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Dating can be confusing for the best of us but for those who are new to Canada, it can be especially intimidating.
On Jan. 24, a newcomer centre in Saskatoon offered an information session on dating culture in Canada. The centre, called the Global Gathering Place, is funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada and sees more than 1,000 clients a year from all over the world.
The session prompted CBC Saskatchewan to post a poll on its website. It asked viewers to vote on whether this type of program is necessary.
The poll attracted 538 responses and the end result was virtually split. Slightly more than half said the session could help bridge cultural gaps, while almost as many said that newcomers should figure out dating on their own.
Canadian dating culture: Risqué to some, conservative to others
Lilliana Arroyo was one of the session’s participants.
Arroyo, 41, immigrated to Canada seven months ago. She says she noticed a big difference between how men and women interact in Canada and at home in Costa Rica.
“Nobody hugs you or kisses you the first time you meet them,” said Arroyo of Canadian culture. She added that public displays of affection between couples are much less common here than in Costa Rica.
While Arroyo may see Canadians as more inhibited, people from cultures where dating is less common may see Canadian behaviours as more risqué, said Adina Wilson. Wilson led the information session at the Global Gathering Place. For example, she explained, in some cultures, men and women are not supposed to be seen together in public.
Wilson said she and her colleagues decided to offer the session after receiving many questions about dating from clients.
“I think we sometimes think (newcomers) will land in Canada and they’ll just learn these things right away,” said Wilson, “but I think that’s an assumption on our part.”
Romantic culture clash
Statistics Canada has projected that by 2031, nearly half of Canadians older than 15 will be foreign-born or have at least one foreign-born parent. A little more than half of the foreign-born population would be from Asia, the agency estimated.
According to Dr. Faizal Sahukhan, newcomers born in Eastern countries often have the hardest time dating in Canada.
We think (newcomers) will land in Canada, and learn these things right away but I think that’s an assumption on our part. - Adina Wilson
Sahukhan is a private counsellor who specializes in multicultural romance. He also lectures on the subject at Capilano University in North Vancouver.
“When parents come here, they expect their children to follow the values that they instilled in them from the old country but …it’s human nature for a person to try to assimilate and integrate into their surroundings," said Sahukhan. "This is what I call romantic culture clash."
Young immigrants from Eastern countries often face a culture clash when dating Westerners, said Sahukhan.
Most commonly, they struggle between the Western, individualistic culture in Canada and the collectivistic values they were raised with, he explained.
In his 2009 book Dating the Ethnic Man, Sahukhan described a specific dilemma that some immigrant men confront upon adulthood. He wrote that often, they face pressure from Western friends and girlfriends to move out of their family home, while at the same time facing their parents’ expectations that they will stay at home and take on more responsibility within the family.
Sahukhan said he thinks more information on dating should be offered to newcomers and their families so that young immigrants won’t feel divided.
The risk of seeming intrusive
There are other newcomer centres offering dating information and counselling in the country but the form of help differs depending on each centre’s clientele, said Beba Svigir, executive director of the Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association.
Svigir said she likes the idea of providing sessions on dating to single adult newcomers but would have to consider it carefully before addressing the topic outside of a one-on-one setting.
“If we adopt that (type of session) as part of our regular curriculum and invite newcomers to attend, it could be perceived … as an intrusion into their values, so one has to be very careful,” said Svigir, referring to the Global Gathering Place’s session.
Arroyo said the group setting was actually one of the best parts of the dating information session she attended.
“I think that it’s better to take all kinds of information sessions in groups because when we are in groups, we can learn about the opinions of other people.”
Arroyo, Wilson, Sahukhan and Svigir each insisted that it is not only newcomers who must learn about the dating “do’s” and “dont's” in Canada. Fully-integrated Canadians must also do their part to learn about the different views newcomers hold on the subject, they said.
“Immigrants are the destiny of Canada,” said Svigir, “and Canadians should be responsible to educate themselves about those people that come and live in their midst, from all aspects of life.”
Newcomers’ dating FAQs
The things immigrants, refugees and other newcomers want to know about Canadian dating but may be too shy to ask:
1. What is a date in Canadian terms?
2. What does a date look like in Canada?
3. Who pays on a date in Canada?
4. How do I meet people to date?
5. Is Internet dating safe?
6. What is speed dating?
7. What is a blind date?
8. How do I meet a husband/wife/partner?
9. How long do people date before marriage in Canada?
10. What does being engaged mean in Canada?
Source: Dating in Canada presentation slides by Adina Wilson, Client Services Manager, The Global Gathering Place.
The family connection
Canadian dating culture can be especially intimidating for parents who bring their teenage children to Canada.
Wilson said after the dating information session last month, she received several requests for a follow-up session from immigrant parents anxious to learn how to deal with their teens’ desires to date.
“That’s a challenge for anybody, let alone a new Canadian,” laughed Wilson.
Beba Svigir, of the Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association said her centre does offer such sessions, aimed at countering parents’ anxieties with culturally-sensitive counseling and information.
It also provides family intervention services for cases where parental misunderstandings of Western dating turn dangerous.
Svigir said her staff has had to intervene in several situations where male family members beat a young female in their family after finding out she had a boyfriend.
“It is even an issue within our staff,” said Svigir, explaining the couple of instances where staff members with immigrant parents expressed fear that their parents would find out they were dating someone -- especially a Western person.
Dr. Faizal Sahukhan said he thinks there should be more opportunities for immigrant parents and their children to learn about dating in Canada together, in a safe and open space, with a facilitator.
“I think that it is something that needs to be addressed so that there’s an understanding of what dating entails. Because some people from certain cultures, they look at children dating and right away they fast forward to (the fear of) pre-marital sex,” he said.
Sahukhan said this type of programming could serve a great need in the future.
“Hopefully it would lead to functional behaviour, leading to more nurturing relationships in the future.”