I speak 17 languages. Learn my 10 secrets FREE.

Adapting To Canadian Culture

Years and years ago I watched an episode of South Park – the cartoon about four American middle-school boys that are incredibly rude, but also very insightful. The episode was about Canada (all of it) being on strike because Canadians wanted more money (from the internet or something).

In the episode Danish people were immigrating to the United States to replace Canadians as they considered themselves the ’Canadians of Europe’.

Adapting to Canadian Culture

In typical South Park fashion the Danish immigrants explain this by saying:

Well, where we come from it is pretty cold too, jaaaa. We like hockey and nobody really pays any attention to us.
Nobody knows what Denmark is’
‘So when you think about it, we are the Canadians of Europe’

I’ll never forget that particular episode as I had recently met the Canadian guy, who would later become my husband. So I paid extra attention and thought it was hilarious. We met in Denmark and at this point I’d never been to Canada. I didn’t know much about Canada at all. As I soon found out, nor did anyone else in Denmark. From my well-educated boss who was certain that all Canadians speak French, to the lady at the post office who wouldn’t listen to me when I explained several times that the package I was sending was not going to the United States, but to Canada. She was convinced that Canada was part of the United States and she wasn’t alone. I have met numerous people from Europe who think just that.

Don’t Be Mad

A Canadian person will get very defensive, if you tell them this, and say that people who don’t know anything about Canada must be stupid and uneducated. Yet, I am not offended when someone asks me where I am from and look completely puzzled when I tell them.

Denmark? What’s that? So do you speak Dutch in Denmark? Is Denmark in Sweden?’ They might say. I will gladly answer any questions. I can’t name the provinces and territories of Canada, so I’ve no right to be offended if people don’t know anything about a tiny little country that sits on top of Germany.

Soccer And Hockey

To make a long story short, I remember the episode from South Park for another reason too. There’s a speck of truth to the claim that nobody pays attention to Canada and Denmark, except for those of us who live in either one or has some other connection to either country. And silly as it may be – as I am talking about South Park – that little sentence made me feel that there was a connection between the two countries.

But that is where a lot of the similarities end; hockey isn’t huge in Denmark (that’s in Sweden, folks). Like most Europeans, Danes like soccer (fodbold) but they aren’t as obsessed with it at Canadians are about hockey. Also, it isn’t really that cold; the average temperature in Copenhagen in December is 2°C (36°F).

Adapting To Canadian Culture - EM92Trup
Danish Soccer Team 1992 – Denmark’s Pride and Joy – Won the European Championship

What I didn’t know when I watched the South Park episode all those years ago, was that I would later live in Canada and living here means adapting to Canadian culture. I realize that moving from one western culture to another might not be as different as moving to South East Asia or something, nevertheless there are many differences that I’ve had to get used to while adapting to Canadian culture.

Religion

Denmark is one of the most secular countries in the world, although every little town has its own church – with actual chiming church bells – and people pay a small church tax (unless they opt out, which most people don’t). Most Danish people only go to church at Christmas, for funerals, weddings, christenings/baptisms and confirmations. The last two might surprise you, because why would people get christened – and later when they are old enough (aged 13-14) – get confirmed, when they are not particularly religious? All I can say to that is that the Danes are a traditional bunch, which isn’t surprising considering the long history of the world’s oldest kingdom.

Adapting To Canadian Culture - Danish Church

Outside of tradition, religion doesn’t play a huge role, which is why when I first came to visit Canada in 2007 and was introduced to my boyfriend’s extended family and they started praying before dinner, I nearly choked on my chicken wing (I had started eating already as I didn’t know any better). For a second I thought they belonged to some cult and was really freaked out, my bf must have noticed my facial expression because he (gently) kicked me under the table. Then I bowed my head and stared at the floor until it was over, which felt like a long time. A warning would have been nice, and may have made me seem less rude. My husband’s immediate family don’t say grace, but at least I now know how to behave when visiting his extended family.

Adapting to Canadian culture: In Canada not everyone is religious, but some people are. Be respectful and consider that not everyone has to same worldviews as you.

Greetings – Fake politeness

I wrote a little bit about this before, Danes can seem quite rude. There’s no greeting when you walk into a store, there’s barely eye contact. Not sure why it’s like that and if you ask any Danish person they will tell you that they think they are very friendly and polite. If you get them drunk they will be, but not right away. I have always been an outgoing person, who likes to chat to people wherever I go – that’s probably why I was an oddball in Denmark.

