“Reading between the lines” in Canada

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Canadians are defined by their unique Multicultural society, a four seasons country with lots of winter sports and outdoor activities. Over 35 million people are living in their 9 984 670 km²  land. It’s  an interesting mix of cultures from all over the world, with a strong presence and rules defined by the British influence (they got here third, after the french and the first nations), and a solid international reputation as a tolerant country.

As a constant cultural observer, now joining the Canadian life as my family settles in this new life experience, I practice and try to share the little communication mistakes we all do when trying to fit in.

Personally, I find non-verbal communication as the most important skill that many forget to review and practice when starting a new project in a different environment. Here are some of my findings:

  1. Breaking the ice: It’s the basic first words you might say to stranger just to feel less uncomfortable when silence gets to you. Typical breaking the ice subjects: Hockey (players, results, or anything related to the sport that was news yesterday); the weather (How can anyone be inside with today’s beautiful weather). Any event that made first page in the media (Teachers strike in Peel region; Ontario Sex Curriculum).
  2. Sense of humor: Canadians love jokes, the laugh and they actually have a smile on their faces most of the time. The jokes can include public personalities (as Rob Ford), the weather or their jockey team)
  3. Politeness: they will rarely talk loud or scream bad words even when they are in trouble. They argue with respect for the other person, never sending a message regarding race or religion, social status or political groups. This might sound obvious for many cultures, but in some countries it can be accepted to show all your anger and use inappropriate language.
  4. Fears: Yes, as all humans they can be scared by a changing situation, a new person, terrorism and their future. As an occidental society they follow basic nonverbal communication as the principal skill to accept or reject another person. For example, Canadians look into the eye. They hear you but they need to read your eyes. Canadians, as well as many occidental cultures, seek eye contact that will confirm the message they are listening. It is not ruled by social status, age or gender. Women, men and children will look into your eyes when you are talking to them. If you don’t look them in the eye, it can be read as you are lying, you are nervous or insecure.
  5. Kindness for children and women. In many societies there are important differences between women and men that are socially accepted and culturally sustained for centuries. Not in the Canadian Society, because the legal system offers inclusion and tolerance for all citizens and residents.
  6. This society has a special focus on Family, especially children and women, who are on the top of the list. Many women begin social relations as a consequence by the friendly interaction kids develop when they start to play in the park. Women have exactly the same duties and rights as men. You will find women as chief officers in may big corporations, working as construction builders or bus drivers. They compete for the same professional or academic positions as men.
  7. Age: In the workplace get prepared to have a younger boss. The guy might be 26 years old, but he has gained his position with hard work and good communication skills. Canada is one of the most professional regulated countries, so never underestimate the preparation a person might have to be working at any level.  Never underestimate any job, there is an incredible training program behind it.
  8. Time as a concept. Canadians have a great sense of respect for other peoples time. Time is money, and it really is. When there is a dental appointment at 1, the dentist will start at 1, not a minute after or a minute before. Expect this with the Bus, parties and meetings. Being casual with time is not a good call in Canada.
  9. Salaries: Companies CEEOs or Bosses, probably make a few more thousand dollars yearly than their General director and Managers. It is a horizontal economy and society with many differences, but does not obey hierarchical positions (as can be the Asian or the Latin American culture)
  10. Outdoors: Canadians love being outdoors even in winter. They will ski, skate, camp or swim, because it is safe and it’s fun. Women also participate in these activities. Young families prefer going camping than spending the weekend in a hotel. All over Canada, outdoors activities represent an interesting business because people will find a way to have fun as a group or individually. The cities have many trails or hiking parks that are free or have a reasonable price for the parking lot.
  11. Clothing: Canadians feel proud of having multicultural society, but some dresses that cover entirely the women, really make them suspicious. They feel that if in the cultural background of a family it is accepted to have the female body hidden, there might be something they are hiding. This is a controversial subject that I still need to research more deeply, but the feedback I have received from Canadians is that they fear that some extreme covering is not related to a religion but to a sexual interest.
  12. Language and manners: Drinking soup, shaking hands, using cutlery, talking with food in your mouth, the way you hold a glass of wine, it is incredibly important for this culture. It is so, that many companies hire teams of teachers to provide social rules to some employees.
  13. Body smell: this is a difficult one. Canadians have rules about fragances in public offices. Even in clinics, it is recommended not to wear perfumes. Also, it is commonly noted, that body smell, the one you are born with and that you sweat, no matter what, can also bother Canadians. Some cultures use delicious ingredients in their cooking recipes. It happens that they do not notice their natural body fragrance that has a direct link to the spicy ingredients. The rest of the cultures that live in Canada will notice it, and  they will not do it with happiness. The problem comes when this affects your socializing in the workplace or in any public space. People will isolate others because of their body smell. Also, when bringing a lunchbox into the office, watch out for the smells. Many offices do not have a lunch area, so the condiments will be shared in all areas. A cooking training might be something to explore while living in Canada.
  14. Clean clothes: In Canada you might see lot of people out of fashion. Instead, you will not see people wearing dirty or ragged clothes. Closely linked to the smell problem, Canadians like clean and tidy people. A shower once a day, the regular use of deodorant, monthly care for your hair, weekly manicure, would be the rules. Makeup is optional and it’s very flexible but not as important as it is in some other cultures.

