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Canada - Business Culture

Greetings and Courtesies

For most of Canada, business greetings--from and for male and female alike--will consist of a sturdy but not overpowering handshake and a confident "hello." Direct eye contact is standard, as are smiles. In more reticent rural areas, a simple head nod may replace a verbal greeting. In the French-speaking regions, the classic peck on each cheek may replace the handshake--from and for male and female alike!

Business Ethic and Framework

Canadians pride themselves on their high ethical standards and often look down their noses at what they consider to be the less moral Americans. A Canadian businessman's word is his bond, although they have a contract law structure to back up any deal. Canadian businesspeople are recognized for their "straight shooting," honest dealing, and top-notch service. They like the image and seek to maintain it at all costs.

Canadians tend to be given to less hyperbole when discussing business than their American neighbors, for whom they are often mistaken when overseas. Many Canadians go out of their way when in foreign countries to broadcast the fact that they are--well--Canadians. To lump them together, even jokingly, with the Americans can cause some very hurt feelings. Canadians not only believe they are different than Americans, they believe they are better.

Decision Making

Being part of a modern and technologically advanced Western economy, Canadians exhibit less of a hierarchical structure to their decision making than the industrialized nations of Europe and Asia. However, Canadian decision-making processes fall more along the lines of the British rather than the Americans. Information flows in all directions, and junior managers with specializations are often consulted during negotiations or internal processes. Canadian companies can move as quickly as a situation requires and readily adapt their decision making to buying or selling positions. They are also skilled at both hosting negotiations as well as acting as the visiting team. Canada's firms are very active internationally and their managers are very knowledgeable regarding the decision-making/negotiating techniques of other cultures.


Meetings will start with an exchange of warm handshakes and, depending upon the other firm's culture, business cards will be exchanged. As mentioned above, Canadians are not terribly hung up on hierarchies, but they will readily observe the hierarchical needs of counterparts. Seating will take place at large tables where all present can make eye contact with any other attendee. Another row of chairs may be placed behind the chairs at the table to allow junior managers and technical advisors to both observe and give specialized input to the discussions. Basic beverage refreshments (coffee, tea) will be served and attendees with special needs should make their requests known in advance, as they will certainly be granted. Alcohol is never served at business meetings, although it may be part of the closing ceremony of particularly arduous or momentous negotiations.

All in all, the Canadians keep preliminary small talk to a minimum and like to get down to business as soon as possible. They are, however, not as time conscious as their American cousins and tend to create a more cordial atmosphere for meetings. Like the British, they can be deceptively charming.

Business Entertaining

No one has ever accused the Canadians of not having a good time. Once the business meetings have been closed for the day, Canadians become excellent hosts and entertainers. The venues can range from five-star restaurants to rodeos to fishing trips to off-road excursions to world-class ski adventures, to golf to gut-busting barbecues to just good old-fashioned cocktail parties. Canada has it all plus some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.

Business discussions will normally be light during entertaining, but should you want to delve deeper, the Canadians will be happy to oblige. Keep in mind that all of their smiles and fun are meant to "soften" you up--very charming.


Men still hold the vast majority of management positions, but more and more women are being found at the higher levels of business. Canadian women expect to be treated seriously and with the respect to which their position entitles them. Failure to do this is considered insulting. A woman may not respond to such behavior at the moment, but she will probably express her displeasure to her colleagues later. Businesswomen are as open and direct as men, but this should not be viewed as anything more than being friendly. Treat women as you would any business associate. Foreign women should expect to be treated the same as their male counterparts, but exactly how a woman is dealt with will depend on the Canadian she is encountering. Sexual discrimination is against the law and not openly practiced, but private biases do exist. If a woman encounters discrimination, remember that this is more a reflection of that person than the company. In general, foreign women who are confident, professional, and self-assured can expect to be treated with respect and taken seriously.

Business Attire

The attire for business in Canada can take two forms. Older firms and family-owned businesses still tend towards the more formal dark suit, white shirt, and necktie for men and low-key business suits for women. The younger (and usually high-tech) companies have adopted the corporate casual (a.k.a. smart casual) look. Conservative, neat, and clean marks both groups. Men should avoid looking "seedy," and women should keep the "flash" to a minimum. Canadians, in general, keep conservative, neat attire.

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