Say, you and your friend, Canadian Jim, go for a coffee.
You arrive at the Tim Horton’s door at the same time.
“Oh, sorry,” he says, as he jumps ahead to open the door for you.
“Sorry?” you think. “What is he apologizing for?”
Canadians are known to be polite and to apologize for the slightest infringement. This is their social norm.
In fact, a McCaster University geo-linguistic study regarding the differences between American and Canadian language on social media found that Canadians are much more upbeat and polite in their language even online.
For nine months in 2015, PhD Candidates Daniel Schmidtke and Bryor Snefjella compiled upwards of three million tweets. Aside from “hockey and “eh”, “disproportionately ‘Canadian words’ included ‘great’, ‘amazing’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘favourite’,” while most of the American favorites were unprintable and/or negative, like “‘hate’, ‘hell’, ‘tired’, ‘hurt’ and ‘annoying’.”
This begs the question…
Why Are Canadians Polite?
What is at the root of their behavior?
The values of kindness and courtesy are.
The director of Canadian Studies at the University of Toronto, Nelson Wiseman, theorized why these values are so embedded in Canadian culture:
“John A. Macdonald called Canadians a subordinate people. That’s in part because we’ve had a strong tradition of centralized regimes, with the French, and then as a British nation.”
European settlers, particularly the conservative British Tories, imparted these values unto their ancestors.
“Although Canada is no longer a British nation,” Wiseman said, “these tendencies replicate and perpetuate themselves like a gene.”
The non-confrontational tradition carries on. Apologizing before things get out of hand – even for nothing approaching insulting, like failing to open the door for someone – is the visible part of their culture (a baobab branch), while common courtesy and conservatism are the invisible parts (the roots of the baobab).
The fact that Canada doesn’t have the same imperial history as America may also factor into why Canadians are considered friendlier when compared to those south of the border.
Understanding the Cultural Baobab
When you enter into a culture that is not your own, familiarizing yourself with their cultural baobab will always help you come to terms with differences. The norms that you see are often deeply rooted in values that lie below the surface.
And it’s only when you examine the components of this tree of life that you start to understand the rationale of a culture.
You may not agree with it.
You may not like it.
But in understanding it, you may accept the culture’s values as they are.