Americans are far more likely to approach a non-English-speaking business partner (say in China, Russia or India) more conservatively because of the language and cultural barriers involved. Yet, many cultural differences exist amongst English-speaking countries, too. The relationship between Canada and the United States is an excellent example of this.
To build and maintain successful business partnerships, it is wise to be aware of the customs, history and value system that exist in Canada. Here are some easy tips to help foster and maintain a good U.S.-Canada business relationship.
• Be open and friendly, yet traditional, transparent and reserved in all manners of interpersonal communication.
• Use formal titles (e.g., Mr., Mrs., Professor) in greetings and conversations unless instructed otherwise by the person being addressed.
• French Canadians frequently use firm handshakes as a means of professional greeting, with men expecting women to extend their hand for a handshake first.
• Canadians tend to be confident and open to discussions on fairly common subjects. Personal privacy is very important to them, so personal subjects are reserved for conversation with close friends and family members.
• If possible, try to avoid discussions related to religion, health care, economic and foreign policy, and sexual orientation, as the two countries tend to differ on these and other current political issues.
• English is the common language for most of Canada. However, French is spoken in Quebec, some parts of Nova Scotia and in New Brunswick. Consider producing business/marketing collateral and other print materials in French and English as a matter of course.
• Stick to conservative business attire in dark colors; save casual attire for your off hours.
• Punctuality in all instances (e.g., meetings, appointments) is very important, even if it is not always reciprocated in French areas of Canada where attention to schedules can be less strict.
• Public consumption of food and beverages outside of appropriate venues (e.g., restaurants) is generally not acceptable.
• Gift giving should be reserved for a visit or overnight stay at a Canadian associate’s home, or to finalize a business deal or negotiation. Avoid large, extravagant or unexpected gifts that might lead to awkward social interaction. Fresh-cut flowers, chocolates or a bottle of wine is an acceptable gift.
• Most importantly, take your cues from your host, and let them lead verbally and nonverbally. Being observant of their social norms and customs is not a sign of weakness, it is the best way of connecting with your Canadian counterparts.