The author depicts the main differences existing between the French and Finnish cultures and the underlining values they entail.
1. Introduction and case presentation
The intercultural experience of mine which I decided to explain and analyse is an experience of adapting to the new culture, which differs a lot from the culture of my own. The reason why I decided to choose this topic is that the differences between cultures might be very crucial and sometimes it is almost impossible to adapt completely to another culture. In this essay, I am going to explain the intercultural experience and analyse by using Edward T Halls theories and also Geert Hofstede's dimensions of culture. Intercultural and cross-cultural issues and awareness are at the constantly growing focus in our world today. Globalisation has brought along multinational companies and international markets which require increased emphasis on cultural intelligence, consideration, and preparation. In all the fields of life, the culture modifies the actions of a person, and this is why I consider my intercultural experience to be worth of analysing and discussed. There is a difference how people from different cultures perceive, interpret, and understand the world around them and when a person moves from another culture to a new one, there might be problems, obstacles and new habits to lean before adaptation to the new culture.
2. My experience
My intercultural experience which I chose to discuss is my experience as an exchange student abroad. During my previous studies, I spend 6 months studying business and communications at a university in France, Lyon. Before this experience, I had no idea how big the change would be moving from Scandinavia, Finland to France. Of course, I had travelled a lot and studied in an intercultural environment and class, but moving to a new country and trying to adapt to a different culture was a huge change. It was a bug intercultural experience for me.
Main reasons why I experienced difficulties were found from the normal daily life. I was born and raised in Finland, in a country of democracy, peace, harmony, and space everywhere. It was a slight shock to start living inside French culture with high respect to their own French culture and country, the social system working complexes ways completely, the rhythm of life being speed and all in all the whole French way of life was something I never experienced before. The most topics which I want to share about this intercultural experience are the ways of studying and working, different values of life and equality. During the exchange time in France I realised how different cultures could vary a lot, but at the same time, many objects of life are the same, only in different form.
2.1 Working and studying
The first topic about my intercultural experience was the ways of working/studying. I was always used to study in Finland where the education is considered to be high-level, and I had the image in my head that French were very hard working and made special efforts on studying, especially their language and history. When I entered the university, I realised how the students were competitive, pushing their limits, stressed about the results and also they were used to read a lot and studying mainly theory. Again I was shocked because I was used to group and team works, supporting co-students by studying together, using theory as a method of practice and the biggest difference was that I was not used to students competing about the grades. The career and studies are respected a lot in Finland, and higher education is very important, but the value of family, friends, and home are never forgotten. I felt in France that the studying was the only thing important for the university students and that it was not appropriate to use a lot of teamwork or help the other because it might decline your results or decrease the time to study. Also, scheduling is very strict, and people are punctual in my own culture, and again in France, I would say that time is “fluent,” it's not punctual.
2.2 Values of Life
There were a lot of differences in what Finnish and French people value in life. The family was seen in different ways. For the French person family is not only husband and wife and children, but also cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents might all live almost in the same building or house. Again in Finland, the families are small, and the family means normally only a small amount of people. French keep dinner with a family or friends as a very important part of daily life and in Finland big dinner with many persons are only normal in special days such as Easter, Christmas or birthdays. Having sauna would be in the same level of importance to Finns that dinner with family to French people. I feel that French style of life is more colourful and passionate than the Finnish style of life which respects privacy, space and harmony. All in all, I would say that the rhythm of life was very hard to adapt and also to the language barrier which I felt like an obstacle during my time there. People in smaller town and cities were not open to foreigners or to speak another language than French, which I couldn’t understand. Both cultures, of course, have its pros and cons but they were hard to mix sometimes.
Equality was a big difference for me and something I didn’t expect. Even France is a very equal country I felt that a woman was not in the completely same level that man in the hierarchy. I felt that men and women were not equal enough because I was used to it in Finland. With equality, I also mean students, because everyone didn’t have the same opportunities at the university. The people with more money were privileged and treated better, and not everyone was able to study what they wanted if they didn’t have enough money. This was a shock for me because in my culture equality is a big issue and everyone are at the same level. Everyone is able to study to be a doctor or study anything they want, and money is not related to that. The equality question was something which was one of the hardest things to adapt even in fact France is also a country of rights and freedom, but I felt that it was nothing compared to what I was used to in my culture.
