We all know that we don’t pat the back of a colleague in Korea to thank them for a “job well done”. Or eat with your left hand in India, or sip vodka in Russia. In many countries, these actions are harmless. But in others, they can give a wrong impression or cause offense.

In fact, whatever culture you’re from, it’s likely that you routinely do something that could cause offense somewhere else in the world. So here is:

A primer on how to avoid mistakes in Canada

As emphasized in many places Canada is a multicultural country – as such the paramount point of respect to embrace this attitude as much as possible. Outward displays of racism, sexism, or homophobia will generally be met with hostility, in contrast with many countries in the world. Even slight preferences may be noticed and noted. Of equal importance is to avoid assuming positions or cultures based on identifiable signs. For example the Chinese girl you might meet may not speak a word of Chinese and may never have been anywhere near China. This point is especially true for individuals from areas with ethnic strife – don’t assume that anyone you meet is either personally connected to or shares the viewpoints of their ethnic-origin Nation. Beyond that be aware of the complicated Canadian-American relationship.

Canadians can wax and wane about the U.S. for hours but rarely invite opinions, or comparisons to the U.S. Mentions of “The 51st State” and “America’s Hat” will generally be insulting to Canadians, as well as any derision of Canada’s status as a distinct nation. Equal to that is references to British or (In Quebec) French relationships as those are either in decline or rife with potential faux pas. Be aware of politics—there is a large degree of regionalism in Canada, and the learning curve is steep when you attempt to explore these differences.

Canada Culture photo

Photo by Danny Choo

In particular, Quebec’s somewhat strained relationship with the rest of Canada—the result of a still-active secession movement—may be a sensitive topic. When entering a private home in Canada it is usually expected that you take off your shoes. Gay and lesbian travelers As mentioned above, Canada is very open to all forms of LGBT travelers, indeed Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal are all famed for their LGBT communities. Even smaller cities are very open and liberal, although not to the same extent.

Outside these Metropolitan areas, open displays of affection shouldn’t generally present a problem despite a more conservative outlook. However certain rural areas may be more problematic; as always, use your discretion and common sense. Human Rights Codes protect against discrimination in all areas; including accommodation, access to health care and employment – should you encounter any negative responses, especially violent or threatening episodes immediately phone the police and they will be glad to help you.

As mentioned before, Same-sex marriage is legal throughout Canada, which was one of the first countries in the world to do this. Indigenous People The terms “Aboriginal” (“Autochtones” in French) or “First Nations” are used as catch all terms for all indigenous people of Canada. Most Aboriginal communities are rural and not used to tourists (note that some so-called reserves may restrict access to residents or invited guests – watch for signage at the entrances to these areas, which can range from official advisories to crude handmade signs saying “Stay out”.

Visitors to Canada with an interest in Aboriginal culture should seek out an Aboriginal cultural centre in a city. Be aware that tension exists between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations in some areas, though outright violence is extremely rare. The largest aboriginal group are the Indians, found throughout Canada and divided into various ethnic groups (“tribes”); traditions, language, history and way of life will vary based on background and location. Some will be offended by the term “Indian”, though they may use it themselves (note this differs from the U.S. where “Indian” appears to be much more widely accepted).

The term “Native” may also cause offense among some. “First Nations” is the safer politically-correct term. The Métis (pronounced MAY-tee) are descendants of European (mostly French) fur traders and Aboriginal women. Found mostly in the Prairies and especially Manitoba, they have their own distinct culture and history. Back in the late 19th century, they rose in rebellion under Louis Riel (the closest thing to a true civil war Canada has yet experienced) but they were defeated and Riel hanged.

The Inuit are the smallest group, found mostly in Nunavut, with smaller populations in Quebec, Labrador and the Northwest Territories. Historically they were known as “Eskimos”, but the term is no longer politically correct in Canada ( but it still is in much of America) and should not be used.

With this, you had the primer on key facts about Canada, and key facts on culture and customs. Another important part of the culture is the local food and the local drinks. Make sure you read our posts on Canada food and drinks:

Local food you should try in Canada and No miss drinks in Canada.

Other tips that you’d like to share on mistakes to avoid in Canada? Please comment below.