The Scandinavian market: similarities and differences
The number of Dutch people who see opportunities in the Scandinavian market is increasing. There are many similarities between the Nordic countries. In addition to the commonalities between the Nordic countries, there are also differences between Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. To rub no one up the wrong way during negotiations, it is important to be aware of both the similarities and the differences between these countries.
Similarities between Nordic countries
Although there are always differences between neighboring countries – look for example to the Netherlands and Germany – there are also similarities between the Danes, Finns, Norwegians and Swedes.
1. The same language
Both literally and figuratively, the Nordic people speak the same language(s) as the Dutch. The open and generally informal atmosphere and uses of Scandinavian countries are very similar to those of the Netherlands. The main language at formal or corporate events is generally English, which most Dutch speak and understand very well.
Scandinavians are very punctual and it is important to arrive on time at a meeting and not five minutes late. Moreover, the “promise is a promise” mentality is very strong. If the unlikely event that one is unable to arrive on time or if an appointments needs to be canceled, it is important to let the other know as soon as possible to avoid irritation at the Scandinavians.
3. Strong separation between work and private life
In the workplace and in business meetings, there is generally little room for small talk and seem eager to get down to business. In contrast, the Danes, Finns, Norwegians and Swedes are very fond of their free time. For this reason, appointments are often scheduled in the morning so the Nordic can get home timely.
The Nordic countries are globally respected and praised for their knowledge and advanced technology. Scandinavia is in fact one big knowledge economy and therefore there is invested a lot in research and development.
The bulk of the Nordic population is relatively prosperous, which has led to a high purchasing power in all of the Scandinavian countries.
Equality and democracy are in Scandinavia of great importance. This often manifests itself in flat and lean organizations with short lines, making it relatively easy to get into contact with a manager or director of a company without the need of a middleman.
Scandinavia has a large online business and Scandinavians are more advanced than most Europeans when it comes to online purchases. They don’t experience country borders as a threshold and have therefore not a problem with buying something online from a company that is based abroad. As a result, the Scandinavian stores were forced to allow and provide ordering online as well.
Differences between Nordic countries
Yet, not every country is the same regarding culture and uses. Even though they are neighbors, there are subtle differences between Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden when it comes to customs and trading.
Of all Scandinavians, the Danes are probably most like the Dutch with a down-to-earth mentality and dry, somewhat ironic humor. The Danish culture is very informal: though they want to get down to business straight away, their clothing is often informal, making their guest feel “overdressed”. The open and talkative Danes try to make their guests feel comfortable and tend to be quickly on a first name base with formal discussions.
Of the Nordic countries, Finland is the most “reserved” one: the communication exists of a lot of listening and little talking. Body language is regarded as a sign of insecurity. Finns are especially convinced by strong, factual statements. Extenuating words such as “may” and “a little” should therefore be avoided. It is appreciated by the Finns to address him properly, not personal and preferable even with his title. Greetings also remain aloof: both the arrival and the departure of one of the parties will be accompanied by a handshake, even among friends. In business agreements, the no-nonsense culture of Finland translates in rapid decision-making. After the agreement, the Finn will almost immediately undertake follow-up actions, even if an agreement has been made orally only.
Norway is in mentality pretty much like Denmark. Like the Danes, the Norwegians are generally informally dressed, even at formal occasions. The open culture makes it easy to connect with the public and private sectors. Norwegians are very interested in their trading partners and are more likely to schedule a business lunch to get to know each other better, than to actually discuss business. The Norwegians do not think much of prize fighters; they prefer to pay a little more for good quality and will not carry hard price negotiations. However, it may take time for the Norwegians to reach their decision, so this is something that should be taken into account during the negotiation process.
Traditionally, there is a good bond between the Dutch and the Swedes. For this reason Sweden is often seen as a stepping stone to trade with other Nordic countries. Swedes are business people and agreements are therefore often scheduled weeks in advance, so there is time to prepare. This, the Swedes also expect of their trading partner: who wants to do business in Sweden does well to bring business cards, brochures and a clear presentation. During the presentation, the Swede will be particularly interested in facts, figures and graphs. Because there are often many people involved in the decision, it may take a long time before the knot is tied.
Business in Scandinavia
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