Understanding Scandinavian Culture

Through Geert Hofstede’s Model of Cultural Differences

Scandinavian culture is an interesting mix of rich traditions, history, and breathtaking landscapes. To gain a deeper insight and understanding of this unique cultural makeup, we can look at it with the use of Geert Hofstede’s cultural dimensions model.

In this article, I will go deeper into the details of Scandinavian culture using Hofstede’s model of cultural differences (although adapted for better application in a business context), highlighting its specific characteristics and the experiences that make it an interesting business partner and/or opportunity.

Hofstede’s model provides a framework to analyze cultural differences based on six dimensions: Hierarchy, Individualism versus Collectivism, Goal orientation versus Process orientation, Predictability Long-Term Orientation, and Indulgence versus Restraint. Let’s see how these dimensions work out in Scandinavian culture.

In this article, I’ll only focus on the first four dimensions. This is because the last two dimensions are criticized a lot in the academic world.

Hierarchyscandinavian culture 2

Scandinavian countries, such as Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland (!) have a relatively low score on hierarchy (compared with Latin & Asian countries; but also Belgium and France score much higher. There is a strong emphasis on egalitarianism, and people expect equal treatment and opportunities. Hierarchical structures are flattened, and decision-making processes are based on reaching a consensus. This aspect of Scandinavian culture prefers open communication and a sense of equality among individuals.

The boss/manager is not “more” or “better” than anybody else. (S)he simply does different things.

Individualism versus Collectivism:

Scandinavian countries tend to lean towards individualism (again, compared to Latin & Asian countries which are much more collectivistic; the rest of Western Europe is also individualistic), emphasizing personal freedom and autonomy. People have a preference for task-driven issues, while relationships do not necessarily need to go very deep.

Goal orientation versus Process orientation

Scandinavian culture shows a more balanced approach to gender roles. Gender equality is deeply ingrained, and women enjoy high levels of empowerment and participation in various spheres of society. This inclusivity promotes collaboration and allows for diverse perspectives to thrive.

They also value social cohesion and solidarity. While individuals have the freedom to express themselves and pursue their goals, they also prioritize the well-being of the community; the so-called quality of life. This balance between individualism and collectivism contributes to the strong social welfare systems and the overall sense of societal harmony.

Another interesting “concept” is the Law of John. Here are some examples:

  1. You’re not to think you are anything special.
  2. You’re not to think you are as good as we are.
  3. You’re not to think you are smarter than we are.
  4. You’re not to imagine yourself better than we are.
  5. You’re not to think you know more than we do.
  6. You’re not to think you are more important than we are.
  7. You’re not to think you are good at anything.
  8. You’re not to laugh at us.
  9. You’re not to think anyone cares about you.
  10. You’re not to think you can teach us anything.


Scandinavian countries have a relatively low need for predictability. There is a tolerance for ambiguity, and people are open to change and innovation. This cultural aspect encourages a willingness to take risks, explore new ideas, and embrace a progressive mindset. It has been a driving force behind the region’s advancements in technology, design, and sustainability.

You can read more on these four Primary dimensions of culture here.

In conclusion about Scandinavian culture

Geert Hofstede’s cultural dimensions model provides valuable insights and understanding into the characteristics of Scandinavian culture. With low hierarchy, a balance between individualism and collectivism, gender equality, and tolerance for ambiguity, the Scandinavian region embodies a unique cultural landscape. By understanding these dimensions, we can appreciate the essence of Scandinavian culture and its impact on the region’s social welfare systems, innovation, and overall well-being.

One last remark: Next to the Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands has a very comparable dimension trend. Basically, the Netherlands is a geographically misplaced Scandinavian country.


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