The word ‘culture’ is not unproblematic. Experts and academics often do not agree with each other on how to define it. Anthropologists may say one thing, sociologists have another description, psychologists something else. This can be confusing for those of us talking about or discussing the intricacies of ‘culture’.
Typically, experts have defined culture as a ‘thing’ – a set of rules, a set of behaviours, a shared way of doing things. This is fine as a definition, but somewhat limited and uncontemporary. This definition ascribes ‘culture’ with a static quality and does not allow for the changing, flexible nature of groups of people.
In former days, when people didn’t travel as much internationally, when there was less interaction across national borders, when there was less global influence on local matters, when technology did not exist to encourage remote contact, when people stayed in one place, it might have been appropriate to describe a culture as a static ‘thing’. In other words, to describe the behaviours and attitudes of a group of people identified by the borders of their nation. Eg, Swedish culture is like this…Swedes are like this…
But I’m afraid this doesn’t work anymore. Thanks to migration, immigration, internationalisation and individual travel, we are subjected to different influences and attitudes. These differences are integrated into our societies and our societies change. So ‘culture’ is not a static concept. It is constantly changing. It is always in flux. It is not a fixed thing, but a fluid thing.
This is why I try to describe what we are experiencing as a process of ‘culturing’. We are forming our realities together. We are constructing our societies and our groups. We are navigating and negotiating with each other constantly. This is why different groups of people do things differently – they have ‘cultured’ differently. But it’s not written in stone – it changes.
And this is why, for me, racism is defunct. It’s unavoidable that there are diverse people with different perspectives in a community. And it’s this diversity that keeps us continuously ‘culturing’.
Interesting description of the origins of the Swedish word for drinking a cup of coffee – ‘fika’.
In the 1800’s it was weirdly fashionable to invert words. For example, ‘gata’ might have become ‘agat’ or ‘roligt’ might have become ‘igtrol’.
The slang word for coffee at that time was kaffi.
And when this is inverted, it becomes ……. FIKA!!
Sunny holidays. Weight loss. Healthy eating.
All of the above are currently hot topics in Sweden. Maybe this is not so surprising after the Christmas break, but there is another reason why this is interesting.
Are you familiar with the term ‘glocalization’? The term was made popular in the 90’s by sociologist Roland Robertson and describes the adaptation of a product or service specifically to each locality or culture in which it is sold. The goal of course is to make the product or service more attractive in order to sell more. The method of glocalization is a smart way to meet local needs and at the same time expand business globally. In some ways, it is the opposite of Americanization – which just applies one business model and product wherever in the workd it is. More and more companies are attempting to expand their business in the way of glocalization.
One example of glocalization is the dominant advertizing in a specific region or country. The advertized products or services that most appeal to the locals reflects what the locals perceive as interesting and important. The type and content of the adverts often reflect the attitudes and values of the society. One example I remember is when I was standing on an underground platform in Stockholm a while ago, and I was confronted by huge adverts containing lots of naked backsides, of all shapes, sizes and genders. In the UK, this would probably not occur, but in Sweden, there is a more relaxed attitude to and acceptance of nudity.
Glocalized advertizing is often seasonal. A short glimpse in newspapers, tv, Internet or billboards around Sweden tells us what the locals prioritize at this time of the year – holidays! Almost everywhere you look, there is an advert promoting a sunny break away from the dark and the cold of the Scandinavian winter. The second most common advert at the moment seems to be weight loss -an apparent necessity for getting into that swimsuit on that quickly-approaching sunny holiday.
Another illustration of glocalization is actual adaptation of products. For example, the way in which hamburger chain McDonald’s changes its menu and promotions to appeal to local tastes. In France, for example, they replaced their Ronald McDonald mascot with Asterix the Gaul, a local cartoon character. When in Spain a few years ago, I noticed that McDonald’s had McTapas on their menu. Currently, in Sweden, the food chain is marketing ‘fullkorn’ (wholegrain) burger bread. This clearly appeals to the Swedish consumers’ health interests and the prevailing trend of slow carbohydrates but I’m guessing that they don’t market this kind of bread in, for example, India.
What might we see next if McDonald’s takes glocalization to a Swedish extreme? The festive McSilvia Burger Royale? The homely McTastyMeatballs? The appetizing Mc Filet-of-Herring? or the absolutely delicious McPalt?