I will write about the Hi, the hand shake and the head nod in a next post!


Target´s reputation: learning with the Canadian Closure.

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I´m a real Target client. I visit their store at least once a week, and I have to admit my shock when I heard the news about them closing their 133 stores in Canada.

Despite what might have happened with Target´s business in Canada, I wonder why this was so badly communicated in-house and for the external audiences. What I have read in the Canadian Media, International media and by the comments I still hear while shopping in the store, I feel a few things were not made to minimize the reputation impact this will have on the brand.

I assume Target has a big PR agency working for them, but honestly, as an outsider, I feel some steps were not followed or, perhaps, the possible reactions were taken for granted. The news spread within social media, and traditional media, before the employees were aware of it. I witnessed as one client shared the news to an employee who had no idea and was not even able to breathe.

I feel surprised because this is not the first time, or company, that announces a huge closure as this one, and there are many experiences that have taught what to do and how to do it to protect the company.

Today some Target stores have closed aisles for the groceries; employees still have no corporate message or training on what to say about this. If Target found out that the business was going to be profitable by 2021, as mentioned on the Financial Post ( ), why was it so difficult for them to adjust for that to happen. By the way, is commonly know that the 5-8 years is the basic North American time frame to see some profitable growth on any business.

Trying to share something about the complex communications and PR field on this blog and looking forward to read some feedback, here are some of the Basic Crisis communication strategy things you can think about before announcing a big closure:
• Establishing the creative and “decision making” team, including Canadian CEO, Legal Advisors, HR, and PR or communications team. Determine the responsibilities as spokespersons and set their ability to be reachable 24/7. Media training (this first step should have been done at least 3 months ago).
• Develop strong key messages that serve as the backup to explain the decision. Numbers, statistics and any information with the options the company managed to survive before. Next steps (the Calendar).
• Creativity with a detailed FQ&A inspired with what would internal and external audiences would worry and ask about.
• Prepare immediate Media relations, offering one on one session with top Canadian Media and opinion leaders for the business.

Colombian Kids Receive Help From Local Ontario Fundraising Events and Donors

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By Lucia Lecuna


Cleft lip and cleft palate are terrible malformations that occur in the first months of the pregnancy, leaving the lips and palate of the baby with a noticeable hole or space.

During the first trimester of the intrauterine life, the palate undergoes the process to close, as well as the descent of the tongue and the fusion of all the tissues. An alteration on them produces cleft lip and cleft palate malformation. Several Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate surgeries are confirmed for next December in a small town in Colombia.