Adapting to Canadian culture - politeness

However, when I got here I was blown away by the constant politeness everywhere. At first I thought ‘Oh my, people are so polite and they all want to know how I am doing, isn’t that great?’ and when the checkout lady at Safeway with the vacant look in her eyes said: ‘How’s your day’, I would actually tell her. I later realised that she, and everyone else in the service industry, don’t care all that much about how you are, they are just being fake friendly. That bothered me for a while, but now I do what everyone else does, and simply say: ‘I’m fine, thanks’

Having said that, here people on the street are more likely to suddenly talk to you, or compliment you randomly, especially on a sunny day, and that’s always great because it sometimes means making friends with new people.

Adapting to Canadian culture: ‘How are you’ means hello!

Being Naked

I grew up in a naked household, or maybe it was just a regular Danish household!? We walked around with no clothes on (not all the time, but there was no shame in it). If you go to a park or beach in the summertime in Denmark, there will be topless men and ladies as far as the eye can see. No one cares! (I’ve heard things have changed since I left because people are becoming body conscious and ashamed of themselves, due to the rise of perfect photo-shopped internet bodies, but I am going with my memory here).

If you take a stroll in a city any time of the year in Denmark and look up, it’s not uncommon to see someone change right in front of the window naked. If you took that stroll a few years ago, I could have been in one of those windows.

Not anymore, I live here now and things are very different. Apparently, if women wanted to they could be topless wherever they please, because anything else would be discriminatory, but they choose not to be. There are topless men everywhere, you see, but for whatever reason women here keep their tops on unless they visit a designated nude beach. Not sure why that is, maybe it’s the religious thing I mentioned earlier?

Adapting to canadian culture - Nude Beach
A lot of things are often sexualized,especially on TV, yet nakedness and sex are not talked about as freely here. That takes some getting used to for a Danish person and I have messed up more than once.

Adapting to Canadian culture: Keep your clothes on.

Diversity

One of my most favourite things about Canada (and North America in general) is the diversity. There are people from everywhere. I love it. It was one of my favourite things about London too. My friends there and here are from all over the world; Ghana, Mozambique, Ireland, Sweden, Germany, India, China, Iran. Some were not born here and others were, being children or grandchildren of immigrants.

Adapting to canadian culture - Diversity

In Copenhagen there are a few pockets of diversity, but outside of Copenhagen people mostly look like me; blonde and blue-eyed. Denmark has quite a large Muslim population from various countries, but people don’t seem to mix with one another, at least not in my experience. That is a great shame and misunderstandings happen. Living in Denmark as a Danish person is amazing, but not sure I’d enjoy it if I was from anywhere else.

Adapting to Canadian culture: One great thing about diversity is that you don’t have to travel very far to learn about other cultures, you just have to ask questions and make friends with people and you’ll learn a lot.

Food

I miss Danish food (fish, potatoes, rye bread, remoulade, leverpostej) and I don’t think I’ll ever get used to North American food. Vancouver isn’t even that bad, since a lot of people here are yoga practising, marathon running health nuts in amazing shape. But healthy food is expensive, so if you don’t have a lot of money you might end up buying colourful boxes with strange and genetically modified contents that will do horrible things to your guts.

Adapting to Canadian Culture - burger

This is one of those things that probably wouldn’t be as bad if I knew how to cook, but I don’t. I need to learn!!! Otherwise I only have myself to blame.

Adapting to Canadian culture: If you move to North America learn to cook. Burgers, fries, chicken wings and donuts are tasty, but may kill you.

How About You?

The opinions expressed above are mine alone, maybe you agree, maybe you don’t. From living in different countries I have learned that there are pros and cons everywhere. But I am curious about your experiences of adapting to a new culture.

Have you recently moved to another country? Are you finding it hard or easy to adapt? What do you think about it? What do you miss?

Tell me all about it the comments below.

Want to learn a language from content you love?

Join LingQ for free today!

13 Comments

  • Peter Pan
    July 14, 2015 at 1:25 pm

    Stop joking about Denmark.It is almost a Muslim country. In 20 years there will be a Sharia Law.

    • Lykke
      July 14, 2015 at 1:43 pm

      Hardly – 4.8% out of a population of 5.6 million. If people learned to co-exist like they do in other places like Canada, maybe I’d even want to live there.

  • Carol
    July 14, 2015 at 3:11 pm

    Hello, I am learning more and more about Canada. I am from Cleveland, Ohio. We traveled to Montreal last year. Loved it! I have one Canadian friend and now am getting to know you and a Steve from the internet! I am just now beginning to sort out Danish, Dutch, Denmark, and the Netherlands. Still working on where Holland fits in! My son said it is part of the Netherlands. I enjoy the diversity here in the US and have mostly taken it for granted. I have met different nationalities in the field of music, and also my kids’ international type school. Well, it was just really diverse, and we were all friends together. All the best!

