Gothenburg: The “Americanization” of Scandinavia Part 1


“Americanization” refers to the adaptation of American culture outside of the United States. In Gothenburg, at least noticeably often enough, this is readily apparent. Our first few days on this excursion found us in the sunny California weather… in Sweden. Initially, of course, there is a sense of extreme difference between the cultures to which we are accustomed, and the culture of our host country; however, this soon blends into a familiarity with our home country. The approach of many businesses is to utilize similar communication channels to that of contemporary American businesses (posters, colorful advertisements, traditional menus, etc.). The availability of American products, food, and habits (like dip and chewing tobacco) was surprising to say the least. The everyday interaction with the people of Gothenburg differed from that of the west coast of the United States in a few ways. Swedish businesses are more matter-of-fact, and although quite hospitable, somewhat distant and cold in their approach. As an example, our first meeting was with the Science Park of Lindholmen, and the experience was unique.

The COO of the Science Park organization was very professional and informative, but not distinctly friendly or outgoing with the group. Albeit this was a brief meeting, and judgments should not be passed, but there was a clear difference in behavior in comparison to American business leaders. Other than the method of presenting and communicating, there were commonalities to typical American business meetings. A simple, well-maintained conference room, with projectors and chairs placed around a long table.

DSCN4839The meeting began with a typical introduction, presentation of material, and a question and answer period to close out. Granted, these common elements may be necessary to conduct business, but there was a sense of “just another meeting” from those of us who have sat through many organizational gatherings back home. There was a stark difference in the monitoring and measuring approach with Science Park. A question was asked about measurable metrics to monitor successes, and inefficiencies in the business, and the answer was surprising. The Swedish “lawyer free” and laissez faire environment in a business setting speaks to the lack of rigid adherence to objectives, directives, and rules. This is not common to American business which is fraught with legalities, strict adherence to policy and rules, and panicked focus on meeting quarterly goals. The lack of focus on performance measures is very “foreign” to American organizational behavior.

The next stop on our journey was Volvo cars. The presentation of marketing material felt quite similar to that of automotive advertisements seen in the United States. We parked ourselves in a very nice theater, and were given interesting information about the business.

Volvo LogoThe commercial spots shown were eerily familiar in that there was little factual presentation of vehicle performance and amenities, more of an emotional appeal to the fashionable attractiveness of the product. There have been many commercials witnessed back home which have told nothing about the item for sale, but makes one feel compelled to purchase by other emotional and/or associative means. Volvo presents as an American automotive manufacturer in several ways (focus on cost reduction, increase in market share, bigger/faster cars, etc.) and creates a sense of American “machismo”…. which is evidenced by the new large model SUVs, the similarity to U.S. luxury offerings in the limited models, and of course, the international masculine symbol in the brand icon of Volvo (which is supposed to symbolize iron, but does not present that way).

Our initial interactions with Swedish businesses and Swedish business people projected very common elements to American culture. There were several striking differences in behavior, purpose, and motivations. Overall, Sweden did not provide a detectable level of “culture shock” which would have been encountered had Sweden been drastically “un-American.” These points of difference may be all the difference needed to create a uniquely different culture which does not justify an identification as “Americanized”, however, Sweden is thus far presenting itself as definitively American-friendly and wonderfully good-spirited!

Let's set sail on another adventure!


Check back soon with Part 2 from Stockholm……