What Canadian people talk about

As a new immigrant, you may be VERY surprised to learn that there are a lot of topics that in Canadian culture are considered inappropriate (not good) or even taboo.

When you are talking to your close friends, your family members or your doctor, all the topics are good. But be careful with your new friends or any new people (that includes people you work with in the same company).

DO NOT DISCUSS:

  • health problems
  • money/salary
  • religion
  • age
  • children
  • marriage
  • politics

Health

Never ask a person ‘How is your health?’ This is very personal and this information is reserved for a discussion with a person’s doctor. If a person had complained to you about a headache or a sore throat, it’s appropriate to ask how they feel, but anything more serious (for example a surgery) is usually only discussed with close friends.

Never tell a person: ‘You look tired.’ or ‘You look sick.’ It will only make them feel worse. If you want to show that you care, ask ‘How are you?’ or ‘Are you okay?’

Money

Never ask a co-worker or a new friend ‘How much did you pay for your house/car/any expensive item?’ or ‘What’s your salary?’ Again, this information is for close friends only.

The only way you can ask about an expensive item is if you are trying to buy the same/similar one. In that case, you should say: “I’m looking for a jacket just like this. Would you mind if I ask you how much you got it for?”

Religion

Canada is a multicultural country with people of many religions living together as neighbours. We focus on things that we share and have in common, and not the things that divide us. It is not appropriate to ask ‘What is your religion?’ or ‘Are you a Christian/Muslim?’ You can tell people about your religion but do not ask them about theirs. If they want, they will share this information with you, but many people consider this a very personal topic.

Age

Never ask a person ‘How old are you?’ This question is only appropriate for children. Do not comment on how a person looks ( Don’t say ‘Oh, you look so young!’) People’s age doesn’t matter – we respect both young and old. What matters is your personality and your skills.

It is not polite to call a person ‘old’ (don’t say ‘He is old.’ Say: ‘He is a senior.’) Also, never say ‘old woman’. We say ‘elderly lady’.

Children

Do not ask a person ‘How many children do you have?’ or ‘Why do you only have one child?’ or ‘Are you going to have more children?’

Wait and listen. If a person tells you ‘I have a daughter’, it is okay to ask them how old their daughter is. But be careful: do not ask them if they have other children. Remember: it is possible that a woman wants to have children or more children but she cannot and the doctors can’t help her. Infertility is a big problem in the Western world. Also, remember that many people in Canada choose not to have children.

Marriage

Many couples in Canada choose to have a common law relationship. This means that people live together as a family but they do not sign any papers. Do not ask a person ‘Are you married?’ Listen to what they say – if they say ‘my husband/wife’ you know they are married. If they always say ‘John/Mary/my partner’ it means they are not.

Politics

It is acceptable to discuss political news. But do not ask a person any question about how they voted in the election or which political party they support – this is personal. Again, the person may choose to tell you about their political views but do not directly ask them ‘Who did you vote for?’

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Jokes

Do not make jokes about women, religion, race or other cultures. These jokes may really upset some people and you will make enemies instead of friends.

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We use conversation to make friends and build relationships. A carefully chosen topic(s) will help you build GOOD RELATIONSHIPS. People will appreciate and respect you because you will have a reputation of being tactful, diplomatic and considerate.