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Laurenwallace

Cultural differences and fitting in

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Eva

Merv, I really appreciate your honesty. It is often posts like yours that strike a chord with many of the "lurkers" who are browsing through this forum... wondering how they will cope with the stresses and strains that immigration and life in general bring. My family is a quite a sensitive bunch, not so tough and not so good at handling change. I too, like Lauren would like to be able to settle my family first before heading into the corporate jungle. So would my husband for that matter...!

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Old Van

Pretty much everything that has been said so far in this thread is true. I really had a hard time for the first year, and it stressed me out completely. I remember telling my wife one day that I dreaded going to the office because I couldn't stand another day with people who act like they have a carrot up their backsides. So I decided to just be myself, stick to my humour and my way of talking, and to stay true to myself. It's tough to change 50 years worth of mindset, etc.

So, I just became myself again and my stress disappeared, I didn't get fired or laid off, and I got almost everybody in the office using "eish" occasionally! I'm sure I still offended people here and there, but I also exposed them to MY culture which they now understand and accept, and in fact they are intrigued by it. I still get people asking me what certain things mean, or to explain a joke to them, but they are now interested in me and they like to strike up a conversation with me. I was eventually laid off, but not because of me or the way I acted, and I'm still consulting to that company. Now that I'm consulting and I meet even more people, and I'm still staying true to myself. Take it or leave it! I do however still give it a good effort to assimilate and understand them better.

To answer Eva's question about whether cultures are correlated to geography; yes absolutely! The people I tend to get along with the best, are the folks from the Prairies and smaller Cities. They are more wholesome, more relaxed, less PC and have a way better sense of humour. This is a generalisation, and it applies to Vancouver, which is a melting pot of many nations, but I find city folk rude, opinionated, entitled, frigid and boring. They are referred to by some as "Citiots". Again, generalising here, I also know a few good ones who are from the City.

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Merv
I got almost everybody in the office using "eish" occasionally!

Had a good chuckle at that, the that first class I ran, I had them saying "yebo baba", they even gave a plaque as a gift, with the class photo engraved onto metal with those 2 words heading it up :ilikeit:

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Stefan

Heng, Lauren, you sparked quite a debate. See how eager we all are to express ourselves somewhere (while we are presumably at work)? you are not alone.

I'm required to sit in a corporate head office, even though I work mostly with operators in various manufacturing plants around the country. I like talking with the plant people because they're down to earth. I can share a joke, talk about personal stuff and at the same time barter for what it is I want them to do for me. The trouble, all around my cubicle, the people I don't need to work with are putting in their headphones to drown out the sound of my quite non-PC banter. It's got so bad, someone asked if I am Australian! :D But I understand now when I'm crossing the line - until that line though, I'm trying to be as disarming as possible because I have to be very convincing.

Cheers, enjoy the weekend!

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ENGinCT

This is a really valuable conversation!

Thanks, Lauren, for starting it, and all of you landed/settled/almost-there contributors who have added to it.

Can I suggest, Moderators, that this thread becomes a 'sticky'?

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Merv

Good idea ENGinCT, consider it done

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Old Van

To add to this: I think most of us had a certain expectation about Canadians before we arrived here. We all probably watched the TV show "Due South" with the Mountie? I thought all Canadians would be overly polite and compulsively truthful with a rigid moral code. Well, lets just say that I was bitterly disappointed. Especially with their road manners! After a couple of months here I was thinking "this is not Utopia???" :P

But I've also come to the realization that my exposure to the people was in Vancouver, which is not exactly representative of the rest of Canada. In the 4 years that I've lived here and travelled some, I've met lots of people like Benton Fraser (the Mountie), but geography plays a big role in that. It also became clear to me that not everybody in Vancouver is "Canadian"! :rolleyes:

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Nelline

Having started my new job 2 weeks ago, and it being my first job here in Canada I guess I have some value to add to this conversation.

Firstly, I was getting really frustrated at finding a job - any job even remotely connected to my field - here in Ottawa. It didn't help that a whole bunch of government employees were laid off just before I started looking, also it didn't help that I cannot speak French and with Quebec being right next door about 50% of the jobs out there require you to be bilingual.

