Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Are swedes really that normal?

A friend sent me an article today - "Are Swedes really that normal? (PDF)" by Colin Moon.

To quote some from it:
To communicate effectively cross-culturally the first thing you need to realise is that someone somewhere in the world probably sees you as really quite strange.

That may be difficult for some Swedes to swallow. How could anybody in their right mind consider normal, efficient, level-headed Swedes as strange?


This, in Swedish, is called the förankringsprocess ("anchoring [of a decision]", to gain acceptance for a decision before it is pushed through). If Swedes mention the word ‘process’ then it’s better not be in a hurry. There’s a process for everything. This one means getting everybody involved in everything.


However, fair’s fair - when they’re at work they’re very effective. But not before 8.30 as they have flexi-time, and not after 4 pm, thank you, as they have to pick up the kids from play school, and not after 2 pm on Fridays, if you don’t mind, and preferably not between 1 May and 10 August.

Swedish chef - a very typical normal SwedeThere's no way I can not whole-heartedly agree with that author. To begin with, the article is simply too densely satirical to be taken seriously. Because that's supposedly how it is intended, the author (let's not repeat his name, nor link to his homepage, thus promoting him) holds seminars in business communication and is a self-entitled expert in Swedes. I just hope the rest of his writings and teachings are less generalizing, superficial and pointless.

Obviously there are some points in what's stated in the article - maybe Swedes in general are less prone to work themselves to death (read: lazy), and maybe the general policy is to value the insights and objections of everyone, thereby avoiding poorly founded costly decisions (read: decision impotence). Regardless, all those patterns and behaviors have developed through decades of business and frankly, Swedes have many great achievements to be proud of, they can't all be contra-productive. I usually refuse calling entire groups of people stupid, and neither are the Swedes - there is a generally accepted collective behavior, it's nothing uncommon, and it's at least not always the case that people conform to a social pattern because they are slaves under it, maybe they actually enjoy it! Besides - "lagom" is a great and flexible word.

One point in the article I find more true and interesting than the others - That Swedes love to think they are normal. I suppose it is a common thought among non-internationalistic bigots of all nations, not realizing that their little tribe is just one of thousands, and thus losing out on the opportunity to liberate themselves from the need to conform to the own tribe.

I have met Estonians who seem to think they will be great just by being not like the Swedes. It's ridiculous and annoying, and sometimes that's what I respond to their Swede-bashing. There are plenty of things to despise about the Estonian culture as well, but... I try to focus on learning about the drawbacks and benefits of many cultures, growing as great I can personally instead. Next blog post I should make about cultural quirks I love!

Ending this post with a few links:

  • More humorous Swede-bashing, this time spewed out by Australians.
  • Industrious, humorous and inspiring disruptive.nu (in Swedish only) about venture capitalism and entepreneurship. Plenty of interviews and food for thought about "un-Swedish" (sv: "osvensk", it is hilarious that such an expression exists and is frequently used) mentality
  • Mosquito and Governor Andy on Youtube. Mosquito is the kind of Swedish 90s TV, grabbing any cool animations they could find, I grew up with and love. Governor Andy is funny because it is good music and he has an absolute menagerie of Swedish reggae profiles lined up in the video. Spot Dr. Alban!


Anonymous said...

Here in Finland, I am afraid that rightly or wrongly the Swedes also have a reputation for taking a long time at many a decision and being indecisive. Of course, it`s unfair to stereotype - but sometimes there is an element of truth at the basement of stereotypes. It is true that Swedish managers seem to have difficulty in taking responsibility in some cases, in my experience also. I am sure Swedes would have certain views of Finnish business style too.

† herzleid † said...

I'd say there's truth to the statement that Swedes take a long time to make decisions. But that actually doesn't mean that any other nationality is much faster - they just go about it differently!

I might be wrong, I just recently thought about this after we had talked about it, but I think part of the misunderstanding in this case is that Swedes require a meeting to be arranged, in order to discuss matters, share opinions, debate etc; whereas other nationalities perhaps do the debating, discussing and 'bonding' outside of the meeting room. When they actually go into a meeting, they expect fast results because everything has already been decided.

So, I don't think it's necessarily that Swedish people are slow to come to a decision - it's their love for the organised meeting that is the big "culture shock".

Anonymous said...

swedish cultur is truly odd if compared with mainstream international standard.

I find this very true eventhough its an australian compilation of the aberatios in swedish culture

enjoy it especially if you stayed in sweden