Social Customs and Etiquette

Hours of Business

Most businesses are open between the hours of approximately 9AM-5PM. Some retailers and grocery stores will open earlier and close later. Opening hours on weekends and holidays sometimes differ, and some businesses close during the lunch hour (typically from 12PM-1PM). If you are unsure when a business will be open, you can often find the information online.

Metric System

When measuring most things, Canadians will use the metric system; we measure distance in kilometres rather than miles, and temperature in Celsius rather than Fahrenheit. However, many Canadians will still measure their own personal height and weight in terms of feet and pounds, rather than metres and kilograms.


The standard Canadian spelling system is similar to the British English spelling system. You may encounter some words that are spelled differently from American English, such as colour (rather than color), theatre (rather than theater), defence (rather than defense). However, in other ways, Canadian spelling follows the same rules as American English, in words such as organize (rather than organise), and tire (rather than tyre).

Time Zone

The time zone in Lethbridge and Calgary, Alberta is Mountain Time (UTC -7:00).

Daylight Savings

In Alberta, we observe daylight savings. The clocks will change by one hour twice a year. Clocks are moved forward an hour every spring and back an hour every fall.


Most Canadians will eat three meals a day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Though schedules vary depending on the individual or family, breakfast is generally consumed shortly after waking (between 7am-9am); lunch is generally eaten between noon and 2pm, and dinner (sometimes called supper) is most commonly eaten in the evening, around 6pm-7pm.

There is no way to define what the “average” Canadian eats as this is influenced heavily by region and family, especially between households with different cultures or ancestry. Generally, “Canadian cuisine” is a blend of Western and other world foods. The types of foods and dishes consumed by Canadians are extremely diverse. Sometimes, versions of traditional dishes from other parts of the world have been altered or “westernized” to suit a different palate or make do with available ingredients.

Ranching, farming, and agriculture are important industries in Canada. Meat is regularly consumed in Canada, especially beef, pork, and chicken; some restaurants and farmers even sell or serve bison meat. Fresh fish and seafood may be found in coastal areas . Dairy products such as cheeses, milk, and yogurt are also popular with many Canadians. Vegan and vegetarian diets are becoming increasingly common, and many restaurants will have options to accommodate these diets.

A variety of fruits and vegetables are available at most supermarkets, both locally grown and imported. The freshest local produce can often be found in the summer season at farmer’s markets.

Canada is known for its maple syrup and for poutine, a dish originating in Quebec, consisting of French fries, brown gravy and cheese curds (sometimes with additional toppings). Other uniquely Canadian dishes and treats include butter tarts, Nanaimo bars, and tourtière, a type of meat pie.

Dining Out with Friends or Colleagues

If you are invited out to lunch, dinner, or even a cup of coffee with your friends or peers, do not assume that the person who made the invitation (or any other person in the group) will pay for your food and beverages unless he or she specifies to you that they will be purchasing your meal by giving you an indication such as saying “My treat” or “It’s on me”. When dining in a group, separate bills are common, allowing every person to pay for what he or she ordered on an individual bill. It is courteous to notify your server in advance if you would like separate bills. If someone does pay for your meal, you may want to consider finding an opportunity to reciprocate on another occasion as a sign of courtesy and thanks, although this is not mandatory or expected of you.


In Canada, many individuals working in the service industry depend on gratuities to supplement their wages. If you are dining out at a restaurant (with the exception of most fast-food restaurants, such as McDonalds), it is customary to leave a tip or gratuity for your server. An appropriate tip is approximately 15% of your total bill. It is appropriate to tip slightly less for poor service, and slightly more for excellent service or if your group is very large; some restaurants may charge an automatic 15-18% gratuity for larger groups. In most cases, tipping is not mandatory but is widely practised and withholding a tip is considered rude to your server.

It is also common to tip other workers in the service industry, including:

  • Your bartender
  • Your hairstylist or for other salon services
  • Your delivery driver or taxi driver

Although for the above services, a tip of 10-15% may suffice. If you are ever unsure about whether or not you should leave a tip or what amount is appropriate, feel free to ask nearby Canadian friends or consult the internet.

Table Etiquette

In Canada, most people will eat with a fork, knife, spoon, or other utensils—unless it is a type of food commonly eaten by hand (pizza, sandwiches, tacos, fries, etc). Watch your companions and follow their example if you are ever unsure. Keeping your arms and elbows off the table is considered polite. If you desire a food dish or item that is not within easy reach, it is better to ask someone at the table to pass it to you rather than reaching far over the table to grab it. You should avoid belching, slurping noisily, chewing with your mouth open and speaking while you are chewing. Use a napkin rather than licking your fingers.

If you are invited to dine in someone’s home, it is generally acceptable to leave small portions of food uneaten. You do not need to force yourself to eat everything on your plate if you are full or if you strongly dislike the taste. If you receive a dinner invitation to someone’s home you may wish to bring dessert, flowers or a bottle of wine as a show of appreciation, although this is not required.


Exchanging “small talk” is common when passing by acquaintances or interacting with workers in the service industry. "Small talk" refers to short greetings and brief, polite conversations, often to comment on the weather or ask how the other person is doing, etc.

“How are you?” is an extremely common greeting, to which “I’m good/fine/well, thanks” is usually the appropriate response (even if you are not particularly good/fine/well at the moment). If you happen to know the other person closely and are conversing in a more private setting, giving a longer or more truthful answer is acceptable.

When you are introduced to someone for the first time, especially in a business or formal setting, a firm handshake is typical; most people will automatically extend their right hand. It is common to make eye contact when shaking hands. When greeting friends or acquaintances, smiling (or waving, if at a distance) at them is appropriate. If you are close with the individual, exchanging hugs may also be an acceptable greeting, however it will usually will depend on what you and the other person are comfortable with.

