In the far north of western Europe, a geographical and cultural region stretching for 1.2 million square kilometres (463,000 square miles), known as Norden, or more commonly described as the Nordics, offers the world a Viking heritage and a spectacular expanse of land comprising a patchwork of stunning landscapes and diverse geography. Made up of the Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Norway and Denmark, as well as the terrains of Finland and Iceland, including the autonomous islands of Greenland, the Faroe Islands, and Åland, they form one of the largest regions in Europe. Despite the size of the Nordics, these Nordic countries are only home to a population of around 24 million. However, you will find a treasure chest rich in natural wonders, fascinating cultures, innovative industries and an excellent standard of living.
Out of all the Nordic countries, Sweden is home to the largest population of around 9 million inhabitants. It also houses an extensive wilderness of coniferous forests and clear blue lakes at the same time as providing the country with at least 27,000 km2 of arable land. Likewise, the economy is boosted via its iron, engineering and steel industries, not forgetting the tourist trade bringing in revenue through the likes of the Ice Hotel in the far north of the country. It is also world-renowned for IKEA, meatballs, crime thrillers, saunas, the Northern Lights and, of course, Abba!
As mentioned in previous cultural blogs, learning a country’s language goes a long way to opening more business doors, even if it’s just a few basics such as hello (god dag – formal, hej – informal), good morning (god morgon), pleased to meet you (Trevligt att träffas), or thank you (Tack or Tack så mycket – thanks very much). However, you will be more than understood in Sweden speaking English, as most Swedes are fluent English speakers and business meetings held with international clients are generally held in English.
Norway is reputed for its magnificent and deep fjords, its breathtaking scenery taking you through a vast expanse of beaches, forests and steep mountain ranges. It is also like Sweden, renowned for its mesmerising light show known as the Northern Lights. Economically, it owes much of its wealth to the extraction and export of offshore oil and gas, which also provides much employment for the Norwegians, as does the steel, shipping and tourism industries.
Learning a country’s way of doing business and embracing their culture before embarking on a business relationship shows respect and will consequently help the alliance grow stronger and more steadfast. Like the Swedes, Norwegians are a fairly conservative society and do not boast about themselves in a way that would flaunt their intelligence or wealth, therefore, attempting to impress them in this manner will not help your cause. Starting off on an honest and respectful foot would be a better step to taking you further down your international investment path, leading you to a result that is longer lasting.
Recognised as being the smallest of the Nordic countries, Denmark is also one of the world’s flattest countries. Comprising the Jutland Peninsula and over 400 islands in the Baltic Sea known as the Danish archipelago, the land is made up of rolling farmland and endless beaches. It also boasts the world’s oldest monarchy and state flag, as well as giving birth to the world-famous fairy tale writer Hans Christian Anderson and Lego (hence its creation of Legoland in Billund). It is also home to the highest employment rate, as well as providing rich sources of revenue in the form of oil, IT and shipping.
The Scandinavian way of business and social etiquette appears to be one that avoids pretension and self-importance, as the Danes also walk the same line as the Swedes and Norwegians considering this pompous kind of behaviour poor manners. They expect their foreign visitors to be respectful and not display any unruly conduct. Being punctilious will also give you a foot in the door, as the Danish abhor tardiness. As a hardworking culture they take punctuality very seriously wanting to make sure business is conducted effectively and efficiently without wasting anybody’s time.
Finland, the creator of the ‘Moomins’ and home to Santa Claus’ homeland, Lapland, is a sparsely populated country constituting an immense stretch of islands, forests and lakes (it doesn’t get its name ‘the land of the thousand lakes’ for nothing!). It is therefore not surprising that forestry is one of the country’s most important revenue sources. On the other hand, what may not be a well-known fact is that Finland is in fact the world’s biggest producer of mobile phones. Finland is also the only Nordic country that uses the euro.