3. Analysing my intercultural experience
3.1 Geert Hofstede, Dimensions of Culture
Geert Hofstede has done a research about cultures and made dimensions of the culture of which the culture can be categorised and understood easier. I wanted to use these five dimensions and analyse the cultural differences I went through between the French and Finnish culture. There are five dimensions of culture:
Masculinity: Finland has a feminine culture according to Hofstede’s theory. The feminine roles which Hofstede mentioned such as home and children, people, and tenderness are all a part of the Finnish culture. Finnish people are equal and caretaking. Home is appreciated very much. Men and women both take care of the children and other household works. In Finland security and good living are one of the most important values. Also, good working conditions are respected, not only the salary but the environment and atmosphere at work. A lot of work has been made to improve working conditions. The Femininity in Finland is also noticed in Finland in the ways of equality between men and women in working life and in private life. Finland also has a woman as a president, which shows that Finnish men are used to respecting the woman as a leader.According to Hofstede France represents masculinity, and this can be picked out from the everyday life. The French tend to be quite aggressive and proud, forming part of the macho- cultural world together with other Latin countries, such as Mexico or Spain. Highlighting their own language and culture towards foreigners and fellow Europeans is common. All in all the French culture allows the men to be the heroic rescuers while the women remain fragile and “petite”.
Individualism: The French are very individualistic as well as Finnish. The French bring themselves out as individuals and like to think that they are in charge of their lives themselves, not their past, family or organisation. They believe that everyone should do their own thing and express their opinion honestly and straight. As my experience was for example that the university students don’t like to support each other, was maybe because in their culture it's more normal to think first about yourself and then others. The image remains to be very important for them; how the others around see them and how they see themselves. For the Finnish culture, individualism is also important but in slightly different ways. There is strong importance for the opinion of an individual. Still, there are some points which also remind about collectivism like for instance harmony should be maintained and direct confrontations avoided. All in all, Finland is more individualistic country. For example, you are free to change your work and to try new things. All the laws are the same for everyone. The relationship between a parent and a child or employer and employee is based on the mutual advantage, not on the hierarchy. Gender roles in Finland follow the individualistic model. Females might as easily hold power as males, especially in urban areas. The individualism is seen differently in France and Finland, and this is why I might have felt not adapting to French culture so easily.
Uncertainty avoidance: Finland is classified as uncertainty tolerant country because of its positive tones for everything new and the curiosity for everything that is different. It doesn’t cause any problems in the Finnish culture if there is an ambiguous situation. People are used to taking unfamiliar risks without feeling discomfort. Words like creative, experiment and flexible are all encouraged by the culture. In Finland, it is common to obey the rules set by the law, but also expectations are easily accepted. One good example is that homosexuality is not considered bad or threatening, it is only something which is different from the mainstream. People are not uptight, and they take every day as it comes, without stress or negative feelings. Aggressions and feelings are not shown openly, and it is common to hide feelings from others. Hofstede describes countries and cultures which are uncertainty tolerant; that they are unhurried, informal and have no social taboos. According to Hofstede, the French are suspicious about everything that is new. As France belongs to the uncertainty avoidant cultures, it is still very important to notice that it is on the extreme end of the scale, but more in the middle having the tendency towards avoiding the unfamiliar. The pace of life is rapid because time is seen as money and efficiency is appreciated. Also, the truth dimension is very notorious; there is only one truth, and we have it. Therefore the French tend to like the idea of keeping their ways to do the things the same and keep a distance from the unfamiliar. The uncertainty avoidant organisations and cultures have a lot of respect towards the experts and explore the things from their own point of view. As their own culture is seen so dominant and unconditional, the French tend to be quite strong in their opinions and speak loudly and emotionally to their opponents. The differences between Finnish and French culture in this dimension is quite strong, and I felt many of these differences as a problem during my exchange.
Power Distance: What comes to Power Distance, the French fall more into the side of power distant than tolerant. The organisation has its leaders, and the members of it will follow them. The division of power is also quite centralised as well as centralised fairly. Most of the corporate managers or scientists still come from the so-called “elite institutions” of France, which have had the privilege of being the best of the country for a long time. When speaking to a person ranking higher than them, the French are formal and acknowledge the hierarchical positions. This is a good example of the differences what I felt inequality because in Finland the Power distance is again different than in France. The core values in Finland are equality between people and responsibility. That refers to the point that Finland is Low Power Distant country. It is common to speak openly in a social context, and privileges and status are frowned upon. The difference between less and more powerful people is minimised. There is a positive connotation for rights of people, negotiation and criticism in Finland. Every problem is supposed to be solved by negotiating, applying the rights of people and it is normal to criticise person opinions without a negative tone.
