Values are borne of a cultural mindset, developed through taught and learned national concepts which become core beliefs. Generally speaking, culture is the total of the inherited ideas, beliefs, values and knowledge which constitute the shared bases of social action. It is the ideas of a group with shared traditions and the tastes valued by that group.
Culture is a social and psychological prism: “We think we perceive the world as it is. In fact the world is mediated through our dominant assumptions, values, and beliefs. Our cultural prism determines how we understand and know ourselves, others, and the world. Each of our cultural prisms is built out of a history of our group, our religions and other belief systems, economies, educational and legal systems, aesthetics, language, and to some extent our geography”.
Terence Brake, The Global Leader, 1997
Culture is not simply about outward gestures, the do’s and don’ts and the taboos. It is the embedded psychological reality of a group and how it affects thoughts, feelings and behaviours. It is a group reality that has evolved over many years. Studies highlight that every culture distinguishes itself from others by the way they react to certain situations.
Of the many ways to analyse culture, the following gives a shortened overview:
- Individual or community spirited. All Anglo-Saxon cultures are driven by the spirit of individuality. Mainstream America chases the “American Dream”, believing that one’s own effort alone can make the dream come true. Asian and African cultures believe that everyone has to pull together for the good of society. In Japan, individual thinking is a sign of immaturity, demonstrating that a person has not grown up enough to put societal values first! The Finns lie between these two extremes, being very individualistic but having a social conscience, thus they have heavy taxation to provide first-class social/health benefits free for all. They perceive themselves as fiercely individualistic, but (as we say in English) they won’t rock the boat because of what the neighbours might say, as this will make them stand out from the crowd.
- Sticking to the rules or bending rules. This is the degree to which a society allows and expects rules to be universally applied. All Nordic countries believe rules should be strictly adhered to. In Britain, we believe rules create a level playing field (but do bend them occasionally to suit ourselves, British saying: “rules are meant to be broken”). Other cultures (the Arabs and Latins) believe that relationships are more important than any rules, which can be discarded or overlooked—some people may be beyond the law. The Finns lie at the “sticking to the rule” extreme. This has engendered a comparatively safe and crimefree country, where people behave predictably because they all adhere to the same code of conduct. They are inherently honest and cannot understand other cultures mental and moral elasticity—it totally confuses them. And, (as above) they hate rocking the boat etc.
- Given status versus achievement. This is the degree to which a society gives recognition for attributes such as age or birth right, versus recognition for one’s own personal and individual achievements. Generally speaking, community societies such as Japan and China respect age, wisdom and grey hairs. In Individualistic societies, respect is given to those who achieve (achieving is defined by the value set of the society: climbing corporate ladder, money, celebrity status, education, entrepreneurship, etc.). Britain and Spain, having been class driven societies, lie between the two extremes, but they are both achievement oriented, with Britain more so. The Finns are definitely achievement oriented, respecting those who achieve through hard work. They are industrious, tenacious and have a solid work-ethic. Achievement in this engineer-filled land is defined as academic achievement, innovation and entrepreneurship. Very little credence is given to celebrities.
- Equality versus hierarchy. The Nordic countries all have an equality ethos—no one is thought of as being superior to anyone else for any reason whatsoever. They respect hard-work and achievements (as above) but that does not give anyone the right to believe they are superior. There are no hierarchies in institutions, organisations or the small firm—everyone can talk to the boss. This applies to some extent to all the Anglo-Saxon nations. Those in authority are respected, but not thought to be superior—a modern phenomenon. Most other cultures have a hierarchical structure to a greater or lesser extent. In India, there are so many levels that everyone jealously guards each trapping that signifies their status. The Finns believe in total equality, with everyone having the right to voice their opinion. They are therefore very tolerant and seemingly patient. However, the boss is still the boss and will make the decisions to speed up any inefficiencies.
- Cool and calm versus emotional behaviour. This is the degree to which a society tolerates the expression and use of emotion (especially in decisionmaking and business). When an Italian is in love, the whole world knows—likewise when s/he is angry. In Italy, it is quiet acceptable to demonstrate how you feel, but not in other countries where assuming the disposition of a rational human being is highly prized. The Chinese, of course, are inscrutable. The Finns, to foreigners coming from emotive cultures, seem “closed” and often withdrawn. They are suspicious of melodrama, which confuses them, and secretly believe that people showing this disposition are untrustworthy. They admire coolness and calm judgement. As emotion has no place in their daily, operational lives—FACTS do! Facts, evidence and truth are believed to produce the best outcome, and truth is very black and white in Finland—there are absolutely no shades of grey. When you tell Finns this, they insist that greyness does have its place (after all they are pragmatists), but their greyness is very black to the likes of you and me!
- Attitudes to time. This is the degree to which time is elastic. Is a culture run by the clock with people clock-watching the entire day, or do things happen when they happen? Does mañana really mean tomorrow or not today? The Finns love time–it keeps their society wellordered! Trains and buses leave on time, everyone pays their bills within 24 days, and people arrive punctually for appointments.
- Environmental consciousness. This is the degree to which people either abuse their environment, versus being a part of the cosmos system and ecologically aware. The Finns are surrounded by nature and forests cover 72 per cent of the land. They are a forest people at heart. One of their core beliefs is about looking after the environment. Laws, dating back to 1886, promote well-managed, sustainable forestry and these are updated constantly with new and pertinent regulations. This is just one incidence of how long the Finns have been “green” in their outlook. To a large extent, their climate, nature and geography has shaped the Finnish mindset. They perceive themselves at a distance from other cultures, apart and separate—but inextricably mixed with their forests and lakes.
The Finns have developed a strong national identity, an ancestral love of their land and a national pride that envelopes them, instilled in them from birth and through good education. They remain a forest people at heart. They are naturally reserved, especially towards foreigners, and are likely to seem very formal and aloof. In a culture where silence is a virtue, extreme chattiness is viewed with surprise or suspicion. In a culture where personal space is a right and not a privilege, a handshake is always appropriate, but a hug and kissing is not.