You wouldn’t think it but I genuinely believe it’s possible to write a whole blog piece on the topic of cultural differences between England and Canada. When I went out to Canada I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when it came to the people. I’d heard the Canadian stereotypes; that people were generally very friendly and open. However I’ve also experienced the difficulties that can come with the inevitable preconceptions people have towards each other. For example my French flatmates were genuinely shocked to discover that I could cook well and that my teeth were in good condition, having heard that all British people can’t cook and have bad teeth! With this and other experiences in mind I endeavoured to not enter Canada naïve to the generalisations and inaccuracies that stereotypes can create. As with most things, there was some truth to the generalisations. Most Canadians were shockingly friendly and relaxed, the usual awkwardness that comes with meeting new people in England non-existent. As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs I learnt a lot in my social skills through this. Love of English culture definitely had something to do with people’s friendliness! I was constantly receiving compliments and free things due to my accent. I found that many of the people I encountered, particularly students, were extremely keen and interested to learn about my culture. Funnily enough, despite receiving countless warnings that I would be questioned about the Queen from the year abroad department the most common topic of conversation introduced by the Canadians was Downton Abbey!
Despite the clear differences in culture I did not experience significant culture shock. Much of the culture in Canada mirrored what I’d seen on American TV shows; basketball matches, football games, classes all held similar qualities to what I’d seen in the media. Therefore the majority of moments that felt very foreign felt like a familiar movie set rather than a complete unknown! There were little things that were different for example when ordering a cup of tea you had to specify exactly what type you wanted (there was no assumption that a cup of tea meant English Breakfast) and request milk. I was quite fortunate in that I had befriended a Canadian girl during my second year at university through the chamber choir so she was able to give me the heads up on what to expect! Tipping was another thing that was a big part of restaurant culture. A number of times I heard of situations where English friends had been reprimanded and shamed for not tipping in very unpleasant ways. This to me is completely unacceptable; I understand that the servers make below a reasonable living wage and therefore rely on the tips to make up their income, however when us foreigners made the mistake not to tip in some instances when we first got here it got nasty very quickly. Based on the fact we’re clearly foreign and don’t understand the culture the aggressive reactions from servers I heard of on a number of occasions (not just an isolated incident) were very rude and uncompromising. This is a good example of when the friendly and relaxed stereotype of Canadians was challenged.
Notably, I don’t think I’ve entirely seen the difference in cultures until my permanent return to England. It is definitely true to say that I experienced reverse culture shock upon my arrival home, and that I went through a period where I felt very low after the high of studying in Canada and then travelling afterwards. At this point I feel that I understood the difference in culture most, and found myself constantly comparing social interactions. I once tried to explain it to a Canadian friend in this way: when I’m in Canada I feel unique and the amount of people that give me attention and want to spend time with me (based on my nationality/ accent/ culture etc) is very vast and overwhelming. However by the end of the year I was used to this new found popularity, and so going back to England and no longer holding this unique, defining quality has left me, once more, just the same as everyone else! This has therefore been difficult to get used to; my Englishness in a sea of Canadians was my defining quality but of course in England this becomes null and void and how I am defined changes.