Ciencias sociales. Hall's theory. Hoftede's dimensions. Masculinity. Femininity. Uncertainty avoidance. Power distance. Collectivism. Individualism

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Baltic Sea Region

Comparing Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania

Student: ____________________

Professor: _____________________


In this essay I will speak about communication, comparing four regions from the Baltic Sea: Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. As we saw during the lectures, these four regions are linked in some aspects, but they diverged in others. Although they are all in the Baltic Sea Region, they have different history, different traditions and different culture. As E.T. Hall said, culture is communication, so they have also different ways to communicate.

They have differences in their communication styles, the kind of verbal and non-verbal communication, different positions in Hoftedes dimension, etc. All these points are what I would like to compare during this essay. This specific information we received about these regions during lectures was very useful for understand better these cultures, “the comprise system of shared ideas, system of concepts and rules and meanings that underline and are expressed in the way that humans live”. So, all customs, behaviours, etc. that each professor spoke about in lectures, are the best way (if you can not have direct contact with them) for understand these Baltic cultures and distinguish differences between them.


The work is divided into the main topics (as Hostedes dimensions for example) and into this main section I will speak about the situation of each region, comparing them between each other.

Communication styles (Bennet) and E.T. Hall´s theory:

High context communication: The context is the important in a conversation. Is an indirect communication. Monologues are common. Eastern way of communication. Normally they are cultures with high uncertainty avoidance and power distance.

Low context communication: the giving information is the important, direct communication. Dialogues (interruptions). Western way of communication.

The communication style in Estonia is mainly a high context communication. The context is more important than the giving information (indirect communication). People speak faster, interrupting each other and like this, they do not finish the sentences. Once you realized what are they speaking about, you do not have to listen everything (a lot of details), because they repeat each ones opinion.

In Finland, we can find characteristics of both communication styles: In a conversation, the important is what they are saying and no the context, only the result of thinking is expressed (high contact). They do not interrupt each other when they are talking (listening and to be silent are important). When a Finnish is speaking, he goes directly to the point (direct communication, low contact) and to be critic is OK.

Lithuanians have also average context communication. They have a Germanic style; they use monologues, general truths and statements (high context). But they avoid conflicts and try to convince the opponent (low context). They achieve common goal and try to work together (collectivist).

In Latvia, they follow official discourses when they explain something, because they explain thing in terms of ethnicity (high context, detached and intellectual confrontation). The distinction among the in-group and the out-group is really big in this country (high context culture). Or the indirect way for communicate is more common than the direct one.

Comparing with Spain, Spanish communication is considered high context. It is an indirect communication; we use the non-verbal communication codes a lot. Although they also interrupt each other, is not as in Estonia, in Spain the message is important, has a big weight in the dialogue.

As a conclusion, I will say that all cultures have characteristics of high and low context communication styles. But I think that in Finland, Lithuania and Latvia monologues are more common. They are more “patient” and others opinions are more taken into account. Estonia is more similar to Spain, where “how shout more has more reason”. In general, I think that in Estonian communication (as in the Spanish one), the context has more importance, but dialogues (where we use long introductions) are more common than monologues.

But other characteristic I see among these Baltic Sea Regions is that although they have some characteristics of high context cultures, they do not use nonverbal codes a lot and verbalized details are more common in all of them. This is the biggest difference between them and Spain, where as in Italy, hands and face expressions are very common.

Hoftede´s dimensions:

Masculinity / Femininity:

Masculine culture: these cultures believe in achievement and ambition. Sex roles are differentiated.

Feminine cultures: They paid more attention to environment, the individual, etc. and social values are important. They prefer gender equality and there are less prescriptive roles behaviours associated with each gender.

Estonians are very masculine culture, as most of the poor countries. That means they give importance to the work, to the development in the job to get until the top, etc. and they give less importance to environment or to the individual. The division of gender roles in Estonian society is quite strong. Men have they roles and also have women, and both accepted this division. Although Estonian women work outside, is not bad seen among women to get at home and have a family. Also feminism is bad seen among Estonians, especially among women. The same happens in Spain. I think both cultures are quite conservative and although new generations are changing this mentality, still gender roles are very defined in both cultures.

Lithuania and Latvia are also masculine cultures. As an example, I find in Internet some text about Feministic modern art. Feminist artists in both countries say that they are still bad seen among the inhabitants of these two countries. As in Estonia, the feministic movement is bad seen also in Latvia and Lithuania. Gender roles are quite defined and separated in both countries. They also give more importance to grow in work than to the environment for example.