According to Mayo Clinic and the feedback of Dr. Darío Garzón, a Colombian Oral Maxilofacial Surgeon, head of Drawing Alegria (Dibujando Alegría) Colombia, and from the International Centre of Dental Implants, the increase of the likelihood of a baby developing a cleft lip and cleft palate includes: Family history, nutritional factors of the mother, obesity and exposure to certain substances (smoke, intake of alcohol or certain medications). Recent studies reveal that “this malformation is more common in Latin American native and Asian race babies, being the black race babies less likely to develop it. Also, male babies are twice as likely to have cleft lip without cleft palate, being this particular double malformation more common in females (Mayo Clinic)”.

Dr. Garzón, with over 19 years of experience joining several groups of maxillofacial surgeons that visit small poor suburbs towns in Colombia and other Latin American Countries, explains that: if the family knows their history regarding this malformation, they should evaluate the risk and care for the expecting mother, emphasizing on her nutrition during the first three months of the pregnancy, controlling chemical factors that she might be exposed to.

Q: Does this malformation interfere with the nutrition of the newborn?
A: “Nature is incredible and the babies I have seen find a way to adapt their mouth so that he or she can breastfeed. Probably it will not be perfect, but the baby usually gets the nutrients. There are limitations if there is an infection and if the baby is placed in the right way” said Dr. Garzón.

Some complications of cleft lip and cleft palate include: gagging or some breast milk might come out of the nose. There is also the possibility that the baby develops ear infections that could end in ear loss, due to their susceptibility to middle ear infections. Researchers have also seen severe dental problems, as a consequence when the cleft extends on the upper gum, affecting the teeth formation.

The cleft palate also limits the normal process of speech development, because many sounds need the complete palate to be achieved. Finally, there are several social and behavioral problems due to the difference in the appearance and the stress of the medical care.

Q: How can a family prepare for this?
A: “Delivering the diagnose can be an emotional moment that will require time for the family to overcome the denial phase, the hurt and responsibilities, to begin the willingness to find solutions to the problem. The first solution is to ease the visual aesthetic alteration in early age”.

Q: What does it take to perform the surgeries you are doing in Colombia?
A: We gather a volunteer multidisciplinary group of health professionals that includes: Social workers, psychologists, audiology or hearing specialists, speech therapists, dentists, maxilofacial surgeons, plastic surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, pediatricians and administrative personnel, among others. We all work as a team in different steps of the procedure, starting with diagnose and helping the family all the way until the baby is adapting to a normal life. Sometimes a patient will require 3-5 surgeries to obtain the proper location of the bone and skin tissues.

Q: Is $250.00 enough to perform each surgery?
A: Yes, that could cover the basic costs, because we have gathered an excellent professional team that joins us as volunteers. The budget might move from $250-$400 depending on the facilities we will need for each visit and the circumstances of the patient.

Ideally these surgeries should be performed in a fully equipped Hospital. But these patients live in poor towns that don’t have a proper Hospital and the procedures are often performed in a Walk-In clinic with more limitations on cleanness and equipment than the ones you can visit in Canada. The families don’t have the financial resources to travel to a large city, so all the volunteers of “Drawing Alegría” travel to get there with all the equipment.

We can perform 10 surgeries a day, and with the $250.00-400.00 we cover the costs of anesthesia and the surgical equipment. The financial support also helps Drawing Alegria with other costs linked to the surgical journey, which include hospitality, meals and transportation for the volunteers.

Q: How many surgeries have you and your team performed so far?
A: I have been working in these field surgeries since I was in training, over 19 years ago, because it gives me a priceless satisfaction. I try to schedule two to three field trips a year, allowing us to achieve 60-100 procedures in each trip. I have worked with three different groups during these 19 years, and we have recorded over 4.500 surgeries in several countries, meaning over 180-300 kids/year.

Sending financial aid from Canada
There are many ways to make these surgeries a complete success and the financial support is a must. You can get in touch with Francisco Garzón, brother of the Colombian Surgeon, who has been living in Canada for over 10 years as a successful Real Estate Broker in the Greater Toronto Area. He and his family have organized many “Drawing Alegría” events, relying on the support from two recognized Non Profit Organizations, such as The Canadian Children’s Organization, as the local Canadian Charity, and Conexion Colombia, the Charity that receives, delivers, and follows up on the financial and legal aspects for Drawing Alegría.