Long/Short Term Avoidance: When thinking about Long and Short term avoidance France is more short- than long-term oriented. Using the time for going out, having long discussions over coffee, family Sundays etc. is very common in France. The French are as well said to be very passionate and living in the moment. Even though the office-hours are long, the French still hold on to their long lunches and chit chats before starting to work which it is a big part of the culture. It is true that the French have picked on a more rapid paste of life but still, much time is taken to do everything. Also, expressions like “c’est la vie” highlight the fact that the French are relatively easy going and base their lives more on pleasure than anything else. New things and experiencing new is not so common than traditionally doing the things.
Again when compared these habits to the ways of Finnish lifestyle there are several differences. In Hofstede’s Cultural Dimension Finland is classified as a Long Term Oriented country. Hard working is valued in the Finnish culture and work is a big part of life. Even if the results would be disappointing, you should never give up. Everything that is good for the future like savings, endurance, moderation and investing are all considered positive. It is common in Finland to respect the traditions, but also to adapt them to modern context like for example saunas. The traditional saunas were warmed with wood, and they used to be separate buildings, nowadays you can find electric saunas even in the student apartments, even it is not in its traditional environment. All the modernisation is considered to be a good influence for the future. In the long term orientated countries women are expected to work, whether they have children or not. Men tend to be quite entrepreneurial, which we can notice in Finland. There are a lot of entrepreneurship which needs a lot of risk taking and modern thinking. Everything related to long-term benefits is valued very high.
3.2 Three cultural indicators by Edward T. Hall
Edward T. Hall is an American cross-cultural researcher and anthropologist, who examined the different cultures of the world and created the concepts of high context culture, polychromic time and meaning of space. He found that these factors varied according to culture and throughout his findings, he was also able to categorise countries according to these means.
The French approach to space varies. In general, the so-called personal space is not that big, and people are used to having other people around them. France still represents the cultures where the family is considered to consist of more than just the core family of parents and children. They include the grandparents as well. It is also very typical for the children to stay with their parents throughout studies. Considering the culture France is a polychronic according to Hall. There are plenty of things at the same level of importance, and therefore these things are done at the same time. The French do not set meetings to reach decisions but to exchange information and discuss a variety of factors influencing the case. Polychronic people are also said to have a tendency to change their minds quite easily and float from one situation to another which relates to French people very well. Edward T Hall categorises France as a high context culture, and to the very strong end of it. Decisions are driven by emotions and feelings more than by rationality. Again it is fair to note the fact that the French are known for their passion, intensive, aggressive conversations and very open approach to expressing feelings in public.
The Finnish culture regarding Edvard T Halls research is again the opposite in space, time and space than the French. In Finland, like in the whole Scandinavia, personal space is valued and kept as a very important part of privacy. Space between family members is also large, and privacy is respected. The core families are normally small, everyone has their own space, and too much touching is usually considered as unnecessary. It is normal to keep a short distance to the person who you are talking to. Typical low context cultures are North Americans and Scandinavians. The context of meaning is at low in Scandinavian cultures, especially in Finland. Normally when people communicate they want to explain their message in a very straight-forward way and the amount of information spoken is much less than in the high context cultures, like Latin-America for example, but the message is told clearly. In the low context communication cultures like Finland, all the information is directly contained in the utterances, and there is little meaning apart from the words that are being said.
For the Finnish people, it is common that each statement a person makes can be understood primarily by the words they use. The emphasis is on the speakers to say exactly what they mean. Time is normally highly organised, and the product is more important than the process. According to Hall Finland is a monochronic culture. In Finnish culture, it is common to do one thing at a time, and concentrate your actions on only that. Everything that is done is well considered. The attention to the time is structured, and everything has to be done on time. Being late or finishing something, not on time is considered rude and impolite. When something is started it is also finished on time, nothing is left halfway. Everything is organised by time, and people organise their lives through a schedule of work and private life. Scheduling is very important, and it goes above everything else, it is almost treated like as sacred. The schedule is followed which it makes possible for a person to concentrate on one thing at a time. There is a priority for everything.
The main idea why I chose my topic to discuss my exchange time in France and compare the French culture to Finnish was because it is really interesting to see the different ways people think and behave, even the distance is not so long between these countries. I mentioned at the beginning of this presentation biggest differences and problem topic which were equality, ways of life, studying and working. After doing some research about Halls and Hofstede theories and comparing them to my experience, it is easier to understand why the French and Finns are different and why the traditions and ways of life vary a lot. This only supports the fact that the importance of having even a basic knowledge of another culture helps to understand the ways and behaviours. If I could change my intercultural experience I would have done much more of research about French culture before my exchange to understand, adapt and experience the French culture better