Reviewing your own culture

This November I conducted a workshop for the European Women’s Professional Network in Norway.  The workshop was on “Living and Working in Norway. How to Maximise Communication and Relationships”; There were women from Japan, China, Gran Canarias, UK, France, New Zealand, Serbia, Philippines, Finland and USA. Women who had lived in Norway from one month to fifteen years, so quite a diversity in the Norwegian cultural experience.

It was an amazing group, first of all, due to their honesty and willingness to share experiences as well as helping those who were present. And with their different cultural backgrounds, they had different experiences on what it is like to live in Norway and how they interact with Norwegians. Personally, I got a lot out of what they described, it made me remember that yes, we are definitely coloured by our national culture AND yes, we are individuals that may have little in common with the generalisation type. I say that “generalisations are helpful, but don’t forget the individual differences”. And after my last week in Norway, I even feel it stronger.

And within the generalisations there are so many nuances. Example; an American lady said that people look at her like she’s mad if she talks with them at the bus stop. Yes, it is true that Norwegians are shy and would not normally do that. And yet, I, among others do… When I was in Norway I experienced that a lady at a train started talking to me because of my handbag looking like an animal of some sort (a bear?). The nuance is to see the signals; do they look back at you and smile? Do they have a body language that indicates openness to talking? These nuances are hard to see when you are new in a culture, but practice makes you a master!

The last 22 years I have lived 12 years out of Norway; 5 years abroad, 10 years back, and now another 7 years (and counting) abroad. Having this experience certainly gives me a broader view of things, e.g I know that it is hard to get new friends and acquaintances when you move, and that’s the fact in many countries, not only Norway (which some self-bashers in a seminar I attended seem to think). Going in and out of my own culture I see it with new eyes, again and again – it is a nice learning experience..

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