When Cultures Collide

This week I had a visit from 2 employees representing the Danish Department of my company. The aim of the visit was to get their Department to function better. In order for it to deliver results.

I'm Danish but have been living abroad for 16 years. My contact to Denmark and to Danes is limited to the yearly family visit and email correspondance with the family.

My Danish language is not 100% updated, however the lingustic peculiarities as well as the Danish mentality will never dissapear from my conscience.

Whenever I get together with Danes in their own playground nothing puzzles me. On the other hand, whenever I as in this week meet them abroad, it suddenly becomes crystal clear how little respect and humility Danes possess compared other people and in particular to other cultures.

Denmark is a small country inhabited by 5 million people. Nevertheless they are world leading in everything, including communication and problem solving. As to their believes.

The interesting thing is that this weeks visit were set up because the Head Office demands to turn the Danish camp upside down. But this was of no interest to the Danes. From the philosophy that if you just keep on and on obstructing, we'll give up and leave them alone. - Typical Danish objective. That I don't buy. Due to the fact that I'm Danish myself and therefore understand what it's all about and how Danes think.

Besides - I'm a bitch.

It's typical Danish behaviour biting the hand that feeds you.
From that perspective it isn't strange that the delegation spent a huge amount of time explaining to me why their Department should be exposed to positive discrimination. It shouldn't come as any surprise, that my that my participation for their views was burried deep down in a very black hole.

One of the participants quickly gave up project 'Resistance' and chose to cooperate. The second however continued to bite off. On the other hand, by this behaviour she managed to get herself stucked in a corner, and I didn't offer her a lifeline. Simply because I didn't have any sympathy for her 'special case' strategy.

The concept 'HYGGE' is a part of the Danish consciesness. Had we been in Denmark I probably would have given the delegation more HYGGE than I did. Because HYGGE doesn't exist in my playground. Except during coffee breaks and lunchhours. And this was what the delegation seemed to overlook: We play the rules that apply to the place where we are. Not to those rules applying to back home.

There's help to get for the one who wants to develope. Richard D. Lewis is a gentleman who's lived and worked all over the world most of his life. He's written a number of books on the topic 'cultural differences'. Among others the book 'When Cultures Collide' that, apart from being a manual for each countrys culture and mentality, also in a humorous way deals with the topic 'self-image'. For instans RDL describes how Japanese and Germans mentally feel when attending an American cocktailparty.

- In relation to that, I come to think of Marilyn Manson. I watched his performance in the live-programme 'Sunday Open' the other night. - Personally I think Marilyn Manson is DIVINE however, I do understand why Americans when taking their even goodness and moral concepts into consideration, are unable to accept him. He was slightly intoxicated, and prior his appearence in the show, some pretty interesting things were going on in his VIP room. - I think it's called 'fornication'. - And the Filip the Host knew about it. And was about to die of fools. - Jonas Gardell who was there as well was just as amuzed.

It was a psychedelic experience. An intoxicated man with a bad-boy image wearing shoes that I can use as my private yeacht, a super-feminine giggling gay who is the very epitome of mys-pys and 2 overexcited guys in poorly made suits, sitting in a sofa, broadcasted live on TV - at the same time. - Shit! - If a Japanese geisha had appeared, the show would have been the show of the year.

'When Cultures Collide' deals with the phenomenon 'how to avoid too many cultural clashes'.

Marilyn Manson was born in the wrong country. Period. He behaves as bad - or as nice - as any average Swedish High School student. Not very appalling. But in America you can't behave like that in daylight.

Neither Jonas Gardell nor me can compel us to take MMs bad-boy image on severity. Jonas referred to him as pleasant and nice. The 2 opposites seemed to get along very well as the centres of the messy show.

