Marketing specialist, Margery Rothenberg, shares her experiences and thoughts on culture clashes, linguistics, and Scandinavian delicacies.
I just completed approximately a year and a half working remotely, from my home in New York, with a Swedish oncology diagnostics company. Technology enabled this dynamic and trust fueled success. I had worked in the past for multinationals, including Merck, IBM, and Omnicom, but nothing surprised me more than seeing how fluent the Scandinavians are in English, and how even keeled and pleasant they have all been.
I was already a fan of Nordic culture and Nordic Noir, having watched “Bron/Broen”, having grown up with Pippi Longstocking, and having met Ingrid Bergman (!)”
Learning about each other and developing a rapport help to establish trust which is important in all relationships but should be intentional in remote interactions. I found it easy to do with the Scandinavian team. I was already a fan of Nordic culture and Nordic Noir, having watched “Bron/Broen”, having grown up with Pippi Longstocking, and having met Ingrid Bergman (!) when she gave a keynote speech at the Modern Language Association convention in New York some years ago.
Having studied Spanish in high school and French and German in college, I gained an appreciation for linguistics. Did you know for example that in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland, they “take” decisions, as well as in France (prendre une décision)? In Finland they “make” decisions (tee päätös), as we do in English, and in Germany they “meet/strike” a decision (triff eine Entscheidung). Sometimes, little expressions are the hardest to remember, but that’s what makes linguistics so fascinating.
And you thought it was just English that the world borrows!”
I also started to notice Scandinavian-sounding words used in America. Take “Häagen Dazs” for example, a pseudo-Scandinavian-sounding name for an American ice cream invented in New York in the 1960s. Or “Danskin”, founded in New York in the 1880s, that expanded to sell imported dance wear in the 1950s. And you thought it was just English that the world borrows!
I complained, however, to the Consulate General of Denmark in New York that a certain brand of “Danish Butter Cookies” was not Danish but a product of India. They wrote me back “…unfortunately we can’t do anything regarding these products.” It’s not like French champagne which is protected by designation of origin. Still, these cookies (given to me as a well-meaning gift) have an aftertaste. I wish the Danes would export real butter cookies for me, tak.
I called her afterwards and told her she missed her opportunity to speak Swedish. “You could have said smörgåsbord of biomarkers.”
An American colleague at the time was presenting a review of a U.S. medical conference and referred to the plethora of oncology biomarkers being discussed. I called her afterwards and told her she missed her opportunity to speak Swedish. “You could have said smörgåsbord of biomarkers.”
I tried to impress her with a few Swedish words I had learned she didn’t understand me. Not so much because of my accent she later confessed, but because she didn’t know if I was speaking English, Danish, or Swedish.”
My manager at the Swedish company was Danish but when I tried to impress her with a few Swedish words I had learned she didn’t understand me. Not so much because of my accent she later confessed, but because she didn’t know if I was speaking English, Danish, or Swedish. I started watching Swedish and Danish movies and TV series on Netflix to get my ear acclimated to the different cadence and pronunciations, but I could only recognize a few words that I learned through my home study.
When I listened in to our CEO’s presentations, I had to remind myself that when he said “Absolut” he was not talking about vodka! When it was my turn to present, I emphasized how I was just beginning to learn Swedish because it’s important for me to know how to say, “Jag skulle vilja ha ett glas öl, tack.” I could see the team laughing via the video call. The CEO acknowledged the importance of my priorities which, in turn, made me laugh. Laughter makes the work more fun.
Margery Rothenberg is a life sciences marketing specialist based in New York
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