciated.
Do give everyone his or her due. Hierarchy does not play a role in Canadian business. Everyone’s opinions have a place, regardless of one’s status or role within the company.
Do be aware of Canadian work hours. Becoming a morning person is advantageous, as they prefer appointments before noon.
Do maintain strong eye contact when greeting your Canadian counterparts, at the same time as ensuring a firm handshake. Not looking them in the eye could potentially suggest you are insincere, which would not bode well in solidifying a long-lasting business relationship.
Do master the Canadian lingo. For instance you might be en route to your business appointment and get lost, so when you ask for directions, you want to be au fait with the jargon; ‘hang a larry’ (turn left) or ‘hang a roger’ (turn right) at the Dep (short for Dépanneur), a convenience store in Québec or Montreal, it’s only a ‘klick’ (1 kilometre) away! Also, if you get sent to the first floor in an office, you’ll know it means the ground floor, just as if someone offers you a ‘Timbit’ with your tea or coffee, you’ll be able to say with absolute certainty whether you would like a ‘donut’ or not. Likewise if you’re doing business in the city of Calgary located in the municipality of Alberta, be aware of its alias name, ‘Cowtown’.
Do get to grips with the correct pronunciation of Québec if you’re negotiations are taking place in this eastern Canadian city. Correctly pronounced ‘kay-bec’, avoid the anglicised pronunciation of ‘kwee-bec’ or ‘kew-bec’. Canadians have a penchant for detail in business, so it may well work in your favour, as it shows you’ve done your research. Similarly, if you’re heading Toronto way, talk the talk of the Torontonians by pronouncing their city the proper way, ‘tronno’ or ‘toronno’. Annunciating the second ‘t’ will definitely highlight you as a visitor!
Do distinguish between European and Canadian French. It is always considered respectful to learn some of your destination country’s language; as they say when in Rome do as the Romans do! Therefore, if you are visiting the French-speaking parts of Canada, such as the more recognised area of Québec, or the lesser-known city of Ontario, both the Québécois and Franco-Ontarians will appreciate your linguistic efforts, including turning up to negotiations with bilingual business cards in English and French.
Don’t be offended by their forthright nature. Canadians are direct when it comes to business, there is no pussy footing around. Likewise written contact follows the same path.
Don’t make any comparisons with the US. Canada is not the US! Apart from irritating them, it could possibly lead to a short-lived alliance.
Don’t start your business relationship off on the wrong foot by turning up late to a meeting. Canadians expect punctuality in business.
Don’t ask a Québecois in polite chitchat how his ‘gosses’ are (European French term for children); better to refer to his children as ‘enfants’. Although the linguistic gaffe is probably more likely to result in laughter since it means testicles in Canadian French and from a foreigner they might find it endearing, there might just be the odd Québecois who takes affront!
Don’t arrive at a business meeting smelling of perfume, hairspray or aftershave; it will go down like a ton of bricks. It seems many Canadians suffer from asthma and allergies, so this everyday act at home could come across as a bit of a threat in Canadian culture.
Don’t kill your business relationship before it’s had a chance to blossom by offering lilies as a gift as they are associated with death.
Don’t be surprised if someone asks if you would like some Homo milk with your tea or coffee in a business meeting. It is short for Homogenized milk (aka whole milk).
Don’t think the Canadians have lost the plot when they refer to a loonie (Canadian $1 coin named after the indigenous ‘loon’ bird) or toonie (Canadian $2 coin so-named to fall in rhyme with its smaller brother!).
All said and done, with these helpful tips under your belt you can launch yourself down that international business slope with a little more confidence!
By Madeline Prusmann, Project Manager, May 2017