  • northernguy
    July 14, 2015 at 4:11 pm

    It is very rare to come across a family that says grace in Canada.

    The fake friendliness is not that. It is not an attempt to be friendly. It is a small effort to make you comfortable. When people say thank you to the bus driver when exiting it is not because they are pretending to want to be his friend. It is to let him know that are they aware of him as a person.

    Definitely, people who are conscious about they eat should be prepared to look out for themselves or expect to pay a lot for the privilege. A filling meal for a couple of bucks or a nutritionally balanced meal tailored to your notions of healthy eating, for a heck of a lot more. Or in the case of Vancouver that the author mentioned, an infinite variety of ethnic food for a price in between.

    Diversity. You bet! It is a point of national pride. It is an official government policy with constitutional measures that ensure that it takes place.

    Except for those small points, an excellent piece.

  • Genny
    July 14, 2015 at 4:27 pm

    Thanks for sharing! I did the opposite for a while and lived in Danmark (Esbjerg) for a year. All the difference you are talking about, I noticed the same when I was up there, even though some I did not experienced . And well the French Canadian culture is also quite different from the rest of Canada , lots more on the Danish side 😉

    • Lykke
      July 15, 2015 at 8:46 am

      I went to Montreal in March and loved it – it was kind of European, but still Canadian. The perfect mix, I thought. It had the old buildings and cobble stone streets of Europe, that gives a sense of history, but then it had the friendliness of Canadians (and the malls and fast food restaurants of North America). If I spoke French I would love to live there. It also seemed less expensive than Vancouver.

  • Roberto Rivera
    July 14, 2015 at 6:53 pm

    It is extremely difficult to adapt to a new culture– even if you speak the language! I am Puerto Rican and was raised in Puerto Rico and New York City. I currently live in Mexico. Although both countries speak Spanish, we speak it differently.Mexicans tend to be soft-spoken and polite.We are polite as well. But because we are direct, we give the impression that we are not. Also, we speak loudly and as if we were angry all of the time. There is a very big difference in the two cultures also. While the Mexican people tend to be very indirect, we are very direct. We seem to be almost agressive to the Mexican people. Yes, we speak the same language but we have very different cultures.

    • Lykke
      July 15, 2015 at 8:43 am

      Happens to me all the time – my Danishness have been perceived as abrasive sometimes.But there you go 🙂 It’s just one of those things.

  • Joe
    July 14, 2015 at 10:56 pm

    Mexico is awesome!! Way better people than Americans and not as bad as they are. I am trying to learn my Spanish and they are not getting angry like ignorant Americans that want you to speak their language because they are too ignorant and egocentric on learning another language. Culture not too different than the US and I assume Mexico is technically a Western culture too.

    • Lykke
      July 15, 2015 at 8:40 am

      Maybe I should move to Mexico then 🙂 I like Canada, don’t get me wrong. There are just certain things that are hard to get used to. Think that’s common when you move to a new place, even in the same country (from one part to another) you’ll find that people behave a little different.

  • Andrew
    July 15, 2015 at 3:10 am

    “…outside of Copenhagen people mostly look like me; blonde and blue-eyed…” Wow! I want to live there 🙂 I like blue eyes and blonds)))))

    My great frinds live in Quebec now and they talk that the Canadian food much better than European and US food.

    • Brenda
      July 15, 2015 at 12:05 pm

      Montreal may be in Quebec and Canada, but it’s unique. I moved from Vancouver to Montreal a few years ago. The culture here is very different (though you don’t have to know French unless you’re looking for work) and the food better than in other parts of Canada. I don’t need to get up early and rush to a bakery to buy a real baguette before they’re sold out. The public markets are open all year. In the winter some food isn’t as fresh as it is in Vancouver because it can’t be grown year round; however most Quebeckers are more particular about the quality of their food. Strangely though, it’s not as easy to buy organic.

      • Lykke
        July 16, 2015 at 8:41 am

        I can’t help but think organic is a bit of a gimmick – All food should be organic, it shouldn’t be a thing and it definitely shouldn’t be more expensive.

        I found this place in Montreal called hippie poutine (that’s not healthy, I know) but maaaaan was it tasty. They had all these different kinds of poutine. If I moved there I’d need a job, so I would have to learn how to speak French. Maybe that’s what I should be doing instead of Spanish 🙂 I know a little from school. Everyone there were so nice, they’d speak French at first and then if they realized we couldn’t they’d switch to English, some had a French accent when speaking English and some didn’t. Awesome place (very cold though).

Leave a Reply