I was getting really frustrated and down and so I grabbed this maternity cover post as an accounts receivable clerk (major step down from what I was doing in the UK) with open arms.

The company is one with offices dotted all over the US and just about 2 in Canada - one in Ottawa and one in Toronto. All of the customers I deal with are in the US. Many of the people employed here are US. MANY of my colleagues are international, quite a few Korean, Thai and Chinese, but also quite a few from South America. I find that I feel really comfortable with some of the South Americans, not least being that they have a great sense of humour.

Yes, the office is quiet, yes everyone has their cubicle and yes there is that instant chat app which you use to talk to your neighbour... BUT on my first day (Wed 2 weeks ago) my manager straight away asked me if I wanted to join a load of people the following day for some social curling. This was arranged in work time as a kind of reward for year end completion. There was a banquet style lunch beforehand, the curling session (which I loved by the way!) followed by an open bar until the end of the working day... kind of a neat second day's work eh!

This intro meant that I was straight away exposed to loads of people in a social setting and yes it has helped me fit in so much better.

Having said that, my rule for work is, look, listen, don't ask too many questions, don't ask the question if you can find the answer yourself and NEVER ask the same question twice. Secondly, keep the humour for out of working hours. Smile a lot. Be nice. Just be nice - all the time - even when you feel highly frustrated. Smile.

This may seem a little (or a lot) hypocritical, but hey, it worked for me in the UK and it is working here. And in the UK, after I gave people time to get used to my dry brand of humour, they loved it. Because they LIKED me, therefore they embraced my sense of humour too. And I fully expect the same thing to happen here, eventually. With the emphasis on EVENTUALLY.

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dlam

Lauren, it sounds like you are working for the government. They have a totally different culture than the private sector. Then even in the private sector the culture is different. My first job here was at a software development company. I hated it there. I stuck it out for 4 years before I left. My job that I have now I love the people I work with. My users are very nice and my colleagues are the best, anyways in the western office ( we do think the bunch in Toronto head office have too much red tape ;) ).

Once in a blue moon when I really do not feel like working, I can get up from my desk and then just chat with the guys (I'm the only female in the office with 3 guys - all born Canadians). We usually ask each other how the weekend was and my one colleague will share pictures with me if his cat is doing something funny, seeing that we both love cats. We share vacation pictures, we go out for lunch twice a year together. We talk plants and cars and movies and we work very hard and prefer it to be quiet, but when we take a break, we do all the stuff I just mentioned.

I have to mention that my husband on the other hand is still struggling after 10 years with his colleagues. They still do not understand his humor. So I really think it depends heavily on the employer and the kind of working environment they create and the kind of people they attract, regardless of where in Canada you work.

But I agree with the rest, you have to tone down on the jokes. I have never been good at telling jokes, maybe that is why I don't have a problem with people not understanding my humor. I have never heard my colleagues deliberately telling a joke. We had at one time a colleague, who was a Canadian, and he sometimes would try and tell a joke and that never went over very well . He didn't last very long. We will mostly laugh at something one of us said that came out funny unintentionally or an interpretation of what was said could be seen as funny and one will point the irony out and we will all laugh about it. Never deliberate joke telling.

Edited by dlam

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Sparky2

Lauren, I think you have made a "family-first" decision. Great to hear.

Merv, I totally agree with you. Happiness in life is the true measure of a successful life in my eyes.

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Karen

I can't talk about the corporate world, but things are much the same in the world of public teaching.

I soon learned to keep quiet and listen. They never got my jokes and they were definitely NOT interested in the way things were done in SA.

It takes time - sometimes years - to learn the ropes here, but to survive, you have to adapt or die. I decided to adapt to the best of my ability. Now, over two decades later, i guess I would have the same problem if I were to return to teaching in SA.

The rules, regulations and PC- ness can drive you nuts here, and I still wish I could just call a spade and spade and be done with it! But, I have learned to zip the lip and keep my thoughts to myself, and even have my own little quiet giggles at their often blatant idiocy.

Oh, and they just love meetings about meetings about meetings!! After three of these, you often come out wondering if anything was achieved at all and even what the meeting was about in the first place!!

You just have to find the humour in it all and save it for sharing at home!