Personal Space

Canadians value their personal space. Canada is a spacious country and even some larger urban centres are relatively uncrowded. Most Canadians, especially Albertans, are not accustomed to being tightly packed together on public transit or being a part of bustling crowds in the street. Leave a comfortable amount of distance between you and the people around you—arm’s length is a good rule, though some people may desire more space and others will require less depending on the individual.

Some people do not enjoy being touched by others, especially strangers, even if it is only a casual pat on the shoulder. If you are ever unsure whether or not it is appropriate to touch someone else, it is usually safer to ask him or her before making assumptions.


Canadians also value their privacy, so if you ask someone you are not close with a lot of personal questions, it may be seen as rude or prying. Topics such as salary, religious and political beliefs, and health issues are often not appropriate conversation topics. The better you get to know someone, the more acceptable it will be for you to discuss personal matters with him or her.

Names and Titles

Most often when speaking with someone, you will address them by their first (given) name. This is almost always the case with peers or persons younger than yourself, and it is even often the case with your seniors if they are work colleagues or family friends. If you address someone by their last name only, this may seem standoffish or unfriendly.

In very formal business settings, you will usually address someone by their title (Mister/Miss/Missus) and last name (surname).

If you are meeting with a medical doctor or other type of professional with a doctorate degree, you should address them as “Dr. (Last name)”.

You should address your professors as “Professor” or “Dr.” unless they invite you to call them by their first name.


Most people in Canada will bathe once every one or two days, brush their teeth twice daily, wear underarm deodorant or antiperspirant daily, and wash their clothes regularly. They will wash their hands with soap after using the bathroom and often before eating a meal. Practising good hygiene is considered an important personal and social skill.


In the vast majority of retailers, grocery stores, and other shops in Canada, prices are fixed and non-negotiable. Negotiating a price may be appropriate on occasion, but seldom and only under specific sets of circumstances. You may be able to negotiate the price of a car, or if an individual is privately selling a used item. When in doubt, consult with Canadian friends about whether or not negotiating the price is appropriate.


Many Canadians might use casual words or sayings that you are unfamiliar with, due to generational or regional-specific slang. If you are ever unsure what a word or phrase means, feel free to ask a local. Below you will find a list of some examples, though this is far from a complete list and usage will vary widely across different parts of Canada.

If you ever suspect that an unfamiliar expression may be impolite, it's best to ask someone in your peer group.


This is largely the most “stereotypically” Canadian slang word and the one most referenced in pop-culture. It may not be as common as you’d think, especially depending on the region you’re visiting. However, some Canadians do occasionally say “eh” at the end of a sentence, usually to mean “isn’t it?” or “right?”


Refers to a coffee with two sugars, two creams. This is heard most frequently at the Canadian fast food chain Tim Hortons, however you may hear it used other places when ordering coffee.


(Pronounced like "tuke", may also be spelled as "tuque" or "touque"). Refers to a type of close-fitting, knitted hat usually worn in the winter. In other parts of the world this is often called a beanie hat or a knit cap. Whatever you call it, you'll probably need one!


Someone who is keen, or shows real enthusiasm or effort. Sometimes used to mean “overachiever”.


Sometimes refers to kilometres.


These terms are used to refer to the Canadian $1 and $2 coins, respectively.


Unless you are specifically told to leave your shoes on, when visiting someone else’s home it is customary to remove your shoes and leave them in the entryway. This is especially important to do if your shoes are muddy or wet.

Waiting in Line/Queuing

When waiting to make a purchase, enter a theatre or other venue, talk to someone at a service desk, or other similar activities, it is customary to form a neat and orderly line on a first-come, first-serve basis. If you cut in front of another person who was there before you, he or she may be offended or complain. It is not generally acceptable to rush or shove to get ahead of others waiting in line. (Most Canadians will not use the word "queue," you're more likely to hear "line" or "lineup".)


Punctuality is important to most Canadians, where being "on time" means arriving up to 5 minutes before the designated time. You should arrive on time for all of your classes, work shifts (if you have a job), and appointments. In certain places, such as doctor’s offices, you may lose your appointment if you do not arrive on time. If you are stuck in traffic or other circumstances prevent you from arriving on time, it is polite to call and inform the appropriate person that you will be late. Showing up a few minutes late for social gatherings is typically not considered a large problem, but if you are very late (fifteen minutes or later) or consistently tardy, your friends or acquaintances may be bothered.


Many Canadians take extreme pride in the beauty and cleanliness of their country. Littering is not only against the law, but considered very rude behaviour. Make sure that all cigarette butts, food waste and wrappers, paper, bottles, cans, etc. are put into the appropriate waste or recycling container. If you have a dog or are walking someone else’s dog, the dog’s waste must be collected and disposed of properly in a bin, rather than left on the sidewalk or grass.

Cellphone Use in Theatres

If you are watching a movie in a theatre, using your cellphone to text, play games, or take phone calls is considered impolite to your fellow audience members. This is also the case during performances and concerts. It is best to leave your cellphone on silent mode in your pocket or bag.


Canadians are often stereotyped for their politeness, but this is not necessarily an untrue generalization. It is common to say “please” and “thank you” when asking for something, to excuse yourself or say “sorry” if you bump into someone on the street, and to hold the door open for a person if they are entering or exiting a building close behind you. Smiling and friendly eye contact is common when interacting with others, even strangers. Avoid interrupting someone else if they are speaking, and avoid pointing your finger at others.

Another form of politeness is heard in how Canadians make requests.  In a restaurant for example, you would say "Can I please have the...", "I'll have the..." or "I'd like the...", but not "I want the..."  Very direct language may be seen as impolite, so practice making requests with more indirect language.