Canadian Business Etiquette

Bienvenue au Canada! (‘‘Welcome to Canada!” in French)

Oh, Canada! - the land of hockey, the maple leaf, and Canadian bacon. Although some people see Canada as a cold country with long winters and perhaps little to offer to the business world, there’s more than just good food and ice sports to be found in our neighbor to the north.  

As of 2015, Canada has the world’s eleventh-largest economy. Two of the most prominent sectors in the Canadian economy are the lumber and petroleum industries.  Also, in recent years, Toronto (the largest city in Canada) has become a mecca for the film industry; in fact, Toronto is now referred to as Hollywood North.

So, if you are planning on taking a business trip to Canada, let’s first learn about the dos and don’ts of Canadian business etiquette.

The Lowdown

  • Although many people think the capital of Canada is Quebec, the capital is actually Ottawa.
  • Canada is divided into three territories (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and the Province of Canada) and nine provinces (Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec, and Saskatchewan).
  • The official languages of Canada are English and French. English is the predominant language spoken.
  • Canada is a federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy (their monarch is Queen Elizabeth II of England).
  • The majority of Canadian citizens are Christian.
  • Canada is the largest country, by land area, in the western hemisphere; however, its population (30 million) is significantly less than that of America (300 million).

Dressing Sharp

  • Men should wear a conservative suit with a tie. Dark suit colors (black, navy, grey) are acceptable with light (white, light blue) shirts.
  • Women should wear a conservative suit or a modest dress in a dark color. In cold weather, wear a long jacket of good quality.
  • Avoid casual clothing in the work setting.
  • Bring warm clothes, especially if you are planning on visiting during the winter.

Make or Break Meetings

  • Punctuality is highly valued in Canada (less so in the French areas of the country), so make sure to be on time for meetings.
  • Greet the Canadian party with eye contact and a firm handshake.
  • Business cards are exchanged at the first meeting.
  • If you are meeting a French Canadian party, print one side of your business cards in English and the other side in French, out of respect for the French party.
  • Be confident in your speech, but avoid making dramatic arm or hand gestures.

Dining Decorum

  • It is considered rude to walk and eat at the same time; plan accordingly so that you can sit down and eat while talking, if necessary.
  • It is not common to talk about business during a meal, but this custom is slowly changing. Wait for your Canadian host to bring up business first before broaching the topic.
  • Table etiquette is relaxed; however, do not rest your elbows on the table.
  • It is acceptable to refuse food or drink and to leave some food on your plate at the end of the meal.
  • In a formal setting, the host will give a toast.

Giving and Getting Gifts

  • Gift giving is not standard protocol in Canadian business relationships.
  • It is appropriate, however, to celebrate the closing of a deal by exchanging gifts such as liquor or wine.
  • If you are invited to the home of a Canadian host, it is acceptable to bring a gift of candy, flowers, or quality liquor.
  • If you give a gift, make sure that it is modest. An expensive gift can be considered inappropriate.
  • Do not give a gift of white lilies as these flowers are used at funerals.

Down to Business

  • Do not overstate or oversell your company’s products or services in order to close a deal; this could open your company up to legal issues in the future.
  • Business communications are generally polite and pragmatic.
  • Disagreements are handled with diplomacy – it is not appropriate to lose your temper in a business setting.
  • There is little small talk in business meetings and Canadians appreciate well-planned, organized presentations and proposals.
  • Business may revolve more around senior executives, who may make final decisions based on facts and figures.

Now that you’re well prepared for your next jet-setting business trip to Canada, don’t forget to stay tuned for our next Business Etiquette blurb! 

Au revoir! (“Goodbye!” in French)

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