Canada's Social Customs

When you move to a new country, it is a good idea to prepare yourself by becoming acquainted with their social norms and customs. Here are some of Canada's social customs:


When introduced, Canadians smile and say, "Hello, how are you?" or "Hello, nice to meet you!" It is customary to extend your right hand to shake. To shake hands, grip the other person's hand firmly but not tightly, and gently pump two to three times.

Personal distance

Geographically, Canada is a vast country. There is so much space that Canadians are accustomed to standing 60 - 100 cm away from each other in social or business settings. When Canadians go to the pharmacy, they stand at least 100 cm away from the person served at the counter. Standing any closer makes Canadians feel uncomfortable - especially in the pharmacy, people think the information they are sharing with the pharmacist is private and therefore gives a significant amount of distance between the customer being served and the person next in line.

Eye Contact

It is customary for Canadians to make eye contact with the person they are talking to, no matter their gender, age or if they are an authority figure, such as a professor or supervisor.


People expect you to be on time for work, school, medical appointments, and business meetings. You could lose your job or be suspended from school if you are frequently late. People will not wait for more than 10 - 15 minutes for someone late for a business meeting. If you are running late, make sure to contact the person you are meeting, and explain why you are late. For social events, it is expected people arrive on time, up to and no later than half an hour from the time they were invited.

Personal questions

Unless you are with a friend, it is impolite to ask the following personal questions:

How much money do you make?

How much did you pay for your house/car?

Why aren't you married?

Why don't you have children?

How old are you?

How much do you weigh?

Public Behaviour

Loud conversations, name-calling or violence (such as spanking children) are not acceptable. Hitting or threatening another person, including family members, is against the law.


Canadians line up at bus stops, banks, stores, restaurants, markets, events, cinema etc. Canadian expect services on a first-come, first-served basis. If there is no lineup, Canadians take turns instead of pushing ahead. People will become angry if you cut into the middle of a line, instead of lining up from the back, or if you push against the person ahead of you.

Holding Hands

Men and women, young children and family members often hold hands in public. It is also acceptable for two men or two women to hold hands.

Respect the environment

Canadians are very proud of our beautiful landscape and are very environmentally conscious. It is expected people do not litter, or leave garbage in the street, on the ground, or throw litter out a car. You can be fined for littering. You are expected to put your trash in the public garbage cans available in most public places.

In Alberta, you can recycle many items such as bottles, paper, car tires and electronics. Many communities have eco centres where you can recycle items in specific marked recycle bins. Most residences place items for recycling in a blue box or blue plastic bag. These items are left outside the house on scheduled days for collection. Learn more about what you can recycle


Smoking is not permitted in any public or workplace, including restaurants, bus or taxi shelters (indoor AND outdoor), public vehicles and washrooms. If you smoke, you are not allowed within five meters from the doorway, window or air intake of public or workplace. Ask permission before lighting a cigarette in someone's home or car.


Albertans enjoy volunteering by donating their time and skills to support not-for-profit organizations, everything from hospitals, schools to arts and sports groups. Volunteering is a great way to get to know the people in your community. Becoming a volunteer is a great way to build skills for future employment in Canada! Volunteer for International Student Services

Join the Peer Program

You probably will come across other Canadian customs you might find strange. Join the Peer Program to help you understand why Canadians act the way they do! The Peer Program matches you with a Senior Peer, who can help you navigate Canada's culture and understand UAlberta's academic culture.

For more tips about living in Alberta, download Welcome to Alberta: Information for Newcomers.