Guide eases culture shock for immigrants

For recent immigrants to Canada from the British Crown colony of Hong Kong, culture shock can be severe, research conducted on behalf of Vancouver-based Hongkong Bank of Canada has shown.In interviews with more than 1,000 Chinese-Canadians, market research firm Angus Reid,...

For recent immigrants to Canada from the British Crown colony of Hong Kong, culture shock can be severe, research conducted on behalf of Vancouver-based Hongkong Bank of Canada has shown.

In interviews with more than 1,000 Chinese-Canadians, market research firm Angus Reid, in conjunction with Scientific Research Hong Kong, found the transition to Canadian society for newcomers was often difficult and confusing.

The most recent published figures from Employment and Immigration Canada show 6,046 Hong Kong residents immigrated to Vancouver in 1991.

The rate of immigration is expected to rise in the years leading up to China’s takeover of Hong Kong in 1997.

David Bond, the bank’s vice-president of marketing, says even though English is a major language in Hong Kong, the customs and traditions between the two cultures differ significantly.

Hockey

‘Hockey is about as clear to them as cricket is to us,’ Bond says.

As a result, the bank has recently published The Canadian Experience, A Guidebook for Successful Emigration to Canada, a 215-page guide to day-to-day life in Canada.

‘It tells them everything, from the Chinese expression for runny nose, to how to find a Chinese-speaking doctor,’ Bond says.

‘There’s even an extensive explanation of ice hockey,’ he says.

‘We are trying to facilitate their adjustment into Canada and smooth the cultural shock that everyone feels.’

The guide, made available exclusively to bank clients Oct. 29, is published in two versions, English and Chinese.

The first print run numbered 25,000 copies.

The book is divided geographically into sections on Canada, Vancouver, Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary and Montreal, and covers everything from lifestyle and culture to climate, accommodation, employment, education, daycare, transportation, business, taxes, the media, attractions and banking.

Cultural differences

Cultural differences are discussed in detail under the sub-headings ‘Social skills’ and ‘How to avoid embarrassment.’

The book, written by mba graduates from the University of British Columbia, takes nothing for granted.

For example, it advises readers that Canadians are accustomed to more personal space than citizens of Hong Kong.

‘People using automated banking machines [equivalent to etc in Hong Kong] expect the next person in line to stand a few feet behind them,’ it states.

As well, it warns readers not to be surprised at the level of informality in Canadian offices.

Bond says that while the bank suggested some basic guidelines, the book’s contents were determined largely by its authors, who spent hours listening to tapes made during focus groups in which participants reflected on their introduction to Canada.

Bond says he has had no trouble publicizing the guide to prospective customers and bank clients.

He simply mailed copies of the publication for review to the Chinese-language press in Hong Kong, most of which are readily available in Canada.

Reviews are now starting to appear in Chinese-Canadian publications, Bond says.

The guide is just one of several initiatives undertaken by the Hongkong Bank to address the needs of the Asian community, which Bond says now accounts for about 20% of its business.

At more than 15% of the city’s 1.6 million population, Vancouver’s Chinese community is the second-largest in North America, after San Francisco.

He says the bank has 27 branches in the Vancouver area, two of which are in Chinatown, one in Oakridge, and three in Richmond, all areas with substantial Chinese populations, adding every effort is made to serve customers in the language or dialect of their choice.

According to Bond, it is all part of a strategy to convert emigrating clients of parent company Hongkong and Shanghai Banking to clients of the Hongkong Bank of Canada.

And they are a desirable target group.

‘The people that are immigrating are disproportionately skewed to a higher income level,’ Bond says. ‘It’s a subset that differs from the general population of British Columbia.’

‘This immigrant flow, unlike previous flows, is the aristocracy,’ he says. ‘They are better off and better educated. These are not the boat people, they are the yacht people.’