Princess Hobo Notices the Communication Differences Between Canadians and Americans.
I am a Canadian.
This past trip to America was the first time I have spent more than 3 weeks there.
During those two months in California, I had revelations several times about how Canadians and (Californian) Americans differ in speech and behaviour.
There is truly some serious culture clashing in terms of communication styles.
So this is a list of things that both Canadians and Americans should take note of when dealing with each other, for maximum mutual enjoyment.
This article is focusing on communication style. I have more observations to share about social outlooks, humour and belief systems for another article, just you wait!
Canadians Act Rather Coy and Don’t Speak Directly About Anything
We Canadians tend to hide our personal ambitions; when we do this, we can come across to Americans as coy, passive and obnoxiously humble. We are NOT direct about our wants and desires. Any openly ambitious plans are usually squashed immediately back in Canada so we have learned to be sneaky about being ambitious at all.
Our passive-aggressive tendencies are very well developed in order to get anything done in Canada. I hate getting the eye-roll from a Canadian cashier because I dared ask for a particular cookie on the tray. She feels I am being fussy and obnoxious for asking for exactly what I want. So I apologize in advance of asking for that cookie. The classic Canadian “Sorry!”.
We do not speak about our talents or toot our own horns, as that is perceived by other Canadians as rude and uppity. We are more passive (or secretive) with our pursuits of money/fame/ambitions.
This passive-aggressive behaviour is all seen as deceitful, secretive, confusing and disturbing to an American.
Americans are Operating Like Pioneers and Cowboys for Maximum Survival
In California, it feels like it may as well still be the ‘Old Wild West’ for a visiting Canadian.
The Americans we met were openly ambitious, trumpeting their talents, their preferences, their celebrity friends and their triumphs loudly at every opportunity, as we Canadians cowered in confusion and horror.
‘I want’ was said constantly by the Americans around us.
People spoke loudly with each other about personal politics, not butting in line, vocally demanding service at the deli counter when no one was serving them and openly voiced their strong opinions about the art we all were viewing in the art gallery.
Even when I spoke my loudest and it felt like I was screaming, I was STILL the quietest, meekest person in the room.
“What is going on here??? How does this behaviour work here???” thought the meek Canadian.
It appeared to me that in order to survive in California, you had to make your demands as loud, pure, honest and direct to the folks around you so that there is no confusion and no time or energy wasted on letting other people guess what you needed.
This is survival time, people!!!
The people who live here get right to the point and do it fast. And everybody seems to respect everyone who speaks up about their needs! Even if they don’t agree, they don’t passively aggressively try to ignore or weasel out of dealing with the person (like they would in Canada). If you don’t like what someone wants, in America you just loudly say so! And you both have an openly loud conversation about it!
I do not have those skills so I just watched other folks interact, in order to try to learn how to do it too.
If you, a Canadian, want to get anywhere in the USA, let me suggest this: come up with an elevator pitch of EXACTLY WHAT YOU MOST WANT AND DESIRE and let that be the focal point of the pitch.
For example, most Americans were friendly, curious and asked why we were visiting and how they could help. It seemed every American we met would try to help us, but could only do so once we learned to spit out a very direct fast statement about what we needed.
Trust me, that was really hard for us Canadians to learn how to do!!
Each time I got loud and direct with asking for help with something, I kept expecting to be slapped in the face by some outraged Canadian spectre floating past me.
Visiting California? Practise along with me;
“I WANT that cheese sliced!”
“I WANT to record with talented people like me and make a million dollars from my songs”
“I WANT to skip this really long security line here at the airport because I made a mistake and now we are about to miss our flight”
“I WANT to use your shower!”
“I WANT to live in a van and enjoy the sunshine here at the beach all day forever”
Everybody helped us, once they understood us.
And in America, that means being direct. It is not rude to have wants and needs and ambitions and to speak of them out loud in America.
In fact, Americans seem to feel it is downright creepy if you don’t speak up about your needs.
The Flip Side: Americans Visiting Canada
I don’t know what advice to give to Americans visiting Canada. Except that they may be confused by a Canadian’s odd meekness and may see Canadians recoiling at direct statements.
I’m not sure how an American can adopt a more INDIRECT manner of speaking. It seems complicated to learn how to “ask for something, but wrap it up in a humble sentence that beats around the bush and makes the listener guess what you need.”
Good luck with that.
I know this article is very general, regarding lots of potentially different people and personalities. But these observations are ones that I had.
I realized how similar we all are, it’s simply HOW we talk or HOW we present ourselves that was different. I meet friendly, helpful strangers all the time in Canada AND in America.
Once I adopted this more American direct conversation style that I noticed, things got a lot smoother talking to local folks, being understood and getting things done, that’s for damn sure.