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Wilfrid Laurier University Leaf
December 20, 2014
Canadian Excellence

Cultural Etiquette

Anyone who is unfamiliar with someone's cultural norms or religious practices may easily misunderstand their actions, or inadvertently insult them. There are two ways of avoiding misunderstandings. One is to find out about cultural norms and religious practices of the people you spend time with, and the other is to be tolerant and assume that others are doing their best to be respectful of you.

There are bound to be differences when people from various ethnic or religious backgrounds come to share a common space. While manners are often different in other countries and even in different parts of the same country, having and using good manners is a universal asset. There may be some situations that leave you wondering if you have handled things well….if so below you will find some simple examples of cultural etiquette.

A usual tip in a restaurant is 15% of the bill before the taxes are added. Some people also like to give a small tip when they buy coffee, an ice cream cone or other small purchases, but such gratuities are not expected. Instances where tips are required are at a restaurant, the hairstylist, a taxi or a bar.

Fibbing (Lying)
If someone asks you if you like his or her haircut and you don’t, it isn’t lying to spare his or her feelings. Your lack of enthusiasm should help them choose a different style or stylist next time. Lying about important matters however, can get you a reputation as an untrustworthy person.

Accepting Compliments
Even if you are shy, when someone compliments you, a “Thank you” is generally in order.

Accepting Gifts
A smile and “thank you” is required when you are given a gift. If you recognize it as the same one you gave this person a while ago, maybe just a little smile and a mumbled “thank you”.

Although not everyone does it, it is easier if you stay on the right when using the sidewalk, stairs, trails etc. Otherwise you may end up in an awkward situation, not knowing which way to turn.

Standing Around
If you are a part of a group and are standing around talking on the sidewalk, you want to make sure that people can pass and don’t have to walk in the street to get by.

If you are unsure about what to wear and it isn’t possible to ask someone, you can always dress up a little, particularly for a job interview or when meeting a partner’s parents. Neat and clean rarely goes out of style. Don’t forget to check the message on your favourite T-shirt; you may no longer notice it but it could offend someone you want to impress or send a wrong message about you.

When you receive a formal invitation and there is an “RSVP”, you are expected to let the host know whether you are coming or not and within the time indicated on the card. “Regrets only” means you are coming unless you have called to say you are not. If you neglect these duties, you could cause the host unnecessary trouble or expense, and not receive a second invitation.

Driving and Gas Money
If you are a regular rider in someone else’s car, or are taking a long trip with someone, you may want to offer to contribute toward the gas money.

When you say, “come over sometime” it could be interpreted as “don’t bother me” or you could expect a knock on your door within 48 hours, depending on the culture of the person you said it to. It is best to avoid saying this unless you know how it will be received. Be specific about the time if you want someone to visit you.

Addressing People
This is a fairly informal culture but nonetheless it is usual to use a formal title in business environments and with teachers unless you are asked by them to use a first name. The use of a title is not used with a first name. It is Mr. John Smith, Mr. Smith or John, never Mr. John.

Other People’s Parents
Your friend’s parents are like your boss in that a little more formality is in order until they tell you otherwise.

Offensive Jokes, Yours or Theirs
Monitor your own jokes for sexist, racist or otherwise offensive language or stereotypes. It’s a bad habit that can be broken.

Eating & Offering
Most people look after their own food whether they bring it or buy it. People from some cultures share their food if they are eating in front of anyone else.

Going To Dinner
Good luck to you in figuring out who pays. This seems to depend on your age, your culture, your gender and the reasons for dinner. One way you might consider is that each person pays for his or her own dinner or the person who did the inviting pays.

It is often difficult to know what to do when misfortune strikes someone you know. Acknowledging his/her grief with “I’m sorry to hear about your loss” or something equally supportive, can be comforting.

Eating & Talking
Once food goes into your mouth, no one else really wants to see it. So remember to keep your mouth closed when eating. Also, just think how sounds get magnified if you attempt to talk on the phone and eat your lunch at the same time. Do not eat while you are on the phone.

Hats and Gloves
As late as the 1960’s hats and gloves used to be a sign that someone was well dressed, but now they are primarily for warmth and protection from the sun. Generally men need to remove their hats indoors in a business environment. It is still good form to remove your gloves when shaking hands unless doing so could cause you frostbite.

Bad Words
Using bad language, also known as cursing or using curse words, is so common that people forget they are actually not acceptable everywhere. If you are in the habit of using curse words frequently, they may actually spring out of your mouth when you should really not use them and do you some harm.

Skateboarders appear to be having a lot of fun. They need to remember that they can go faster than the people who are trying to jump out of their way. Unless you have the ability of a skateboarding professional, don’t jump park benches if people are sitting on them.

Small Talk
Small talk, usually in Canada, involves the weather or upcoming or past holidays. Small talk is used to let the person near you know that you are aware of them and can be used to

In Canada, spitting is considered dirty, ugly and unacceptable. If you are considering using the street or sidewalk as your place to spit, expect that you will be in for dirty looks and perhaps nasty comments.

Leave a Brief Message
Since you never know the mood of the person answering your message, you should probably be brief since he/she could get fed up and hang up. Don’t leave more information than is required for the situation.

I once saw a driver leave his car running at a red light to punch another driver ahead of him who had dumped out his ashtray on the road. Many people get furious at people who litter but they don’t usually act so violently. Save the garbage for a garbage can.

Grace under Pressure
Most of us get stressed out but we still need to go about our business. It is best not to spread our tension around but learn to handle it. You might start with some daily exercises or see a counselor who can give you other ideas on how to manage your stress.

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