Nordic Culture, Scandinavian, and Swedish Culture.


Is this One Region?

Americans crossing the Atlantic often say they’re going to “Europe“, thinking in terms of a region. But of course, Europe is a continent and not one country. Europe is in fact one of the most culturally diverse places in the world.

Having said that, can we speak of a Nordic culture? Maybe, but keep on reading (and watch this short, 3-minute, video too).

It’s like this: if you are not from a Nordic culture, you will likely not see the differences between Norway and Sweden. Much like if you’re from the US you will likely not see the differences between a Mexican and a Guatemalan.

But… if you are from a Nordic culture you will certainly see the difference between the cultures in the Nordic area.

From a cultural standpoint, you can argue that the Nordic region indeed forms one cluster; the Nordic Culture Cluster.

Nordic Culture(s) in SpecificsNordic Culture flags

Let’s list all the countries that belong to the Nordic culture:

  • Denmark
  • Norway
  • Sweden
  • Finland (often forgotten)
  • Iceland

Below you can find a table with the scores of the Nordic culture:

  Hierarchy Loyalty Goal Orientation Predictability
Denmark 21 76 19 25
Norway 33 71 11 47
Sweden 33 74 7 26
Finland 35 68 25 49
Iceland 35 65 15 45

For more info on each of these primary cultural dimensions, click here.

As you can see, there are some differences within the Nordic culture but it is minimal.

Doing Business With the Nordic Culture

When it comes to doing business with the Scandinavian culture as a non-Scandinavian, the pitfalls are generally the same.

Hierarchy is relatively low in Scandinavian countries. This means that the boss doesn’t act in a very hierarchical fashion, but is more seen as a colleague with a different function: there is a relatively high degree of delegation in the organization.

Loyalty: All Nordic culture countries are individualistic. This means that their loyalty lies with themselves, rather than with the group they belong to. For non-Scandinavians, this is often confusing, because they see these countries as very social in which people take care of each other in society. But this is because of their low score on Goal-orientation.

Goal-orientation: this is a common trademark of all Scandinavian culture countries: they are more process-oriented than goal-oriented. This means that there is a lot of consensus-seeking amongst the stakeholders. Decisions are often meant as taking matters in a certain direction and many times are not even final.

Predictability is the dimension that differs most between these countries. Whereby Sweden and Denmark score the lowest. But only when you’re from any of the Nordic culture countries will you notice these differences.

Nordic Culture and the Forgotten Countries

It may sound obvious to only group the Nordic culture or Scandinavian cultures as clusters. But there are some countries that also follow the same cultural profile as the Nordics do. Namely the Baltic states and the Netherlands.

The Baltic states are “too young” to formally add them to the Scandinavian culture but I think it is likely that they will follow the same cultural pattern.

With certainty, I can say that the Netherlands very closely follows the Nordic culture profile. See the updated table below with the numbers for the Dutch added.

  Hierarchy Loyalty Goal Orientation Predictability
Denmark 21 76 19 25
Norway 33 71 11 47
Sweden 33 74 7 26
Finland 35 68 25 49
Iceland 35 65 15 45
the Netherlands 34 81 17 50

Swedish CultureNordic culture & Swedish culture

When it comes to Swedish culture, they stick out with their low score on the third dimension: goal orientation. This makes them the strongest consensus-seeking nation in the world.

Swedish culture also seems to be the “biggest” at pretty much everything: land mass, inhabitants and GDP. For a clear overview of the differences, click here.

The Swedish consensus-seeking culture, which results in a long decision-making process and may lead to decisions that are not permanent, does mean a lack of success.

Sweden has produced a number of very successful organizations. Think of Ikea, Volvo, and Spotify (Nokia is a Finnish company).

If you want to read more about a specific case study involving Nordic countries, click here.

An article about the differences between American versus Dutch culture can be found here.

Any comments? Leave them below.

If would you like to know more about doing business with the Nordic culture (or Dutch culture), get in touch with me now.


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