5 do’s and don’ts when meeting a newcomer

July 14, 2021

When meeting someone new, it’s important to take cultural differences into consideration to avoid potentially awkward situations. Whether at work, on the street, at school or at an event, even the most mundane conversations can cause unintended embarrassment. With this in mind, here are some tips to ensure your interactions remain friendly and polite.

Good to know!
In some parts of the world, such as West Africa, the Middle East and Germany,
“thumbs up” is equivalent to our middle finger!


DO: look beyond skin colour
DON’T: invade someone’s privacy

First and foremost, express interest in the unique individual in front of you. Questions about their culture can wait. Imagine you’re talking to someone from your own background: it would be inappropriate to make a remark about their physical features. Try to put newcomers at ease by showing them that you’re here to help them settle into the community and explore their new home. After a while, you can gradually start asking about their culture, but wait until the topic comes up naturally in conversation.


DO: choose your words carefully
DON’T: use discomfort as an excuse to make a joke

When North Americans feel stressed or find themselves in an uncomfortable situation, one of the most common reflexes is to laugh or crack a joke. When two people from different cultures interact, they may not always understand each other. This is completely normal when you’re dealing with different realities and backgrounds. In this context, choose your words carefully to avoid saying something that might offend. It can be risky to use humour in these circumstances because you might give the impression that you’re making fun of the other person or their culture. Better to ask thoughtful and respectful questions – it will allow for better communication and help demonstrate your genuine interest. However, you should be sensitive to the other person’s limits and avoid pressing for answers.

Examples :

  • What does [misunderstood word] mean?
  • How do you pronounce your name?
    • (Never suggest a nickname, even if a person’s name is hard to pronounce.)


DO: be proactive
DON’T: exclude individuals

Including immigrants in your daily activities has a huge impact on their integration, regardless of their origins. Whether a newcomer is from Africa or Toronto, if you don’t make an effort to include them, it will be difficult for them to feel accepted in their new community. Extending a hand could lead them to explore the region in greater depth and get to know it better.

It doesn’t take much to show someone they’re not alone and that they have a friend they can depend on. One easy tactic is to come right out and ask a person what they’d like to know. People usually do a good deal of research before moving to a new country, but a lot of information is not available online. Take the initiative to invite a newcomer for coffee or to join you on an outing with friends. This could make a big difference for their integration, giving them the chance to freely discuss a variety of topics while making real human connections. They may not take you up on your invitation right away, but don’t be offended! They might come back to you once they feel ready, and your initial gesture will have paid off.


DO: être à l’écoute
DON’T: ask the same questions over and over

When you’re getting to know someone new, you learn a ton of information all at once. This can be both exciting and confusing. It’s normal to show a lot of interest, even curiosity, when you meet a newcomer. But asking too many questions can quickly become overwhelming:

  1. It can make a person uncomfortable and feel like they’re being interrogated.
  2. The more questions you ask, the more answers you’ll get. And with more information to remember, you risk forgetting important details, not to mention that the conversation can suddenly veer into inappropriate territory.

It’s best to get to know someone over several get-togethers, while always making sure to listen. That will make it easier to take in information. Remember to personalize the discussion to show a newcomer that your interest is sincere. Good topics include culture, family, their country of origin, hobbies and past experiences.


DO: respect customs and traditions
DON’T: have a closed mind

Like people all over the world, Canadians have many proud traditions that we’re eager to share. For example, we love our sugar shacks and enjoy seeing others experience them for the first time. Newcomers feel the same way about their heritage! Whatever their reasons for immigrating, newcomers’ cultural backgrounds are just as rich as our own and a great source of pride. Show them that you’re just as interested in sharing your Franco-Ontarian and Canadian culture as you are in discovering theirs. And be sure to keep an open mind! Some of their traditions may seem surprisingly different from your own. But remember that honouring a person’s customs and values is a sign of respect.

Back to the sugar shack example: a maple-themed meal is a fairly common event during maple sugar season, with pork being a popular dish. However, in some cultures and religions, the eating of pork is forbidden. For others, it’s beef. We’re not saying you can’t enjoy those meals anymore. Far from it! But take the time to talk to your new co-worker or to your neighbour’s new girlfriend, to make sure they understand what to expect. If necessary, you can propose solutions so that everyone can have a good time.


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Media library

Aragon, O. Clark, M. Dyer, R, Bargh, J. (2015) Dimorphous Expressions of positive Émotion : Displays of Both Care and Agression in Response to Cute Stimuli.
Found on http://clarkrelationshiplab.yale.edu/sites/default/files/files/Psychological%20Science-2015-Arag%C3%B3n-259-73.pdf

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