For some time ago, perhaps a year or so, I posted something on Facebook about “Swedish Culture”, and “Swedish values”, that got some of my more politically correct (PC) Facebook friends into a full spin – basically, the response of my PC friends was that “…what do you mean, can you define Swedish Culture, there is no such thing as Swedish Culture, we are all Multicultural now, aren’t we…..?!”
Nope, I can’t define Swedish culture in detail, but I can define and observe behavioral patterns that are more or less aligned with “Swedish Culture” and traditions, and I can definitely enumerate behavioral patterns and values that are not inline with “Swedish Culture”, nor with Swedish values (I’m way too PC myself to provide a list of illuminating examples here…! 😉
However, I can give an illustration of the PC & “multiculture hugging” that plaques our western societies: for a number of years ago, 5 or so, I hosted a meeting for a number of European and US colleagues in Stockholm, in December, just before Xmas. I took my guests to Old Town, which by that time of the year, is full of Santa Claus’s, Xmas trees, Jesus’es, Maria’s , 3 wise men, Lucia’s, and what have you within our Swedish traditions. All of sudden, one of my US colleagues, a fairly young female, exclaims: “oh, it’s soo wonderful to see all these xmas trees, the holy men and all the other xmas stuff, we don’t see that back home anymore in any public places!”
I was surprised about that, and asked her how come there’s no xmas trees etc, and the answer was: “oh, some people get offended by those symbols!” … Sigh!
“Culture”, I once learned a long time ago in high school, means “cultivation”, as in “agriculture”, i.e. what you sow you shall harvest”. The notion of “time” is essential here. Changes to a “culture” should grow from within, i.e. occur slowly, organically, by evolution, not revolution.
To me, “culture” is the mean (average) of the typical behavioral patterns and the value system of a community, etnic group, society, or a nation (country), or for that matter, a team, a club, or an organization, or for that matter, a family.
Culture is heavily influenced by history and traditions, which obviously always have been changing, but before the “invention” of “Multiculture” by our very PC aware “cultural” elite’, very very slowly. Today, in many of our western societies, we have adopted “value relativism” as a guiding principle, i.e. no value, no belief system, no behavioral pattern is superior (or inferior) to any other.
Many of our “cultural” elites (journalists/politicians etc) are very fast to promote and incorporate any behavioral pattern into our national culture, as long as they themselves can retreat to their very expensive and very conservative inner city “resorts” where traditions are held dear (typically, in case of Stockholm, Södermalm) far away from the poor suburbs where these new “cultures” dominate….
Obviously, there’s a lot of variability in the behavioral patterns of any community, but, on average, you can (IMO) definitely and absolutely observe different cultural and normative patterns between different nationalities or ethnic groups.
Since I know that my PC friends will already now yell “racist” etc to me, let me give you some examples from my past summer’s sabbatical job as a tourist coach driver in Stockholm:
Over the past four weeks, I’ve been in daily interaction with at least 15 different nationalities (“cultures”), spending anything from a few hours to a couple of days with these groups. Even though 4 weeks x 5 days a week does not necessarily provide sufficent data for a statistically significant inference, as a betting man, I’d be more than willing to make a few bets, based on my observations from the past 4 weeks of driving around with different “peoples”:
– given nationality/ethnicity of the group, I know whether they will be in time or not
– given nationality/etnicity of the group, I know whether they will leave the coach full of litter or not
– given nationality/ ethnicity, I know whether the women of the group will mix with or follow the men
– given nationality/ethnicity, I know how much time I have to spend cleaning the coach afterwards.
Now, I know that my PC-friends will find observations of this type very offensive and disturbing, but what ever it’s worth, nothing beats experience.
For those of you who are interested in cultural differences, and perhaps particularly the impact and importance of those differences in business, you might want to read “When Cultures Collide – Managing successfully across cultures”, by Richard D. Lewis.
For more on this topic, see part II