I think that this is common in poor countries. The same is happening in Spain, and especially in the south, where there are more poor than in the north. But in Spain, as in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, new generations have more open mind, they have more modern world view, and for them differences among genders are not so big. Also in big cities people accept more the gender equality than in small town, where people used to be more traditional.

Finland is the most feministic country among these four we research during lectures. Finland has more feminine values: they pay more attention to the environment and they work (also the Welfare State) for get gender equality. I think Finland is in this aspect more close to Sweden and the other Baltic Countries than to Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania. The better economic position of Finland has also something to do in this. I mean, Finland is not as poor as the other three countries and is more common in richer countries to have more feministic values than in poor ones.

But I also think that the big amount of women (there are more than men) in Finland has something to do with this. In my opinion, the economy in Finland needs more women, because they are few men. And because women are more integrated in the labour market, feministic ideas are also more accept in this society.

Uncertainty avoidance and power distance:

It refers to the extent to which a culture feels threatened by ambiguous, uncertain situations and tries to avoid them by establishing more structure. High uncertainty avoidance means these cultures have low tolerance for ambiguity and a culture with less uncertainty avoidance believe in accepting and encouraging dissenting views among cultural members and in taking risks and trying new things.

Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia are countries with high uncertainty avoidance. They try to avoid conflicts because they take uncertainty. If we look back to their history, we will see that they just go out from an imposed country (Russia). They have lived a lot of changes and uncertain moments in a close past. They are beginning to modernize and they have a high rate of change. It is also normal in these cultures to develop many rules to control social behaviours (less tolerance for ambiguity) and avoid the uncertainty.

Can be said that Finland is an exception. The uncertainty avoidance here is quite low in comparison with the other three countries. It depends on people, there are some people that prefer to take risks and others prefers stability. But as I could realise in my five months here, they like rules and they follow them, so they have quite low uncertainty avoidance. This lower rate of uncertainty avoidance shows that Finland has reached the level of modernization more than the other three countries and that their rate of change is more stable and predictable.

Power Distance:

It reflects the degree to which a culture believes how institutional and organizational power should be distributed (equally or unequally) and how the decision of the power holders should be viewed (challenged or accepted).

And about power distance we can say there is a high power distance in Estonia. There is hierarchy in the work, in the society… The same happened in Lithuania. We can see it in family customs for example: the father, the head of the family, sat in the place of honour, and the oldest son in the opposite chair. This shows hierarchy in the family. Or we can mention another example from Latvia, where the distance between the professor and student could be see in the use of formal language between them. Or that is impolite to interrupt the teacher when is speaking to make questions. Something similar happened in Spain. The son/daughter have to show respect to parents, or in some Universities (especially in the private ones) is used the formal language. But in these four countries new generations have other mentality, more modern worldview. This could be seeing for example in the change of these customs or behaviours. Nowadays, to speak in formal language to your parents is not so common, or to use it when you speak to the teacher. These customs are changing, and with them less hierarchy appeared in the relations between people.

But one again Finland is an exception. Finland has not so much inequalities in society, so it has low power distance. Could be said that social classes almost do not exist in Finland. One of the predictors of the low power distance is the distribution of wealth. The Welfare State works for equal distribution of wealth, and this results on more equality. Low populated countries also used to have less power distance.

Collectivism / individualism:

These two cultural patterns are linked to the ideology and political issues. People could see themselves as primarily as individuals or as members of a bigger group. This is linked also to the power distance index. Cultures with a high power distance tend to be more collectivistic, whereas cultures with low power distance are normally more individualistic. Collectivistic cultures are also more oriented thought the East, while Western orientation is more linked to individualistic cultures.

Like in most of the countries, the countryside of Estonia is more collectivist than the city. But in general, although in Estonian literature is said they are collectivists, Estonians considered themselves as individualists. But new theories say individualism and collectivism have different dimensions. In this sense, a person could be more collectivist when is in a group, and individualist when he feel himself as an individual person. It has said Estonians are more collectivist in companionship (with friends, with family…). The same happened with Latvia and Lithuania. But maybe Latvians are more collectivists than Lithuanians. I get this conclusion because in collectivistic cultures there is larger psychological distance between in-group and out-group. In-group members are expected to have more loyalty to the group and in the lecture about Latvia the professor explained how important was their ethnic group for Latvians. For example, when they interview any politician in media, they do not make difficult questions to him, not to get bad all the nation.

I also think that these three countries were inside the Soviet Union since little time ago. So this collectivistic mentality (Eastern orientation) still has to have influence in these cultures. However, they are trying to change and forget this past and new generations are the best way for doing it. Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia are (as most of the cultures) developing through a more feminine, individualistic and less power distance culture (Western orientation).

