Final Reflections of Scandinavia

The United States has had a profound influence on the world with Scandinavia being especially influenced.  Scandinavia has been heavily shaped by World War II, the Cold War, and the geopolitical landscape since.  Sandwiched between the influences of the European Union, Russia, and the US; it has definable influences and yet stands independent.  In this blog we will discuss 3 main areas of similarities and differences between the US and Scandinavia: Culture, Politics, and Business.
Culture:
Traditional culture exemplifies the typical Scandinavian independence along with a strong sense of national pride.  Sweden and Finland are like two brothers who are constantly competing with one another but at the end of the day they really love and care for one another.

 

Both countries also have a similar love-hate relationship with the US, pretending to disagree with American politics and culture while at the same time enjoying many Americanized cultural aspects.

NFC

NFC – A direct knock-off of America's KFC

Throughout Sweden and Finland we witnessed many direct copies of American companies such as KFC by NFC and SFC , Starbucks Coffee by Wayne’s Coffee, and McDonalds by Max burger.

It seems that these carbon copies of American companies are more palatable to Scandinavians than the real thing and gives the people a way to enjoy American style culture without directly supporting it.

We also noticed that there was an unusually large proportion of American cars in both Sweden and Finland as compared to other parts of Europe.  While walking through Helsinki we were surprised when we came upon a classic American car show with nearly 100 vehicles participating.

American car show continued

American car show in downtown Helsinki

This trend was not only limited to Finland either with around 5000 classic American cars being imported into the country each year, another fact which echoes Scandinavians’ hidden love for America.

Scandinavian culture is also very different from the US in that people are almost always (at least) bilingual, extremely friendly, and willing to discuss issues candidly.  In the US most people only speak one language highlighting the fact that US citizens have less of an international mindset than people in Scandinavia.  Scandinavians are also, more reserved, less apt to talk about themselves or take credit for their own accomplishments than those in the US.  Swedish decision-making relies on achieving a general consensus and can seem slow compared the fast-paced “fail fast” mentality common in the US.

 

Politics:

Sweden Speed Test

An online speed-test showing the amazing speeds available

Scandinavia is a relatively peaceful area in recent history which has allowed them to put a greater focus on developing infrastructure rather than military might.  In addition to having blazingly fast internet (up to 10x faster in remote Kukkolaforsen than in some parts of Orange
County), the roads are in good condition and public transit is well developed in comparison to the US.   
In late 2012 Sweden topped the world rankings for Internet access
largely due to government subsidies and municipal investment in infrastructure.

Both Sweden and Finland also offer more generous social assistance programs than the United States, providing subsidized healthcare, free education, and generous maternity/paternity leaves.  Finland’s schools annually rank among the top in the world due to high levels of funding and autonomy for teachers (who are all required to have a master’s degree).

Another difference between politics in Scandinavia and the US can be seen in Sweden’s pursuit of national clean energy and recycling initiatives.  Through these programs Sweden has been able to produce 78% of its energy with zero carbon emissions while at the same time becoming one of the top recyclers in the world.

Although being relatively peaceful and outwardly distancing themselves from the culture of the US, we did notice a strong desire for the US to act as an international police force from the people of Scandinavia.  From expressing desire for the United States to intervene in Ukraine to saying the US should have gone further following World War II by ousting Stalin in Russia, it was clear that the people of Scandinavia see the US as the counterbalance to the powers in the east.  While Finland has an especially checkered past with Russia, they carefully walk the line between the east and west.  They seem to show stronger Russian influences than Sweden, but Finland also distanced themselves from Russia by joining the EU, adopting the Euro, and becoming a member of NATO.

Business:

Context Scale

Context Scale for business deals internationally

Because of differences in culture and politics, business in Scandinavia also looks very different than business in the US.  Business in Scandinavia and especially Sweden is lower context than in the US, even though the US is not considered to have high context there are still more golf games and dinners involved in deal making than in Scandinavia.  In Scandinavia buying decisions are evaluated based on the merits of the product or service in question and by the numbers whereas relationships are more valuable in the US.

Management styles in Scandinavia are also very different than in the US with more autonomy and trust being given to employees across all levels and positions.  This reflects the flatter and less hierarchical structure which is prevalent in Scandinavian companies compared to US counterparts.  Management in Scandinavian companies is much less structured and direct than in the US and the end result is achieved through teamwork and consensus rather than through an individual employees’ abilities.  Employees in Scandinavia are also allowed and encouraged to spend time working in other parts of the company to become more well-rounded and gain a stronger understanding of the business as a whole, whereas in the US employees are seen more as specialists in one specific area.

Finally, a major difference between businesses in the US and Scandinavia is workplace benefits.  In America someone is lucky to get three weeks of vacation a year, in Scandinavia six weeks is common.  Scandinavians also enjoy a high level of job security, and other great benefits like being able to take nearly a year’s leave for maternity and paternity leave combined.  These benefits are unheard-of in the US and have led to high employee satisfaction, retention, and low unemployment rates throughout Scandinavia.
Conclusion:

Overall Scandinavia is a wonderful place to visit, work, and live.  There are many important differences between Scandinavian culture, politics, and business, but the cultures actually mesh well and many amazing international opportunities have been and can be achieved with the unified efforts of Americans and Scandinavians.  Scandinavia is like a hidden gem of Europe and more Americans would be well advised to find out more about and visit this region both for its natural beauty, but also for its exciting business opportunities.