The Canadian Colombian Children’s Organization is a Canadian registered charity with over 15 years gathering and sending financial support to Colombia, seeking to provide good education, basic nutrition and health support, so low income Colombian kids can graduate from high school and begin their careers as apprentices in trades and professions.

Conexión Colombia is a Colombian registered Charity with over 10 years connecting and helping Colombians from all over the world with their country, seeking and financing projects that will improve the life of vulnerable Colombians.

For more information, visit: (905) 275 9400 (416)621-6299. 940 The East Mall, Suite 200
Toronto, Ontario, Canada – M9B 6J7.
Charity # 83206 2145 RR001

Outdoors in Canada

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By Lucia Lecuna
This week we finally started to wear short sleeves shirts and flip-flops! Mother Nature finally decided to step in and hurry Spring along. This beautiful season displays more than flowers in the soil; it is the moment when people decide to go outside for more quality and healthy living.

Obviously, in a country like Canada the community has managed different and creative ways to stay active during the cold months, but the sunny days and the safety of moving and doing things outdoors, really invites people to turn off the TV and make the most of it. Canadians really enjoy being outside; they like to hike, bike, go boating, fire up the barbecue or just take the kids to a park for hours of active living and family time.

It was before this entire social nature boom started to amaze me, that my family doctor shared information with me. This is information that I considered important, to not only for new comers like me, but to all Canadians. This is because it is related directly to the weather conditions in Canada and the basic rule: stay healthy, enjoy the season and make the most of it. The following tips might be worth considering:

1. No matter what your skin complexion is, you must use sun block over the exposed skin. Originally, we believed that only Caucasians were at risk of developing skin Cancer (this is one of the most common kinds of Cancer). We now know that darker color skin types can also generate Cancer cells if they don’t protect their skin from UV rays. Hats, sunglasses and sun block lotion are meant to be used all year long. During the spring and summer season you are reminded to pay special attention to arms, hands and neckline skin, looking after these areas as much as you do for your face.

2. Allergies get triggered during the spring; if you are aware that this can happen to you, prevention is the best way to deal with it. Drugs for severe allergies can be provided only with a Doctor’s prescription. A timely tip is to ask for a refill before the season is in full bloom. Statistics show that a night time shower can wash away pollen that your hair and skin has been exposed to during the day. It’s a good idea to let your doctor know about any changes in your diet or personal hygiene (for you or your family) this can help determine what might cause allergies to erupt.

3. Shoes: some people like to run in their flip flops (I have seen plenty of people doing this here in Ontario), some also wear flip flops when riding a bike. Don’t – please, wear proper running shoes. Statistics show that ankles, knee joints and even hips can get hurt if you are not wearing the proper foot wear. You don’t have to spend hundreds on those running shoes, but if you plan to work out or do outdoors activity, plan on wearing the right shoes.

4. Use the trails, sidewalks or biking routes the cities have developed. I love to run, bike and walk. I now know I should also be careful of where I go; research shows that in Canada I have more chance to die by a car striking me, than suffering a gun shot wound. Towns have developed on-line maps of the routes that are created for safe outdoor activities. It is the best way to enjoy those outdoor sports. Talking about safety; check out the traffic signals and whether on your bike, walking or running, follow the rules the same way you would when behind the wheel of a car.

5. Hydrate before, during and after you enjoy any of the above activities. Outdoors activities consume your body’s reserve of water faster in this weather, than in winter. Always remember to carry a bottle of water with you.

Spring happens to be the best time to work on your lawn, to cut and weed the grass, do the gardening and handle all the little things needed to perk up your house for the good weather.

Exercise is important; remember to bend your knees instead of just leaning forward when picking up anything from the lawn, flower garden or outdoor patio. Use gloves; they can be silicone or gardening gloves, they will help avoid some of gardening injuries and scratches we often get as we welcome Spring. Don’t expect to get everything done in one day. Keep it simple, follow the rules, enjoy Mother Nature’s gift to us. Remember, we are supposed to enjoy this great weather, so don’t try to fit it all into one weekend.

