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  • Shivam Sadana and Robert Lovell

Comparing Cultures

One unavoidable way of learning a new culture, culture shock!

Coming to Canada has been a dream of many and international students, and here at CBU that dream has come to life. New arrivals have started to mingle with those from different cultures and different nationalities, and with this metropolitan experience comes a sense of freedom. I myself am one of these new arrivals, but I confess that transitioning to life in Cape Breton has come with a certain amount of culture shock.  I decided to discuss some of the things I found different with my colleague Robert, who was born in Canada and has lived here his whole life.

Shivam: I went to a party hosted by one of my Canadian friends; they were excited about the gathering – in India this excitement means that they have worked hard to ensure the party will be a success, so I expected a similar amount of effort. I was fantasizing about the different Canadian delicacies I would get to sample. When the night of the party arrived I showed up and, to my utter surprise, there was no food – there weren’t even drinks being offered. The other people at the party has bottles of different drinks, but they had brought these themselves and I did not have the courage to ask them if I could try. My hunger was the first sign of my shock.

If a similar event had been organized in India and a friend there similarly excited, this would mean a lot of good food, music, and drinks for the guests to enjoy. That night my rumbling stomach told me: next time a Canadian invites you to a party, wait until after a meal to attend, and bring your own drinks with you.

Robert: In Canada, the host providing food and alcoholic drinks is generally reserved for very special occasions such as weddings and grad parties. Even then, the guest is expected to bring a gift or money to help cover the cost of hosting them.

At most evening parties guests are expected to bring their own drinks, and they often have little in the way of food; maybe a bag of chips or a veggie tray—the notable exceptions are ‘potluck’ parties, where each guest brings a food item, and gets to eat some of what the others bring as well.

The Czech know what’s up.

People often bring their own drinks because only they know what they like, but also because buying drinks for the whole group can get very expensive and people might feel cheated if they host more often than another friend.

Shivam: I like the way people in Canada greet each other even if they do not know who they are greeting. They are all smiles when they say “Hi! How are you?” Do not be surprised, this kind of greeting is common in their culture. If something similar happened in India, however, I would have responded to the person asking, “Who are you?” And I need not care even if I am a bit rude because that is how things are; in Canada people tend to be more outgoing with strangers, and are usually polite even with those they have never met before.


Robert: I grew up in a rural area (Lingan), where if you meet someone walking down the street it is a significant event— at most, I will meet 2 or 3 people by walking to the end of my road. Though I don’t personally know these people, I feel that saying “Hi, how’s it going?” is a way to make them and myself feel a little more comfortable with each other’s presence. I would find it unbearably awkward to not at least say “Hi”, and would be insulted if at least a nod or smile wasn’t exchanged.

Shivam: I was surprised by the fact that the students are calling their professors by their names because I am used to saying ‘Sir’ or ‘Ma’am’ to every senior or professor. I was still saying, ”Hi, sir” until one of those professors challenged me by saying, “Pay me $10 every time you call me sir, I do not believe in titles.” In that way I learned my lesson.

Robert: Sir or Ma’am can be excessively formal here. I feel the academic culture here is rather lax when compared to other cultures. Professors might view students as equals since we are all adults here. Though you have to be careful with that— not every professor feels this way. I had a professor who wanted to be called “Dr. T.”— and fair enough, I wouldn’t go through a PhD just to be called Bob. One peculiarity is that even some lax professors with whom you are on a first name basis expect a higher degree of formality when communicating over email.

Shivam: I am surprised when I meet new people and within minutes I am asked a  question such as, “Are you going to stay here after your studies?” I am just baffled about how to answer a question such as this. Is the person curious to know my future plans? Well, I just met that person, how can I reveal so much about myself? I also sometimes consider whether the person has some bias about me being here. I am curious to know that person’s motive.

Robert: I am definitely guilty of this one. I suppose people who ask “Are you going to stay here?” are curious whether you find this a suitable place to stay long-term. If I had to guess, I would say this question is often asked so they can learn your perspective on the place where they live.

Shivam: There is another thing, common in Canadian culture, that I am still reluctant to do because I have been raised in a different way; I am still reluctant to introduce my girlfriend to people I meet right away. The primary reason for this is that in India we do not introduce our girlfriends or boyfriends straight away to our elders or parents because they may not approve of a relationship before marriage. As a result, it may lead to chaos between families. Indian society is still quite conservative in this regard, at least as far as my own experiences are concerned.

In Canada, where the culture around relationships and marriage is much different, you can say to people right away that “this is my love” and need not worry about any kind of fallout from the introduction.

Robert: That is an interesting difference. Here I feel parents don’t have much of a say in the matter unless there are serious objections. And a serious relationship before marriage is the norm here except for the within most socially conservative groups.

If this looks like you’re girlfriend, introducing her to your friends might still be a tad uncomfortable

Thank you for reading! If there’s something you think we could add or some perspective you’d like explored more in-depth, why not consider submitting to the Caper Times as a volunteer or in the form of a letter to the editor? Contact or drop by our office for more details.

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