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Culture shocks when moving to Canada

Culture shocks expats may experience when moving to Canada

Picture that moment when you crest the Coastal Rockies after a ten-hour flight and your plane drops down into the Lower Mainland, destination Vancouver – gem of the Pacific North-West. You know that the scenery will be dramatically different – the view from the plane window already confirms that. You know that the lifestyle won’t compare – you’ve heard about those long summers drinking craft beers on sun-drenched patios or cold winters with endless powdery snow and untold alpine adventures.

But you don’t yet know about the subtle Canadian oddities that might appeal or could just as easily grate. You’ve arrived well prepared for life in Canada but did you fully prepare for the cultural differences?


We speak the same language as Canadians but with a few caveats, eh? And that’s the first of them – Canadians love to throw in an “eh” wherever they can. More importantly, they also speak French because Canada is a bilingual country.

If you work in government, you’ll be expected to converse in both languages to a high standard. It can take a bit of getting used to, particularly as the form of French spoken in Canada isn’t the Parisian French you might be more accustomed to.


Canada is entirely multicultural – and not in the way you might be familiar with. Other cultures don’t simply settle here and assimilate into the local way of life. Instead, Canada is a safe and welcoming country that encourages other cultures to immigrate to Canada while maintaining their original culture and language where possible.

It’s something that Canadians are proud of and determined to maintain – inclusivity and a new home for all. This is also known as Canada’s cultural mosaic.


More geographical than cultural, this can easily be one of the biggest expat shocks. The Great White North is vast. It is a huge land with a relatively small population, connected by railway and road (plus a fairly extensive air network). It can be difficult getting around town without the use of a car, although public transport in the larger cities is generally quite good.

The Trans Canada Highway is the longest paved road in a single country in the world and I was fortunate to drive a large part of it when moving from Vancouver to Ottawa in 2005. Only then did I really appreciate Canada’s immense size, which can come as a shock to an Englishman or woman used to smaller geographies.


Much of Canada is influenced by the US and food is no exception. When you first stroll into a supermarket or grocery store, the cavernous building might overwhelm you with aisle upon aisle ranging off into the distance. On closer inspection, the food is not always like that found in the UK – there’s greater emphasis placed on bulk and less on healthy eating options (although the winds of change are blowing in this regard).

It’s also worth remembering that tax isn’t added to the price of your purchase until you get to the checkout. Frustratingly, this caught me out on many occasions but, as with all cultural differences in Canada, it simply takes time to understand and ultimately appreciate.

Russell Ward is a British expat living on Sydney’s Northern Beaches where he writes about his search for a life less ordinary at, one of Australia’s leading expat and travel blogs.

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