Finnish people are known for their frank manners and when they say ‘yes, they mean ‘yes’, just like when they say ‘no’ they don’t mean ‘perhaps’. Although their direct manner and clear cut decisions might seem a little intimidating to foreign visitors, they are in fact making things easier for them, especially in business, allowing their clients to know exactly where they stand and not be left sitting on the fence. Business in Finland is not left unfinished!
Velkomin til Íslands! (Welcome to Iceland!). Known as the land of ice and fire, Iceland is a volcanic island reputed for its spectacular and dramatic landscape comprising volcanoes, geysers, glaciers and waterfalls. Ranking 8th in the world for being the greenest country, it is a leading producer of renewable energy. It also thrives economically through its tourism trade, as well as from fish and fish products, still one of Iceland’s most important revenue sources.
What people may not know about the Icelandic culture is that surnames and family names don’t exist. Icelander’s last names are an amalgamation of their father’s (or mother’s) first name with the addition of -dóttir (-daughter) or –son, hence the reason most people are called by their first name e.g. Björk. Consequently, when starting out in business with Icelanders, don’t get offended when they don’t use titles and call you by your first name. And what’s more, don’t freeze yourself out at the first stage of doing business with your Icelandic clients by turning up to a meeting unkempt or in casual dress. Dress sharp. Much like the Italians, the Icelander’s dress code is chic and sophisticated, especially where business attire is concerned. For this reason it would be advisable to dress the Icelandic way to help solidify the business relationship!
Even though Greenland falls under the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Denmark, it is an autonomous territory, which despite being geopolitically part of Europe, in fact belongs to North America geographically. Renowned for being the world’s largest island located in the Arctic, whereby 80% of its land is covered by an ice cap, it also has the lowest population density. A land rich in geographical vastness, Greenland comprises an immense wilderness in the north, with a lush landscape in the south dominated by sheep farms. Similar to Iceland, its main source of revenue is fishing, but the tourism industry has certainly started making its mark economically. The indigenous people of Greenland are known as Inuit with a cultural background combining both American and Nordic influence, whose official language is Greenlandic (although it is still useful to have some knowledge of Danish under your belt).
You might have seen the Inuit people of Greenland carry out the ‘Eskimo kiss’, which is the act of rubbing noses together as a form of greeting. However, attempting this greeting at your first business meeting would not be considered wise as this address is generally reserved for close family and friends. Nevertheless, the business climate there is a fairly relaxed affair, whereby colleagues prefer being called by their first names.
The Faroe Islands
Akin to Greenland, the Faroe Islands also falls under Danish sovereignty, yet has autonomous rule. With its dramatic landscape and unique bird life, the Faroe Islands comprises 18 islands, where fishing and sheep farming are predominant and the culture is very distinct.
Although The Faroe Islands are under Danish sovereignty, it would not bode well to begin business negotiations by likening them to the Danes. Their languages are very different for a start; Faroese is more closely related to Icelandic. On the other hand, you will find that many Faroese people do actually speak fluent Danish and are increasingly well versed in English. However, do expect Faroese to be friendly, hospitable and helpful, as well as polite and respectful. They will of course expect the same from you.
Åland is an autonomous archipelago and territory belonging to Finland in the Baltic Sea, consisting of 6,757 islands, which strangely isn’t a Finnish-speaking country, its official language being Swedish! Most likely because it has links with Finland, the euro is also the currency in this country.
Being versed in Swedish will get you far in Åland, as it is the official language of this autonomous island. Likewise being a theatre or music aficionado, as well as a musician or actor since Åland is proud of its professional and amateur theatre and music scene. This island also appears to have given birth to many more creative people in the form of writers and painters, the landscape and archipelago providing an inspiration for their artistry.
As you can see from the brief introduction to these Nordic countries these cultural diamonds in the treasure chest of the Nordics are just the tips of the cultural and business etiquette iceberg!
By Madeline Prusmann, Project Manager, August 2017