Lucia Lecuna is a newcomer to Canada, a journalist who is enjoying her new lifestyle. Read all her articles on her Blog.

Learning, Achieving, Setting Tasks to Improve My Networking Skills

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By Lucia Lecuna

Networking is probably the only way people can create their social influence map, one that will ensure their business survival. Some might think networking is instinctive, like curiosity, but it is not. It is a skill that can be trained, and I also believe it is an attitude that goes beyond the human need to socialize. Networking, when done strategically, provides a methodology to measure results.La Prima Dona (getting to know who is Donna Messer)

From the first day that I heard about the Canadian Queen of Networking, I knew: “I want to meet her”. I felt certain that would be a specialist who understands all about this networking skill that some people take for granted. I knew that for some it was as natural as getting up in the morning. For me and almost everyone new to Canada, it is not easy to learn to network. So I wanted to learn, set tasks and improve my networking skills.

Most people in Canadian society are eloquent; they have a huge vocabulary, a method of pronunciation and pace that is the common way to communicate. I found that in many cases, new immigrants, and foreign trained professionals, need guidance to maximize this much needed networking skill.

Enter an expert; her name is Donna Messer (by the way, she is my mentor). She is a Journalist, a trainer, a speaker, and a business woman. She is an open minded social worker, with the skill and energy that keeps her in perpetual motion. She is constantly sharing her experiences, secrets and know-how to anyone willing to listen, learn and follow her advice.

But following in her footsteps is not easy, since she goes faster than speed of light. She made me realize that one of her secrets is her story telling. She shares many success stories on business people, companies, families and students that are part of her network. Those stories are all about lessons learned, about those men and women who have gone through her network and her training.
Networking is about meeting people, but with much more than the shy “nice to meet you”. It is offering something measurable. It is asking what you can do to help them, and paying attention to what they need. It’s listening and offering them something that can add value to the relationship. Networking is an active and effective way to relate to others. It is being open and proving to be trustworthy, sincere and respectful.

Two weeks ago I decided to follow Donna to one of her networking training sessions, one she calls, “The Power Team”. The venue she chose was awesome; it was an indescribable house close to Toronto, adapted to receiving visitors. The venue is operating as a Bed and Breakfast, with enough space for events accommodating over 50 people. It was here that I met a diverse group of professional men and women who were there to expand their network. At the beginning, we were encouraged to begin talking with people we didn’t know, to share a little insight into who we were, and why we were at the event. We couldn’t talk about the weather; we had to talk about ourselves.

So there we were, beginning to build relationships, meeting each other while enjoying a variety of delicious canapés prepared by our host Doug Rapien. It was then that we began to realize, what it was that we could do to help each other.

Some could provide IT solutions, while others offered connections to financial services. There was a dentist, several marketing specialists, an accountant, an art expert, and incredibly talented business men and women. There was even a succession planner, who could help with funeral planning. All in the room had one thing in common: they wanted to improve their lot in life. They wanted to change their direction a little and to offer their expertise in a field they understood and could control.

I began to take notes on my phone until it ran out of battery; this was something I should have thought before I began my note taking. Luckily, I had my little note book, so I’m still able to share some of the main ideas I learned that night:

• Network in small groups, preferably less than 60 people, this way you have a chance to speak to at least half of the people in the room.
• Build the relationship first; keep track of what you suggest during your conversation. A follow-up e-mail is mandatory as a next step.
• Set goals and determine ways to relate to those you meet. Business can develop.
• Ask for what you need, but never ask for a job or expect privileges over others in the room.
• Listen to people in an active way.
• Try to read more than their words. Body language and tone are equally important.
• If you want to start a successful business in the next few years, focus on: seniors, pets and children, this is where the growth is.
• Your infomercial is important. Words should be precise and practiced; you have to choose your personal description, and use enough interesting material so that people will want to ask you for more details and your business card.
• People enjoy hearing stories, and we all have some we can share. We are the only ones that have those relevant and timely stories. These stories can be about a situation at your place of work, that can be humorous, but they should not be embarrassing for you or anyone involved.
• Anywhere can be the perfect place to network. You never know what contacts your neighbor, the man next to you that works-out every day at the gym or another parent at your child’s school may be willing to share with you. All may have something in common with you.