I'm convinced that had MM been born in Denmark, he would have been a regular participant in shows like 'Sex and Cohabitation', 'The Bar', 'Robinson' and 'Paradise Hotel'. - Sorry - it's just a reflection-:). Besides - even though he was drunk, he was the only guest on that show who actually made sense and if Filip and Fredrik had tuned down a bit and focused on asking good questions, the show would have been perfect.

In Europe we are incensed over the Japanese Geisha culture. And we feel that the Japanese view on women is disgusting. On the other hand the Japanese feel we are seriously brain damaged and untrustworthy.

Germans take themselves so seriously that we do not know whether to laugh or cry.

Danes believe that they are simply the best. We won the European Championship in sucker in 1992. And we still feel you should respect us for that-:).

Americans believe it is important to know of which beliefs you are. - To ask such a question to a Scandinavian first time you meet, is like asking us how we prefer to have sex. The American doesn't realise this. He wants to be on first name with everybody and best friends the very first time we meet. - It's a little too advanced for my private space.

Germans and Americans are for good reasons unable to make real friends, because friendship is a serious matter to a German. - Which it isn't to an American. The size of an Americans closest friends can easily consist of 400-500 people. That's not an option to a German. - Neither to me by the way. (My body contains German genes).

South Europeans are driving us all completely insane with their eternal talk fixing it 'tomorrow'. What they always forget to mention is the year of this 'tomorrow'.

And what about Indians? Surely they are weird?!? - Still believe that the earth is flat and that we only have one timezone which by the way emanates from New Delhi. They also speak bizarre.
Chinese decibel system is certainly different from ours.

Try to ask a Finn what he thinks about a specific topic - 'think' as in English because that's the language you need to communicate in, because Finnish is a language that cannot be learned or understood - and you will be met by complete silence. Because you just asked him to think.

It is the understanding of each other's cultural differences and attitudes that determines whether we can get along or not. That determines if we can cooperate with each other. It is all the misunderstandings arising during that lead us to cultivate our negative thoughts about each other. If you forget your own cultural values and open your mind to the differences between people, it suddenly becomes entertainment at a high level. Which is so much more exciting and interesting than getting yourself an ulcer from nagging on things that can't be changed anyway.
When Cultures Collide by Richard D. Lewis, 2006



Christopher Raun Leth said...

I've read this book and it's quite an eye opener. Of course it's generalized because there are all kinds of people in every country, but as a guideline into the differences between different cultures it's a Godsend. And with my (limited) knowledge it's spot on on many occasions.

That we Danish have a bit too high oppinion of our country is the reason we don't take too well to international criticism. We are convinced that our way is the only right way of doing things and we tell it loud and clear, even when it means that we have to hurt peoples feelings. They just have to listen and accept and applaud us and our genius, but God have mercy on them if they dare to point out that we might have made an error of judgement or that we have problems in our society. Then it's not our fault but the fault of, say emmigrants or the Swedes or maybe because the critics doesn't understand the whole subject.

I too can strongly recommend this book. It should be mandatory reading for every politician and international executive as a way to prepare them for their work.

NewJerseyYankee said...

I am from America, born here, as were my parents. I am writing to say that I don't think there an American culture, things keep changing about every 15 years. I am 38 and it sure has changed a lot since I was a boy, in my opinion not for the better. At this point the country is basically like a hotel, George Washington, ha, you really think anyone cares? It's marketing...Years of force fed laws and immigration has transformed the place I grew up in into a place that many would leave if there was a better alternative.

I say hold on to your culture, it's a sad thing when you realize its gone.

Asta said...

I think the small differences between people are vital for us to pay interest to each other. What I've discovered is that as long as you live in a country you kinda accept things as they are. And you become a part of it as well. Even if you see things that you don't really like. When you move to another country you start to see the differences in a much clearer light.
Because basiclly I love Denmark and would never even think of changing my citizenship. But I sometimes feel were are too harsh and too stubborn in our approach to people from other cultures.
What happened for me was that I found away to sort of joke about it, because I deep down inside must do that. Because I am Danish, and I cannot change that fact.