by Lena Usovich
Eighteen months living in Canada far away from my own country has influenced who I am and has changed my life. When you move to another country, you have to change your entire life in an extremely short amount of time. You need to find new places to live, a new job, create new social circles and master the everyday intricacies of life in another environment. This is what happened to me when I moved to Canada after Russia began the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. I understood that life in a new country would be completely different from my usual life in Ukraine, but I didn’t expect to encounter huge differences in culture that I still can’t get used to. I really believe that cultural matters and immersion in a new culture influences our lives and decisions.
One of the first things I noticed after moving to Canada was that people are very polite. Even strangers will smile at you and greet you with a warm “hello, how are you?” But contrary to my culture, it’s just a polite form of greeting; it doesn’t require a long involved response about how you REALLY are! In the Ukraine, people greet only those they know personally and when asked, “How are you,” they give a detailed answer. The second thing I have noticed is that Canadians avoid discussing serious subjects, for instance history, science or politics. They seem to stay away from heavy subjects. The hottest topic in Canada is weather and dogs! When I first moved to Canada, I couldn’t understand why Canadians were so obsessed with talking about the weather. After being here for 18 months, I now understand them! The weather has become my main topic of conversation, because it changes as often as my mood.
Another thing I noticed is that Canadians don’t like to dress up or dress more formally. It would be quite difficult to determine a person’s financial situation by just seeing them on the street. People dress simply and when talking about women, high-heeled shoes are a rarity here. In Ukraine, your outward appearance is important. Women don’t even take out the trash without wearing makeup. And a popular phrase for a Ukrainian woman is “I don’t have time for breakfast, but I do have time for makeup”.
What I like most about Canadians is that they value their personal space. When they speak to each other, they keep a comfortable social distance and prefer to respect each other’s privacy. In Ukraine, when you are standing in line at a store, you can feel someone breathing down your neck.
There is no one cultural standard that rises above the rest. There are just differences. All countries have their own unique culture to live by, which means that people who have grown up in different places will have different ways of thinking about things and different ways of expressing themselves. We should try to understand the cultural practices of other groups and respect differences between cultures.