Doing Business in Sweden and the USA: 6 Differences

Original author: Louise Fritjofsson
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I realized that after a 10-year career as an entrepreneur (despite the fact that my 29th birthday is coming soon!), The launch of three companies in five countries and three different industries, it's time to start putting your thoughts into words.

The fact is that I think a lot about the same issues. I return to topics that concern me, to understand them, and, finding answers to my questions or thoughts, I share them with you in the hope that this can shed light on these topics.

Yesterday, I talked about the differences in the culture of doing business in Sweden and the USA and how much time it took me to understand them more or less. I have been trying for a long time to develop this topic, having made several approaches to this issue in my mind, but this is not easy at all, because we Swedes seem to consider ourselves like Americans.

Differences are hidden behind a light veil of laid-back conversations, people who look and behave just like us, sharing with us the same childhood memories of the animated films The Lion King and The Little Mermaid. We are no different from each other, right? And still there are small nuances on which our internationally glorified in dreams stumbles. In the article, I listed the six most striking differences that I encountered when moving overseas and creating my own business in America.

1. Hierarchy

You may have heard before that, compared to the States, hierarchy in Sweden does not exist in principle. It is interesting that this difference can be seen in companies of any size, which surprised me very much.

If we talk about Sweden, then, of course, there are differences in how the hierarchy affects the culture of companies depending on the size of the business. But, as a rule, companies of any size generally welcome an open corporate culture, in which you communicate with your managers and, as an employee, take part in creating a corporate structure, rules and standards of conduct.

With the move to the States, I noticed a different attitude of employees towards themselves as to the general director than in Sweden. And remember, I'm only talking about a small startup. The discussions are less open (even though I am calling for openness), and people expect me to single-handedly form the foundations of the company's culture and present them to the team. Earlier in my life, all this was something that all team members create together - and if I instilled the culture of the company myself, the team would share their opinions with me on this! Moreover, there is a tendency for workers not to ask so many questions. And I see how my friends in large corporations struggle with the need to adhere to established procedures, having managers who always have answers to all questions, or even being such managers themselves.

I know that I am biased, as I’m used to how business is done in Sweden, and therefore I see how many people thrive in more “orderly” companies, I see a free way up. At the same time, I still adhere to building a flat organizational structure, where managers are not required to know the answers to all questions, where all the information coming from all levels of the enterprise is welcome, where the director sometimes does the dishes in the office.

2. Pretend that you can do everything until you learn

America. I love you for your overwhelming self-esteem, which adds to my headache. The Swedes have problems with being too modest, but in the modern world we are slowly learning from other nations how to present ourselves properly. When you conduct an interview with a Swede, you can often hear the phrase “No, I have never done this before, I have no experience, but I will gladly learn this,” but in the USA I meet people who claim to be experts in everything although in their resume I cannot find anything that could confirm this.

This can sometimes be the cause of problems. When I asked people how fast they can run, everyone indicated a twice as fast pace as the one they were actually used to. This became a problem for the runner groups with whom they had classes. When you hire someone who needs to work with social media, and then it turns out that a person can hardly create an account in them, this is also a problem. On the other hand, you learn to concentrate faster on the person himself, discarding the whole chatter. What you know and don’t know is not really that important. The main thing is the person himself, and who does not want to work with initiative punching people ?! The most important thing is to know what you are getting into when hiring people and carefully weigh their answers.

3. Save yourself

The social system in Sweden is significantly different from the United States - we are not in constant fear of dismissal, unlike the residents of the United States. In California, employment contracts stipulate that termination of employment is effected without prior notice and explanation of the reasons, that is, they can say goodbye to you at any time without even explaining why, and no one will pay you severance pay. In Sweden, we are accustomed to advance notice and guaranteed payments in the event of dismissal. The “please-don't-fire-me” style of behavior reflects what I mentioned in the first two paragraphs of this article and creates a culture in which there is nervousness after something as small as a poor presentation, and every chance is taken to Shine in front of the manager.

4. A grit in the sea

I feel a difference in attitude to my own brand, to taking advantage of the business and how you build relationships. I remember that when I first arrived in the States, I was struck by the ease with which I could organize meetings, the general goodwill and the speed with which people became your friends. But the problem was that when I wanted to meet a second time, all the ease disappeared, and by the time I wanted to chat after that joint dinner, my new friends had already forgotten who I was.

If you say “let's have lunch together” to a Swede, then you switch to planning mode, determining where and when you can meet. The sad part of American reality is that the Americans are just chatting about what they do not intend to do. And you need to learn to recognize this fine line. For an American, a meeting is an opportunity to meet someone who can give him something valuable. Otherwise, there simply will not be time for you, and the promised call may never happen.

The same trends are observed in the management of startups, companies and brands. In Sweden, we often see business as something personal, and perceive it individually, but in the States, companies, regardless of size, will never be perceived on a personal level. Therefore, business in Sweden has a more friendly climate than the overseas market where you are like a grain of sand in the sea.

5. Do something big or go home

Boom. Rate the speed. Rate the scale. From a feeling of satisfaction with what I was able to do in Sweden, I quickly came to understand that I had nothing to offer this city. Scale and power amaze, capture, surprise and scare to death. And here you need to either achieve great success, or not get involved in all of this - the competition in the US market is simply too much. Too many people and opportunities compared to Sweden, where competition is not so fierce. So take a deep breath, plan your next step and move on - towards your goal.

6. Swedes love black humor

My first couple of months in America, I practically did not go anywhere and felt a little out of place at social events. My usually funny comments did not make the impression I expected on the interlocutors. Gradually, in my social life in San Francisco, compatriots appeared who helped me understand what happened. “Swedish humor is too gloomy,” they explained. I'm not crazy, I'm just Swedish - black humor is attached. Swedes go beyond those that others do not approach. Swedish humor was cherished by Carl Michael Bellman in the 18th century, his poems and songs were a mixture of drunkenness, death and sex, written mostly in a very sarcastic manner. And it’s worth admitting that only Swedes will laughover the prospect of congratulating the vegetarian manager by giving him a burger with minced meat from his wife’s meat ...

Yrrol is one of Sweden’s most famous comedy sketches.

Please note that all these observations are based on my experience in San Francisco, and in my article this city represents the United States of America, although the features I saw may not be 100% applicable to the whole country.

And what are your observations on doing business in different countries? Share your thoughts!

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