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shawman

Karen, I had to chuckle at the meetings about meetings! Boy are you spot on there. Also found that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to get something put in writing. Almost as if they are to scared to commit to something. But the most infuriating things is getting someone to think slightly differently about something. If you do not conform to the exact requirements it is almost impossible for you to get them to see the problem from another angle.

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Karen

They were never allowed to colour out of the lines here as kids!

To find an out- of - the - box thinker, is a rarity. I embrace those people!

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Guest

Karen, had a good laugh at both your posts, so hit the nail on the head!

Shawman, I put my most trivial requests in writing and cc the department manager. My requests do appear to be processed much quicker!

Then from time to time you also get that, “they said you might be difficult to understand due to your accent”? To which I answer, let me know if I need to lower my grade of spoken English for you to clearly understand me!

I know we South Africans do sometimes tend to talk fast, so over the years I have hit that talk slower button with a slightly louder tone. Only problem, at home my wife will ask me why I am speaking so slow and loud!

And that is all part of adapting to your new country, still a great place to live for which I am extremely grateful!

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Laurenwallace

Im learning.... Im still at work, and have not yet taken the leap... I am so torn, its ridiculous.

I am keeping more to myself now at work, and Im learning the corporate culture here. The best is to just sit back, and listen. And also to realise, you are not going to be as fun-loving and loud at work anymore - thats a South African corporate culture thing (well during tea and lunch breaks anyway) and when in Rome... (or Canada) I have spoken to so many people here, where I just get the 'blank stare', and its not because I am speaking a language that they dont understand, its that I am talking too fast, and of course the accent. And trying to communicate via telephone with rural farmers in Ontario is a challenge all on its own!

I met up with 2 other Canadian mom's on Saturday, and the one mom had a complete melt-down when our conversation turned to this topic. She said that to be a mother and have a career in Canada is really tough, and that she wishes that she could resign to raise her kids, but she cant. It is expensive to live here. And it is really tough. The mother guilt is rife here... and its not just me. The second mom gave up her career and now looks after Cailyn (my daughter) after school and delivers pamphlets to make ends meet. One thing I will say, it is much easier to bring in extra income in Canada than what it is in SA. Just an example - to deliver pamphlets to 260 homes earns you $300 per month. So if you look and search, there are definately ways and means. Its not all doom and gloom, but its also not all roses and sunshine.

And FYI - the weather DOES affect your mood. I always stuck by my guns when it came to this discussion back in SA, that the weather was just a minor thing to deal with in comparison to the life in SA, but let me tell you, now that the sun is out, and its 15 degrees average, it really does lift your mood.

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Eva

I came across this article which I bookmarked some time ago. The author is an immigrant from India and writes about his shock at the cultural differences he experience and lays out some of the rules he learned in a soft skills course offered by the Immigrant Services Society of BC. The article is titled New to Canada: Ignore these rules at your own peril. It's quite an entertaining read too!

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kds

The biggest shock when I landed in Vancouver 15 years ago was finding out how much bigger it is than C.T (where we used to live). Although there are so many more (highly qualified) people competing for work, I think it was an advantage being S.A in that my industry (clothing) was advanced in S.A and South Africans have a reputation in Canada as being very hardworking ( aka fighting for your life).

Most companies want people with "Canadian experience" which means that my first job was roughly 2 levels below where I had been in S.A (and of course, so was the salary). An ex- S.A friend warned me that you go back about 5 years in your career (and financially) and it will take about 5 years to catch up, which was pretty accurate in my experience.

The single biggest decision my husband and I made at the time was to assimilate into the Canadian culture as much as possible from the beginning. This meant we did not try and replicate the kind of lifestyle and house we had ( we couldn't even if we wanted to) and we got comfortable being out of our comfort zones in terms of actively trying to make Canadian friends. This is probably going to sound ungrateful and possibly offensive ...but at the time we did not allow ourselves the luxury of deliberately seeking out S.A people to befriend because it would be too easy to not venture out the comfort of the SA community here! We felt that we needed new connections and although making new friends is ( extremely) exhausting it would serve us better long term by fitting in and learning the culture faster.

