Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Canadian Culture

I just came back from participating in my first Success for Skills in Canadian Culture session given at Queen's University International Centre.

The session brought up a lot of questions about what Canadian culture really is. So, for a bit of background, over three 2-hour sessions, newcomers to Canada, with the help of Canadian mentors, teach communication skills for specific situations. Which is great! Because to socialize, to network well, to get a job, to work in teams, everyone new to a culture needs this kind of training and I think newcomers to other cultures would benefit from similar training.

However. And this might also be pertinent to other countries. The session, even though the Canadians emphasized that every Canadian is different, that everyone has an opinion on what being Canadian means and so on, to teach some tangible skills, there had to be directions.

So, things like:
-stand a bit back from the personal; do not invade their personal space
-ask a lot of questions to fill the silence
-be assertive
-shake hands and make eye contact when greeting someone

Basic, right? But I grew up not really having many social skills like this until I was in my late teens. I am still working on my communication skills every day. Is this due to culture? To personality? If I do something else, am I then not Canadian? I am so confused.

I mean, I fit in to Canadian culture, I function in it, I've worked and studied and lived most of my life here. Yet some parts of what other people call "Canadian culture" I don't recognize in myself. I'm sure that's true for all Canadians, I mean, who can be 100% "Canadian" by the "rules" of being Canadian?

I am getting a bit personal now, so...when my parents came here, I think all they wanted to do, and I think all they still want to do is fit in to the culture, what I've read is the "dominant Canadian culture". This is what is mentioned above. They wanted to immigrate, get a relatively secure job, work hard, be with family, and retire well. But on the basis of that, what does that mean? Is this "dominant" culture based on Native American, Anglo-Saxon, Gallic culture? Is this "dominant" culture based on demographics?

I was Googling this and this article came up in the search result:

Let me share my own story. I studied in a Montessori establishment in preschool, so in Grade 1 I was a new kid at a new school. One of the first things they asked me was (other than if I was supposed to be in Kindergarten because I was so tiny!) to put me in an ESL class. They didn't ask if I could or could not speak English. It's just that I didn't speak much just like I don't now.So sometime every week, I got pulled out of class to learn English (I was really confused about why I was there). I also learned how to cook pasta (because that is soooo Canadian) and I learned how to cook butternut squash. I'm sure they thought they were doing me a favour, but already I was singled out as being different, not "from here".

Some people from other countries also think this. I once was talking to someone not from Canada and they said that they would really love to meet a Canadian, when I had just introduced myself from being Canadian! "They would know what to do in so and so a situation." It's true.

The thing I want to differ from the author of the other article is that I did eventually learn, about other Canadian cultures. In grade 2 I made latkes for Hunakkah, we painted hands for  Diwali, I learned about Kwanzaa. Throughout grades 3-5 we learned about Aboriginal peoples (although it wasn't until university I learned about residential schools, unfortunately. I think that would have had a great impact on me had I learned about it earlier). History textbooks in high school did not leave out experiences of the Chinese Head Tax and Japanese internment camps. We had substitute teachers from India and Hungary. What interested me most about different cultures, and what drove me to study linguistics, is when I started singing in the Oakville Children's Choir songs from all over the world in different languages, and also travelling with the choir and meeting people from all over. But they wanted to instill what is considered the dominant "basic Canada" in me as much as possible first.