Socially, politically, and economically, Sweden had transformed from a King-dictated and feudal country—at one time about 20% of the population emigrated to other countries for a better life, for security of food, and religious freedom, and most of them left the country through Gothenburg—to one of the most advanced countries in the world.
Sweden in 21st century emerged as one of the sought-after countries for global workforce, immigrants and asylum seekers, apart from those moving into the country to live with the loved or married ones (there are instances of people moving to Sweden from Britain and USA and those girlfriends or boyfriends or spouses whom Swedes meet online or offline).
The need introduce Swedish values and culture for integration and inclusion into the Swedish society has gained importance, and the role of experts to do this has gained significance: People who can interpret Swedish culture and Swedish values to foreigners in Sweden. Kajsa Svensson is an expert on intercultural competence, diversity, conflict management, team development, integration and in defining ‘typically Swedish’. She leads an organization called InterAct. According to her, typically Swedish means – individualism, building consensus and cooperation through meetings and fika at workplace, and answering questions someone if only someone asks, apart from respect for others and punctuality.
SWEDISH ORGANIZATIONS: FLAT
Many Swedish organizations are flat – flat here means the boss cannot show-off or strut his or her power to his or her subordinates and decide on important issues unilaterally. There are departments and institutions where the CEO also does the chores of cleaning up the workplace on a scheduled day or time to organizing fika (gathering cups and washing them up) among others. Kajsa says, “We also have quite flat organizations it means if we don’t like the boss we decide, if we don’t like the boss to decide well we decide together.”
To see that an organization or company runs effectively, Swedes have many meetings, regularly. Kajsa says one of the questions people ask her is about meetings. “They would ask about things that they would not have seen before like ‘why do Swedes have so many meetings, for example?’ that is one of the things. That is typically Swedish to have so many meetings at workplace.”
“We have many meetings in Sweden because one is we are quite conflict-avoiding as a culture and we like to agree on things that we proceed rather than going to conflict before we pursue that we work with to avoid conflict – solution and consensus over a meeting,” Kajsa explains.
INDIVIDUALISM: Individuality and Duality
Swedish society is individualistic, and participates in societal and communal activities in a planned or organized manner. Individualism in Sweden is not a feeling of superiority or inferiority over others but living one’s own life and respecting others. In organizations, individualism refers to every one matters. Kajsa says, “We have quite high value on individualism we would like to have people have their say in the meetings and that takes time.”
“People are quite individualistic but not in that sense that Swedes are – oh! look at me, I’m so good – flamboyant individualistic but independent. I would rather say wanting to be independent and also striving and motivating oneself to develop oneself and at the same time loving people and wanting to do things with others,” Kajsa notes.
ASK, ASK QUESTIONS:
Unless you ask, you don’t get fed even by your mother or parent. So is the case in Sweden, unless you ask questions you don’t answers. One of the cultural aspects of Sweden is: Swedes do not answer unless you ask, if you ask you will definitely get an answer – and Swedes honour their words (unlike other cultures – saying for the sake of saying). People from other countries should bear in mind to take the initiative to ask. Kajsa clarifies that asking questions is the important aspect and ‘take initiative – sensitive or cultural aspects but ask, we are adults, if we are unsure, yet ask’.
SWEDES ARE NOT COLD: Take the initiative to interact
Immigrants to Sweden, IT workforce or expats or those who have come to make a new life as an asylum seeker and lovers of him or her in Sweden, often forget to ask themselves – how friendly or welcoming they were when they were in their home countries? Were they welcoming to others, domestic migrants or global migrants?
Swedes are friendly, too but one has to ask them or take the initiative to talk to them otherwise he or she will respect one’s space or privacy. Raghu Sharma, a biotechnology scientist, has had lived in Sweden for more than two years and was the ambassador of InterNations in Gothenburg. He says, “There are lot of people who have issues like – Swedes are not friendly and this and that. But NO. There are lot of people who think Swedes are cold but NO. It depends upon like – the first think I ask is why do you think Swedes are cold? They say Swedes don’t talk, Swedes don’t’ interact, Swedes don’t welcome but my question to them is – have you tried talking to them instead of blaming them? If you have tried then you have the right to say they are cold but as long as you don’t try no one has any right to say Swedes are cold. If you try and if you fail then I agree with you but if you don’t try, sorry, you are wrong.”
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