However, Finland is a highly individualistic country. Wealthy cultures used to be individualistic. The Sisu, or the effort Finnish do until getting what he/she want, could be a good reason to say Finnish are competitive and that a personals goals and individual autonomy are important in this culture. Equality or individual rewards are also important in Finland and inequalities (among social classes or men/women) are not very large in this country.

Non-verbal Communication:

It is the amount of all non-verbal stimulus used in a communicative process by the individual and the individual's use of environment. Every non-verbal stimulus gives an intentional or unintentional message. This non-verbal behaviour is learned (as a culture) and is passed on from one generation to the other. It also involves shared understanding.

Types of non-verbal communication: general appearance and dress; body movements; facial expressions; eye contact and gaze; touch; smell; paralanguage; space and distance; time and silence.

  • General appearance and dress: In some countries, as in Latvia, to dress formally is important for example in Universities. However, one of the topics about Finland is that they dress too informally. Is usual to make judgments about people based on how attractive we think they are. But these judgements are subjective and they depend on culture.

  • Body movements: All cultures have some system for understanding the meaning of movement. But the body movements (to use hand for example) in these four countries are not as common as in Spain or Italy for example.

  • Facial expressions: To show emotions by facial expressions is not common in Finland or in Estonia (I do not have information about Latvia and Lithuania, but I suppose that is similar). Smiling is not common in both countries and a Finnish will express more easily sad feelings than happy ones.

  • Eye contact and gaze: It was one of the things I first realized when I came to Finland, that I do not cross the look with almost nobody. In Spain is more common to cross the look with people you cross in the street.

  • Touch: In these Baltic countries is common to touch a person when you know him (a friend, familiar, etc.), but not a lot if it is the first time you see him. For example in Spain, when you met a new person, is common to give two kisses. But in Finland they give the hand. This duration, frequency and location of the touch are largely culturally based.

  • Smell

  • Paralanguage: Speaking laud is not common in Finland, but is more common in Estonia, Lithuania or Latvia. Vocal variations have different meanings in different cultures.

  • Space and distance: If a Bus is empty and there is only one person inside, the new traveller will sit down in the other corner of the Bus and not near the first traveller. This will happen in the four cultures we see in this course. But maybe not in Spain. If a Finnish do that, he will maybe violate the space of the first traveller. Responses to violation of personal space are based on individual and cultural factors.

  • Time: Cultures see and perceived time in very different ways. In Finland time is future oriented and as the most of Northern European countries, they are more monochromic: they are patient, they have strict time tables, they are punctual, work-centric, etc. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are not totally polychromic cultures, but they are not as punctual, introvert, quiet or patient. Orientation towards time is more important in Finland than in the other three countries, where they are more personal oriented.

  • Silence: This is important for the four cultures, but in different way in each one. Estonians are quite direct talking and they appreciate to be silent as the privacy of each one. But they also like discussion, but when you do not have anything to say is OK to be quiet. In Finland, as in many Eastern cultures, the use of silence is common and preferred form of communication. However, in Spain normally silence is seen as non-functional and they speak during the interaction.

  • Non-verbal communication is important because studying other cultures non-verbal patterns can help us to identify our own ethnocentric attitudes (and I think I learn about it since I am in Finland). And we also have to take into account that non-verbal behaviour do not occur in isolation but rather within a complex communication process that have a lot to do with the theories we see before.

    In lectures have being said that Estonians really do not know how to use the non-verbal communication. I think the non-verbal communication is an universal way for communicate and that has different ways to appeared in each culture, as we see in the paragraphs below. But every culture needs non-verbal codes and messages.


    It is difficult to make one general conclusion and to say which countries are more similar in general and which ones are more different. All of them have similarities and differences between them and during this essay I try to compare them in concrete subjects.

    But I see one general difference between them: Finland is more developed and richer country and that makes the difference. When we saw Hoftede's dimensions we saw how in Finnish culture was more feministic, individualistic and how it has lower power distance and uncertainty avoidance.

    However, when we spoke about the way they have to communicate, I realized how these four cultures have much more things in common between them than comparing them with Spain, for example. They are Baltic cultures. And although Finland is more developed and more Eastern oriented, the other three cultures are changing little by little and new generations are promoters of this change. They are trying to enter in the European Union, and this measure is asking them to develop, not only economically, but also in social aspects. In this way, these three countries are developing toward more individualistic, feminine and less power distance countries.

    In my opinion, in a close future these four countries will be more linked and the differences between their cultures will also diminish.