Handshakes and cheek kisses in Finland – How about in Vietnam?

In the first autumn term of their studies, students in the English and the Finnish Business Information Technology degree programme take a course called Company’s Business and Personnel. During the course, the students form multicultural teams and find a Finnish company or other organisation to cooperate with in order to learn business management and gain some experience of the Finnish working life. When visiting these organisations, the students conduct interviews, observe business operations and collect material to complete assignments in several other courses they are taking. One of the objectives of the course is to put business and multicultural theory into practice in both daily life and the context of work. In this article, we describe some of the differences between the Finnish and Vietnamese culture as experienced and observed by the participating students.

Authors: Marja Leena Kukkurainen, Minna Ulmala, Linh Vu Viet, Trung Ung Kien & Juan Bravo Zúñiga

Recognising culture in individual and organisational behaviour

Depending on the particular context and what is referred to, the term “culture” can have many definitions. Arguably, however, culture always affects human behaviour. This can be observed and experienced especially when we are exposed to different kinds of cultures. Cultural characteristics often become clearer to most people when they are seen from the perspective of another culture. (O’Neil 2006.)

The concept of organisational culture is the result of all the different ways that the members of an organisation share ideas, values, and expectations within their organisation (Armenakis, Brown & Mehta 2011). Schein (2004) describes organisational culture as a three level phenomenon, which is shown below in Figure 1 based on Armenakis, Brown and Mehta (2011). They also give an overview of other typologies created by different authors who have focused on, for instance, the level of adaptation, participation, balance and ethics in their theory.

Figure 1. The levels of organisational culture (Schein 2004 in Armenakis, Brown & Mehta  2011, 306)

When organisations have performance problems, they also face a challenge to change their culture. Such organisational transformation consists of content (what) and a process (how). In practice, change focuses on artefacts, beliefs, values and assumptions (what), and the related change process (how) is managed by building an organisations readiness to change and by adopting and institutionalising the related cultural change. (Armenakis, Brown & Mehta 2011, 307.)

These cultural aspects are developed within a company and will set guidelines for the work environment. Good habits developed within a particular organisational culture can significantly improve the results delivered by a group of people. At the same time, many other habits might evolve and create cultural aspects that affect the performance of workers. Through good communication and a well-built relationship with workers, a manager can understand specific elements of the group’s culture. These elements can be directly related good performance and be employed to reach greater goals. (Prajogo & McDermott 2010.)

National differences

Hofstede (1980) has some decades ago described the national cultures and the problems that all societies have to deal with (Minkov & Hofstede 2011). The first is power distance which tells about the social inequality and relationships with authority. Second dimension individualism – collectivism tells about the relationship between the individual and the group. Masculinity – femininity dimension tells about the implications of the social (later emotional) consequences having been born as a boy or a girl. Finally the way people deal with uncertainty, how they control aggression and express emotions is cultural behavior. In later editions this was referred to the extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by ambiguous or unknown situations. Hofstede worked later more with these dimensions and introduced the fifth one as long-term – short-term orientation which means how the  people focus their efforts. (Minkov & Hofstede 2011, s. 12-13.) The five dimensions are described in the figure 2.

Figure 2. Cultural differences (by Minkov & Hofstede 2011)

Student experiences

We have analyzed the experiences and observations of the IT students and described the cultural differences they found in six categories between the Finnish and Vietnamese culture. Students were able to recognize differences in working ethics, equality and communication. In Finland the communication is more informal, and more “straight to the  point” –way than in Vietnam.  There were also differences in the way people feel in conflicting situations and how they prefer working in teams. Also there are differences in the openness to express emotions and feelings between genders. In the Vietnamese culture people avoid to show their anger, sadness and discontent. Living together in extended family is more usual in Vietnam than in Finland. More information about the differences are described in the table 1.

Table 1. Differences between the Finnish and Vietnamese culture


The original dimensions of  Hofstede (Hofstede 1980, by Minkov & Hofstede 2011) were easily noticed in this small empirical material. The power distance was recognized by the students in communication with authorities and in equality.  Also individualism – collectivism dimension and uncertainty avoidance were noticed. The Finnish students were perceived to express opinions instead of the Vietnamese who avoid the expression of the negative emotions and also feel scared of facing problems and like to work individually more.

The transformation in the multicultural context as in organizations is always dealing with deep values of the employees. The values and behavior develop during the childhood in our close family.  This is the challenge to managers, teachers and students working in multicultural teams and organizations. We all have to be aware, notice, appreciate and respect the value of our national differences. We need communication and appreciative discussions to learn from each other and to help to express and understand the differences we have in our cultural behavior.



Armenakis, A., Brown, S. & Mehta, A. 2011. Organizational Culture: Assessment and Transformation. Journal of Change Management. Vol. 11 (3), 305-328.

Hofstede, G. 1980. Culture’s Consequences: International Differences in Work Related Values. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.

Minkov, M. & Hofstede, G. 2011. The evolution of Hofstede´s doctrine. Cross Cultural Management: An International Journal. Vol. 18 (1), 10-20.

O’Neil, D. 2006. What is culture? [Online document]. [Cited 1 September 2017]. Available: http://anthro.palomar.edu/culture/culture_1.htm.

Prajogo, D. I. & McDermott, C. M. 2011. The relationship between multidimensional organizational culture and performance. International Journal of Operations & Production Management. [Electronic journal]. Vol. 31 (7), 712-735. [Cited 1 September 2017]. Available: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/01443571111144823.


Marja Leena Kukkurainen, PhD, lecturer, Faculty of Business and Hospitality Management

Minna Ulmala, MSc Computer Science, Senior lecturer in Computer Science, Faculty of Business and Hospitality Management

Linh Vu Viet, Business Information Technology student,   Faculty of Business and Hospitality Management

Trung Ung Kien, Business Information Technology student,   Faculty of Business and Hospitality Management

Juan Bravo Zúñiga, Business Information Technology student,   Faculty of Business and Hospitality Management

Illustration: https://pixabay.com/p-310912/ (CC0)

Published 6.9.2017


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