Business etiquette, language & culture


Compared with citizens of the United States to the south, Canadians tend to favour an orderly central government and a sense of community rather than individualism; and in international affairs to act as doves rather than hawks, preferring the role of peacemaker and nation-builder and having a more pluralistic way of viewing the world.

West Coast lifestyle and dress-code tend to be slightly more relaxed than in eastern Canada, and attitudes are more conservative in the mid-west and in more rural areas, although this is a generalisation.


As the first country in the world to adopt an official policy of multiculturalism, Canada is a bilingual country with English and French as the two official languages. Many immigrants from East and Southeast Asia now live in Canada, particularly in the Pacific-rim city of Vancouver, and in Toronto too, so it is not unusual to hear Mandarin, Japanese and Cantonese as well as other Asian languages widely spoken.

However, English is widely spoken in all parts of the country except Québec province, where, under provincial law, French is the language of business. Therefore if you visit Québec province and do not speak French fluently you may require an interpreter.

Both French and English translations should be included on business cards in the province of Québec, and businesses with 50 employees or more in the province have to register with the Québec French Language Office at:  and provide satisfactory evidence to the provincial government that their workplace communications are in French.

You can contact the DIT team in Toronto at: for details of local interpreters and translators in Canada.


First-name terms are the norm in most business situations, particularly in the more relaxed West Coast. However, culture does vary between provinces and territories as Canadians can identify closely with their province.

Although business communication is similar to that in the UK, as in the US it can be quite direct. You should ensure your own communications are also direct and succinct.



As in the UK, it is important to be on time and appropriately dressed for the venue. A suit and tie is the norm on the East Coast (from Toronto eastwards), whereas in the west smart casual attire is not uncommon.

Face-to-face meetings are important and this will be an opportunity to build rapport. Your presentations should be well-prepared, clear and thorough, and remember to use the French language for all business in the province of Québec, together with translated marketing materials and presentations.

Canadians do conduct business over meals but tend to eat early, 12pm for lunches and 6.30pm-7pm for dinner.


Hours of business

Working hours vary throughout the country but are not too different from the UK, although adverse weather can make a difference, as extreme cold in winter months and high humid temperatures in summer can affect some parts of the country.

Some small businesses and government departments may work variable hours during the summer months, but are normally 8.30am-5pm, Monday to Friday. Smaller shops may have a five-day week but larger stores in cities will be open on Saturdays and maybe Sundays too. Late-night shopping is not uncommon in larger cities on Thursdays or Fridays, and in suburban shopping centres, supermarkets often stay open until 9pm or 10pm (Monday to Friday). Some convenience stores and supermarkets remain open 24 hours a day, especially in urban areas.

It is said that Canadians work to live rather than live to work, and it is not unusual for offices to close fairly promptly at 5pm on a Friday.

[Source – DIT Trade and Investment guide, Canada,]


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