Canadian culture is frequently seen in comparison to the US.  It is described as a more polite version of the American culture due to our penchant for saying I’m sorry, having some oddities to our language including the use of the words “toque” and “Eh”, again in comparison to the Americans, and being otherwise very similar, though generally quieter and gentler than our southern neighbors.

While all of those things are descriptors of components of culture they don’t really provide a solid understanding of culture and how it is formed.  The sociological definition in the Oxford Dictionary begins, “culture refers to the symbolic element of social life …”  which is a bit esoteric.  We typically describe culture as the shared values, beliefs, goals, underlying assumptions, attitudes, and behaviours shared by a group of people.  That group can be small – like a nuclear family, larger – like an organization, or even larger – like a country.

Culture is dynamic.  Culture influences peoples’ values, beliefs, goals, assumptions,  attitudes, and behaviours.  As people internalize the norms of culture we are changed.  As we change we cause our culture to change, and then we change again as we adapt.  People and culture are mutually constituting.

Culture will form as a result of what we do and do not do.  If we establish a set of rules (like stopping for red lights) and hold people accountable for conforming to those rules the culture will establish those behaviours as norms of the society.   When we permit bad behaviour (like accepting lateness for meetings or ignoring derogatory comments) we are accepting incivility and discrimination as societal norms.

What are some of the cultural artifacts that make us Canadian and different than Americans?

What differences would you add?

Want to learn more about culture changes in the workplace?

There is still space in our Culture Management Session on September 25th.  The purpose of our session is to discuss changes that have recently taken place in the regulatory and social environments and share ideas about their implications for organizations and the people who work in them.

My colleague, Kellie Donohue and I will be talking about change factors, the priorities for organizations, and will also touch on managing risk including from the perspective of supervisors in a world where they are accountable for psychological safety on the job.  You can register here:

Mystique of Culture