Advice for work: Avoiding "when we..(were in SA)" talk ... it's tiresome for the locals ( unless they're from S.A). This doesn't mean you can't be true to yourself and your sense of humour but you need to read your audience....accurately.

Getting used to enjoying humble pie was an acquired taste but liberating too. It's sometimes hard for old dogs to learn new tricks but it's a fun process ( most of the time). Things are done differently sometimes and as one learns new skills, it really becomes second nature and we fit in and then can contribute across the board. For me, it was refreshing to leave behind the guilt I felt in not being part of the solution in S.A.and in Canada it's great not to feel resentful about paying taxes - you see where your tax dollars are used. I am grateful for the comfort of taking safely for granted here and for all the opportunities Canada has offered us. It's a stunningly beautiful place and the weather is a local obsession for good reason!

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Karen

Weather is a huge factor. People tend to downplay this fact, but everyone feels better when the sun is shining and it warms up. Winter is just too long and too bleak to make for happy moods!

Living in a cold country after being raised in a warm one, is a challenge. If Canucks moan about the weather constantly, we have earned the right to do so doubly!! Still, I would rather deal with snow and cold than guns and fear.

This is my 21st year here, and I do not love winter. In fact, the older I get, the more i can't deal with it for months on end. My dream is to become a snow bird someday and fly off to the warmth for at least a month or two.

Throw the mother guilt out the window. Your kids will survive whether you work or stay at home. Do what you have to, let the kids know you love them, and they will come out in the wash just fine - guaranteed!

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OutOfSa

It's interesting how almost every contributor to this thread says pretty much the same thing. Yet, we all seemed to have to learn the hard way. I suppose it's human nature to think it will not happen to you, just like when you see a train smash coming for your child and no amount of warning and begging will convince them to change direction.

Fortunately, it does seem to settle down with time, the old cleshe about time being a healer rings true on this one. We have been here about 18 months and we have made a few friends - but I do long for just one that I don't need to be on my guard with - because you can still say the wrong thing. True friendship takes years and years to grow, I suppose it's very much like trying to meet a potential girlfriend/boyfriend.

You need to have things in common, compatible temperaments and outlooks. Not talk too much / little etc. Once all these parts fall into place, you can begin to feel comfortable and begin to deepen the bond. No matter what country you are in, it takes time to meet these people and connect. Naturally, if you are a member of a club or social group, your chances of meeting compatible people increases.

I had planned to make friends quickly (I had planned many things !), I wanted to meet other parents and socialize - but it's not that easy when you work long hours and just want to sleep when you get home. Hmm, perhaps it is a winter thing. We recently moved to a smaller community - so I am hoping to meet some nice people now - like we did in SA (when we moved to a new 'hood), it began as street greetings and eventually ended in drinks / coffee and so on. Then the wives all had a BEEEEG war, and the men carried on as usual !!! Some couples got divorced, some moved away, friends in hot-tub troubles I heard.... Ha, ha we live in a nutty world.

When all is said and done, integration is something that just takes patience and effort. I hope it is like driving, which is traumatic in the beginning and then one day you no longer gravitate towards the wrong side of the road when you are on auto pilot.

I am still very happy with the way things work here, I find it easy to work with any / all government departments and I have learned to discuss the weather and sympathize with the Canadians about the bad winter. Another 2 years and I hope our assimilation into Canada will be all but done. I just hope my wife and kids feel the same way, as that is a bitter pill to swallow - (when they express doubts.)

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MaryJane

I just hope my wife and kids feel the same way, as that is a bitter pill to swallow - (when they express doubts.)

I feel exactly that. I was thinking about the time when I first arrived here and how "slightly" depressed I was. I didn't know how to show the feeling as I didn't really want to drag my family down and let them think that it had all been a bad decision. I firmly believed the move was for the better. I still believe it.

My husband expressed a lot of doubt during those first few months. His favourite catch lines were "We had it so easy in SA", "It's so hard to start over when we are brought back to nothing" and "We are so old to be starting over again". Even in my depression, I was always the one to reassure that we will make it, we will make it.

Fast forward to just shy of 18 months from landing.....I overheard him speaking to his brother last weekend. Again, the catch line "It's so hard to start over..." caught my ear. This was followed by "But Canada's been really nice". I could hear my brother-in-law on the loud speaker, commenting, "So you're definitely coming back to SA then?"