The networking training is Donna’s strength. If you want to learn from her or connect to her, she lives in Oakville. Her website is . Donna travels all over Canada and the United States training and mentoring. She always shares her resources.

In doing my research, I noticed that when is about networking the key words could be “finding coincidences”.

I’ll close for now, “Have a good one”… as they say here in Canada. Watch for my next writing exercise.

Rob Ford… a Phenomenon or a Media Genius?

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By Lucia Lecuna

Today I ran onto Rob Ford near Toronto City Hall. When I realized that it was really him, I tried to think of a question that would give me the chance to have a brief conversation with him. As always, he was surrounded by people who I assumed were his collaborators. For me this was a trigger, it reminded me of the situation in Venezuela.

This man, who has captured my attention for his constant front page presence in all the media in Toronto, and also in some nationwide media, seems like a Chavez-media phenomenon.

Let me explain – by 1998, when Hugo Chavez ran and won his first presidential election, there was not a single conversation, positive or negative, where this man was not the main character. Almost immediately all the journalists, followers or not, listened to their editors and began to write about his “new” proposal. His strategy, which I felt was simply a political opinion that was so well carried out, not only did he win the elections, people believed in all he said, never questioning whether it was the truth or fabrication. They still believe.

I have learned that Canadians, at least most of them, have a huge issue with lies or more politely put, fabrication.  So do I, but here in Canada, it seems that the “lies” or fabrications are not going to be the trigger for the next elections. From my perspective, I don’t agree or like the way Ford manages his life and his political responsibilities. I support the City Hall decisions and applaud those who made them. I chose this Country because a strong legal system exists to be followed, I can only hope that one day, Venezuela will follow the Canadian example.

So, as a newcomer I try to learn about the rules, the idioms, nuances and idiosyncrasies of the English language. I listen, I listen carefully to people talking in the food court, in the bus or on the train, and I hear young people saying things like; “it’s ok if he parties… who doesn´t?”, or “I´m pretty sure he is not the only one who has tried a few relaxing things, at least he is like us”. I wonder if I really understand what they are saying.

I won’t get into the ethics or morals today, because it really worries me. I will focus on the popularity of this incredible media man.

The way I see it with Ford, is that he is getting free advertising every time he is on the front page. You might like him or not, but one thing is for sure, you know what he did today. My encounter with him was a casual walking by, so for me, even if I already have my personal assumptions about him, he seemed accessible. As a politician, he nodded at my husband… not at me… I don’t know why he didn’t acknowledge me, when we made eye contact first… but, I don’t really care.

As a new immigrant, I still have half of my belongings in boxes, and we are just starting to get to know people in Canada, so I really shouldn’t criticize my colleagues in the media. I can only share what I lived through during 14 years of the Chavez kingdom. I hope never to see something similar happen here in Canada.

Politicians need the media and any kind of public exposure is valid for them. Statistics show that they actually have mixed feelings about journalists, often because most are free souls who don’t always obey their editors. They usually like to research more than what is easily found on the surface. While politicians are humans, we expect much more from them because of the responsibilities we give them with our vote.

When I saw the scandals that Ford has been involved with I thought “maybe he just needs a good media relations and public opinion agency”. I recognize that he must have one, they all do. The problem as I see it, is accepting what the experts tell you to do.

I ran from Venezuela dreaming of a new opportunity, a life with freedom and in a country where we could all fit in. I still can’t vote here, but I encourage the Toronto media to focus on other issues of more relevance, and not give free public exposure to any candidate.

Don’t be so ingenuous to think all he does is accidental.  He knows the media is behind every step he takes, and it is helping him meet his objective of being in every conversation.

Lucia is a journalist who can write in both English and Spanish. She is currently in a work placement with Sheridan College.