Vancouverites adapt to new cultural etiquette

Photo by Jared Horn, Flickr

As intercultural communication becomes the norm, there is a growing need for the public to understand proper rules of engagement in a heterogeneous society, especially as workplaces become more diverse. Learning the basics of etiquette is a stepping stone to understanding people on a deeper level.

Margaret Page, etiquette consultant. Photo courtesy of Margaret Page

What is etiquette?
“Etiquette is practices and forms prescribed by social conventions,” says Margaret Page, an etiquette consultant. Etiquette can be a grey area because it can shift depending on the people, culture and time period.

She says that the first rule of etiquette or manners is kindness, and having good manners is really about setting a standard for yourself – it is not a basis for judging others.

Vancouver etiquette
Page states that Vancouver is a port city, so Vancouverites are more open to other practices. For example, a lot of locals can use chopsticks because of the Asian population, but there is also a strong British influence, as well as Italian, German and so on.

Likewise, social entrepreneur and immigrant advocate, Nick Noorani has a similar opinion on the openness of Vancouverites to other cultures. Noorani remembers his first job experience as a landed immigrant when his colleagues went out of their way to take him to an Indian restaurant to make him feel welcome.

Simon (who requested not to print his last name), who is a landed immigrant of three years and Indian-born with Chinese ancestry, says that the people here are open and accepting of other cultures, but the problem is the way people communicate. He remembers being scared to talk to the locals when he first landed because he wasn’t used to people talking so nicely. Not that people in India are not nice, he says, it’s just the difference in  communication styles. Page explains that tone of voice can communicate good manners or rudeness.

Vancouver business etiquette
Communication plays a part in business etiquette, according to Noorani. He cites an example from when he worked with Korean immigrants. In Korea, respect for superiors is so high that in job interviews Koreans would look down and not at the interviewer. In the western context, this may mean that a person is being dishonest or hiding something.

However, Page points out that Vancouverites tend to give leeway to other cultures because of the city’s diversity. She quotes Emily Post: “manners is having a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others.”

Oftentimes, Noorani finds that when faced with unfamiliar mannerisms, Canadians will say, “You don’t need to do that, because you’re in Canada.”

Illustration by Rana Nikkholgh

In India, Simon recalls subordinates having to call their bosses or managers ‘ma’am’ or ‘sir.’ And being in the banking industry, where he faces many clients everyday, he notices that some Asians are surprised in how locals speak very casually. But he also mentions that when he’s working with elderly clients – no matter where they’re from – they generally like to be called ‘ma’am’ or ‘sir.’

When it comes to basic societal etiquette, Page says that people are so busy it prevents them from being aware of another individual and taking the time to connect with others. She points out research done on youth and how they have difficulty reading body language because they spend so much time in front of the computer.

Noorani suggests that because of B.C.’s labour shortage, the locals will have to adapt to immigrants in the same way that immigrants have to adapt to Canadians. For immigrants, he says the biggest challenge will be to acquire soft skills to be able to quickly adapt to the Canadian workplace.

However, Simon believes that everyone who comes to Canada has to start from somewhere, and it’s just a matter of taking the time to learn about cultural behaviours.

As of now, there are no government initiatives to help immigrants quickly learn the rules of workplace norms, but Noorani states that there is interest on the part of the government and corporations to pursue this. He says, “Corporations are understanding that diversity is more than just a word, it has to become a verb.”