Good neighbors: Finland and Sweden

For many Finnish companies, Sweden is a natural first step on the road to internationalization. It is geographically close, the culture and customs are very similar, the language barrier is low or non-existent, and moving from one country to the other is easy. However, there are differences between the countries in both working practices and communication culture as well.

“Finns and Swedes have more things in common than any two other nationalities in the world”, says Lena Rekdal from Newcomers, a Stockholm-based relocation and immigration company. “For example, we are both very punctual and to the point. Finns and Swedes rarely have a hidden agenda, things are discussed openly and without deceit. Both are very honest and trustworthy. If a Finn or Swede says they are going to do something, that something is going to be done!”

The cultures have differences as well however, that may cause friction. “Finns are much more tolerant of silence than us Swedes. A good example of this happened a short while ago when a Finn came to our office for negotiations. One of our employees considered the negotiations very unpleasant and straining, because the Finn just sat there quietly and listened. This was nothing more than differences in communication cultures however, because the Finn was listening and thinking about what he was being told before answering. All was well in the end, but these matters have to be understood and one must have the correct attitude and frame of mind for them ahead of time.”

Finnish culture also values directness, that is very unusual in Sweden. “A Finn is not afraid to voice his disagreement or state his or her opinion. Swedes are much more averse to conflicts. This is very visible in for example home finding, where Finns have a very high standard and give a lot of feedback. Finnish apartments must be in better condition and of higher quality than in Sweden.”

“Finns also don’t have the Swedish negotiation and haggling culture. Sweden was a poor country for centuries, so Swedes may appear stingy. We don’t want to pay anything for anything”, Lena laughs. “Finns don’t do that. They know what they want and give the right price at the start.”

There has been talk of a unified Nordic citizenship from time to time, most recently by the former Finnish defense minister and head of the Swedish National Party of Finland Carl Haglund. Lena thinks there’s merit in the idea “If the Nordics were one country, our population would be 25 million and we would have a wealth of natural resources such as wood, oil, and minerals. We would have an excellent food industry in Denmark and a thriving tech ecosystem in Sweden and Finland. Together we would be very powerful. Of course there would be challenges to overcome, but I believe that the benefits would be greater. There are initiatives similar to this already, such as the Öresund area between Malmö and Copenhagen. That is marketed as a region, and not as a part of either country.”

Finns have from time to time complained that they are frustrated over how difficult simple things are in Sweden. For example everyday matters such as opening a bank account, finding a comfortable home, and the school- and daycare matters of children have been stated as challenging. What could be the reason for this when it is supposedly simplicity itself to move between the two countries?

“The problems usually stem from how the system is set up. Sweden has a housing shortage and Finns find themselves in the same situation as for example Germans, Americans or Swedes moving to the cities from the countryside. Finns actually have less obligations than other nationalities. For example, a mother moving from France to Sweden who’s family stays in France might not be able to get covered by the Swedish social security system but she would still have to pay her taxes to Sweden. With a Finn this is not the case. These ‘This was much harder than I thought it would be’ experiences always have to do with the system, because the government has to have accurate information on people and dependents living in Sweden for taxation purposes”, Lena finishes.

Basics for Finnish-Swedish cooperation:

  1. Stay on schedule, Finns and Swedes appreciate punctuality.
  2. Aim for consensus, avoid open conflict.
  3. Be ready for lengthy discussions. Let everyone state their opinion and listen attentively. Be prepared to justify your views multiple times.
  4. Converse respectfully and seek to compromise. Don’t subdue your negotiating partner.
  5. Swedish decision making takes time, because all details must be thoroughly examined. Be patient with reaching the decision.

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