And without a heartbeat, my husband just answered, "Nah. We're quite happy here now."

What can I say? :) My work here is done.

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Karen

The settling process takes a lot longer than most people think it will.

I have always likened starting life over in a new country to being reborn.

So, if you have only been here 18 months, think of yourself as a toddler still. There is much to learn still and lots of time to grow into your new culture and country. You are still a pretty new immigrant, and cannot hope to be fully integrated into your new culture and country yet ( even if you think you pretty much are already!!).

I can honestly say that the feeling of being TOTALLY settled came after about 15 years. That is when we had been through it all - bad winters, the school system, life events and had made lasting friends and become a fully functioning unit in our community. Now, going on for 21 years, this is really, really home. I feel like we totally belong here and even if I moan about the lousy, long winters, I do so as a Canuck.

When I tell people how long I have been here, the comment I get is " You are a real Canadian by now".

Hang in there, time is a great healer - lots and lots of it.

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MaryJane

Thanks for the words of wisdom, Karen. I read a lot of posts here that say it will get better, and I do find that it is so as each day passes.

There will definitely be still a lot of years before we can call ourselves "Canadians" in the true sense of the word but I am really eagerly looking forward to the coming years.

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Laurenwallace

hoooooo lawdy lawd - that means that I am a 5 month old (teething, drooling and hating tummy time!) sounds about right :ilikeit:

I am hanging onto that - time is a healer. And you know what, we are HERE. Cold, language barriers, money worries, mother guilt, work worries.... when we go to sleep at night we dont need to put our alarms on and get the gun out of the safe. The people on this forum are all brave, and adventurers - so no matter what decision you make (to stay home or work, to move to a different province or not) its an adventure, right? As long as we have our families, friends and SACanada - we are all going to be just fine. Sad, yes. Lonely, double yes. But we are here. xxx

I have always likened starting life over in a new country to being reborn.

So, if you have only been here 18 months, think of yourself as a toddler still. There is much to learn still and lots of time to grow into your new culture and country. You are still a pretty new immigrant, and cannot hope to be fully integrated into your new culture and country yet ( even if you think you pretty much are already!!).

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Nettie

Hmm the dirty little secret that so many Saffers keep close to their chests.

10 rules for Saffers starting work in Canada

  1. A very large number are laid off, fired, retrenched, dismissed or change first jobs pretty quickly (you pick the reason)
  2. At work Saffers are generalists Canadians are specialists. If your skillset is putting widget A (size 5) into gadget B (size 5) then thats what you do ---- they have no concept that in SA you can do a million other things and this is expected of you. Here not - they employed you for a job do it and dont stick your nose into other things (even if it will help the compnay..............
  3. SA humour is 108 degrees different to Canadian - dont even try you will lose, they dont get us and we dont get them.
  4. If you are getting isolated then stop what you have been doing shut-up listen, learn and express nothing because you may be at risk of losing your job (its like an early warning sign).
  5. Dont talk about SA or why you left they dont understand, they dont care and it does not matter
  6. Comparing how you did things in SA and why that way is better will get you isloated - if you that good then why are you here?

I'm in healthcare and have experienced the same thing. They will ask you about South Africa. Give one sentence answers. "How is South Africa doing?" answer "Good." It was difficult for me since people asked me about the South African work environment as it pertains to my profession. I answered and I'm regretting that I did. Because once I would tell them, they would say "well you're here now." It was a real bummer. I changed jobs after two months and it is going better and this time, I am keeping my mouth shut. Smile and nod. They really don't understand that we can do more than what the job requires. Especially in healthcare it is so specialized. If you are in a specific field, you're specialized for that field and don't know squat about anything else (in their opinion and from their frame of reference). B)

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Jules

It's true that they really don't seem to care to find out the deeper SA issues. All they want is a high level summary. I generally use a one sentence reply when asked why I left: "crime related - and I think Canada is a great place to raise a family!"

That is then met with a smile, small nod and agreement that indeed Canada is a good place to raise a family. They might also add that they've heard about the SA crime. And then we change the subject...

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