When you arrive in Canada or for that matter, in any new country, there are many things that you have to learn. And unlearn. The quicker you understand the nuances of your new place, environment, the easier it is for you to integrate into it. One of them is how you present yourself and interact with others, a part of the culture.

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What is culture? While there are many ways of defining it, the easiest would be to say that it is the way the members of a community behave and how they do their everyday activities. It is the culture that binds people together. We all have our own cultures. The way we cook, eat, talk, laugh, greet, dress, even look at people, all these are part of our upbringing and culture. They define who we are.

Every group, every region and every country has its own culture. Canada is no different.

When you move into another society or a country, if you incorporate what is generally the norm in the new society or the country, you can effortlessly integrate into it and make friends. It will also make it so easier for others to be comfortable around you.

Here are a few tips about general norms in Canada

  1. First impressions matter.

How you dress up and how you present yourself matter. So, how do you dress in Canada?

If you have tried to educate yourself by looking at people’s images in magazines, you should know that what is shown in magazines is not necessarily a reflection of reality. It is better to look around you and to help you derive your own dress sense.

When you look around, you will see that for the most part, Canadians are relaxed and informal and lean towards dressing simple and comfy. What they wear is what makes them feel comfortable. Comfortable with the weather, with the occasion and the place they are visiting.

It is not to say that they don’t dress up at all. Those who dress up have learnt the art of balancing the conservative and the modern dress sense. That is an art you can develop. Until then, try to keep things simple and minimum to start with. They seldom wear overly designed and decorated outfits for an event that is not private.

2. Better to overdress than underdress

The general statement you will hear in Canada is better to overdress than underdress. That applies to be formal when you are attending a networking event or another job-related event. If you are in doubt it is better to put on a jacket to give that slightly formal look, rather than wearing casual clothes.

For work, the common dress code is casual. This may vary depending on the organization’s dress code. If you are in Toronto, on Bay Street it is high street fashion but that is not so in Toronto’s eastern area or even smaller places like, say Hamilton. Younger women are fashionable whether they are on Bay Street or in school. So, if you are young there is no rule that says that you should not wear revealing or flattering outfits. But be mindful of loud colours, flashy jackets and over-designed outfits. What they prefer here is more classy and sophisticated. The same goes for makeup. Be mindful of the occasion and wear makeup accordingly. As a general rule, Canadian women wear little make-up.

When it comes to men, most men wear very dark or sober tones. Irrespective of the colour, they coordinate the colours of their entire outfit, the trousers, jackets, and other accessories. Younger men stick to the accepted kakis and chinos, with some verging on the sports jacket and/or vest.

3. Don’t wear a ‘curry’ coat

Curry coat was a nickname given to a friend’s son by his school mates. That was because his coat smelled of the Indian curries that his mom would cook. It is not nice to be called anything because of the clothes you are wearing. It is worse if it is something you could have helped prevent.

Most international students try to make do with limited resources. They manage with little money and even less time. It is easy to ignore certain things, while you prioritize your studies and work. Cleanliness is one such important issue.

Clothes absorb smells and they take in all the smells from your kitchen. Keep your clothes tightly closed wardrobe. Moreover, wash them often. Even jackets. Using them on public transport makes them sweaty and smelly. And hanging in the house when you cook, makes the smell unbearable. For someone from your own culture, the smell of food may be heavenly. But it will not be so for everyone around. Do people around you at work, in school or a bus a favour and keep your clothes washed and clean.

To sum it up:

Ensure that your clothes do not absorb your cooking smells.
Wash them often and keep them clean
Try not to wear flashy colours and overly designed outfits for everyday life.
Dress for the occasion and the season.
Be comfortable in what you wear

That said, what kind of clothes should you carry when you come to Canada?

Buy sweaters, woollen caps and other warm clothes. These days all countries have shops that cater to those travelling to colder countries. Get at least two pairs of thermals before coming. These will take care of you till you settle down and buy new ones here in Canada.

For regular wear, jeans are something that is universally accepted. And that can get you everywhere. So get a pair of smart jeans, cotton, cargo pants. One set of formals will also be handy. But do not buy too many of these. This goes for girls too. With an exception that girls can get pant tops and Kurtis for regular wear.

I will tell you what happened to another friend of mine, who arrived in Toronto from India. She had two young daughters. Before coming, they bought lots of clothes; clothes that they thought were good and fashionable. Once they arrived in Toronto, they discovered that they just did not go well with what people wore here. It is difficult to pinpoint the reason, but the girls were just not comfortable wearing what they had bought from India. Unfortunately, they had to chuck out most of it. Good clothes do not come cheap anywhere. Hence, my advice is not to buy too many clothes from your country until you know what is good to wear in Canada. A pair of ethnic wear for men and a few for women is good. You will meet people from your community and country, go to events and you will need to dress up in ethnic clothes for occasions. Like my friends who had a ‘lungi’ dress code for a party. Men were asked to wear lungis and women, traditional Indian outfits. The host went to the extent of ordering fresh jasmine flowers and got banana leaves to serve dinner. Hopefully, you will get invited to such events and you would want to show off your ethnic outfits then.

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