Writing and culture

What I’m listening to (at the moment):

Writing:

This is my first post, I was encouraged by a friend of mine here in Sweden (where I live currently) to start writing about what I’ve read, learned, experienced and so on through my (oh so) interesting life that I get to live. (Yes that was sarcasm, and yes, I believe we need a sarcasm punctuation, not necessarily that one but you get the idea).

Now, I’ve always felt awkward at writing things down, I read a lot (from various sources), but I never felt that gave me the right to write things myself, that my opinion should matter so much that it should be written down and available for review (either by me or others). Maybe that’s based on my (many) insecurities or maybe it’s true and I’m just obnoxious by writing this down. Either way I hope this can be a learning experience for me, that I will learn to actually like what I write, and that I will write more, as I do think I am seriously lacking experience in that domain. Be it emails, letters, cards, instant messages, texts (yes, even emojis) I’ve always found myself limited in writing. This won’t change just by writing a few words in a post on the internet somewhere, but I hope it can open up my possibilities to the use of this medium of expressing myself.

So far, so good, but to get on with the title (I wrote the title before writing the article, I’m not sure if I’m supposed to do that but I felt like it would inspire me and direct me in my writing, which I guess is a good thing, right? oh insecurities, here you creep in again; also, how can a parenthesis be? I diverse yet again). So, about culture: this is a subject that inspires me because I think about it often and am often reminded of it constantly (or at least I feel that way).

Culture:

First, the definition of culture:

the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.

or

the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.

(both definitions taken from Google by typing “define: culture” so they probably come from Wikipedia)

I’m not sure which definitions I’d be talking about mainly, as I believe both ideas are linked: “collectively” and “society” are two ideas defining what I would more commonly call a “group”, and I also think in both definitions we find the idea of what the people have come up with together: either art and achievements (that denote human intellect) or ideas, customs and social behaviour. In a sense, the definition I would give is: “What a group spontaneously does when being together” which is definitely not a better definition by any standards, but that’s how I like to think about culture.

I’ve been reading a lot about “Company Culture” lately and its different meanings and how to create it and how to maintain it and so on. So far, I think company culture is summed up nicely in a quote that is posted on a wall in our office:

Culture is leadership when the leaders have left the office

This goes well with my own definition if you replace “office” by “group” because then it becomes more general, the idea now is that people, when in a group setting, naturally come to an understanding of sorts and create culture by doing things (like creating ideas, crafts, rules, customs, etc.) together. I believe that whenever there is a group, there is leadership, for a group cannot function properly without leadership. The leadership doesn’t have to be a single leader, but I think there is always leadership because there is always going to be “Influencers” in a group, and as long as some people are being influenced, they are being led. And I don’t think a group can function (or at least not well) without leadership because I’ve experienced it first hand and it was painful for all those involved.

I also want to talk about Culture in the sense of the second definition, that is, in the sense of society’s culture, or the culture of the group that is around us that contains mainly people we don’t know, i.e citizens of the same place where we live, and/or citizens from the place where we are from. This is the kind of culture that I am more interested in, even if the group culture is also interesting to me. This culture is the one that tells me to say “Tack!” in Sweden whereas I would say “Merci!” where I’m from (as you’ve might have guessed: France) but also “Danke! Thank you! Grazzie! Gracias!” wherever I go and wherever I learn to say it. No I’m not merely talking about language (although I could probably say a lot about language too, and I probably will, because I love talking about language), but I’m talking about adapting to the culture around you.

I’ve been living here in Sweden for 7 months now, which actually doesn’t feel that long but it’s also the longest I’ve ever lived outside of France (for the record: 5 months in Montreal, 3 months in Geneva, 2 months in Berlin, and countless trips to my family in England where it almost feels like I’ve lived there for at least a few months) and I, of course, have noticed significant differences in the culture here versus France, some are apparent, like how everyone queues for everything everywhere (even if Stockholm is less like that than outside the city, it’s still a lot more than Paris), some I’ve had to make mistakes before realising it (like how nobody talks about race/origin/immigration issues and topics here in Sweden because it’s taboo). I have found that I will not change who I am to fit in to the culture (I will still take great pride in the fact that I grew up in France and that I speak the most beautiful language in the world: French), but I believe in adapting to the culture nonetheless (I will stay nicely in the queue and try not to complain to much anytime I can).

So to conclude this little writing excercise I’ve forced upon myself: I think people should try to adapt to the culture around them, but they should also contribute. When in a small group setting (like an office of 20–25 people), being known as the Frenchman and bringing croissants every now and then is not the hardest thing to live through. Maybe they can benefit from getting to know you and learning about your culture through your experience and who you are as a person from that culture (instead of only believing/knowing in the stereotypes that come with that culture). And maybe you can learn a thing or two from the group culture too.

I think culture defines us, but we also get to define culture for other people.

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