As you will read, Adelyine is from Singapore, married to a Danish man, and presently living in Dubai. In this lovely article, she shares her cultural clash with her husband on Christmas Hygge. Thanks a lot Adelyne, and Merry Christmas!
When living in a foreign country or working across borders, it can be such a maze to manoeuvre around social etiquette. What seems perfectly fine behaviour in one country will seem disrespectful in another culture. Image that you are married to one from a very different culture from yours. You live, breath and get tested on your cultural competences on a daily basis. It feels like I have been a cross-cultural intern for the last 20+ years!
Being married to a Danish husband can be liberating since I have always been somewhat different from my traditional culture. I didn’t have to live up to any expectations because he embraces me everyday the way I am. On the other hand, we have to live the challenges of the cultural gap. Our biggest clashes usually ends up with me saying: “Why don’t you understand that?” His argument is always: “I don’t understand what the fuss is about!”
This is our latest Christmas episode and depending on which cultural dimension you are on, you might say: “Why didn’t he understand it?” or you might say: “What’s the big deal?”
We are having 2 couples over for Christmas “hygge”, which is a Scandinavian word and loosely translated means a mood of “cosiness” and a feeling of contentment. I thought it would be nice to buy some beautiful Christmas date boxes from Bateel to be given to the guests. So Mr Danish went out and bought 6 small beautifully, individually wrapped date boxes to be placed on the plates, whereas Mrs Singaporean would have liked 2 big generous boxes to be given to each couple. Are you seeing the cultural clash yet?
If we look beneath the surface of the cultural iceberg, Mr Danish’s value is “hygge”, beautifully wrapped box to be placed on the plate for the guests when they arrive. The most important element of “hygge” is the ambience. His cultural dimension is individualism, which shows up that the present is given to each person and not to the couple. For Mrs Singaporean, the gift of the little box is in contrast to the value of abundance when gifting to important/special guests. Especially when it is a gift of food, it should be abundance. From the cultural dimension perspective, collectivism in this case means giving the gift of food to the family and not individually. This is how we ended up in an argument: “This small box looks really stingy!” and the other says: “This small box is very nice and cute for each one to bring home!”
Understanding the cultural values that drive our behaviour can usually diffuse conflict and frustration. Since all my dinner guests are Europeans, I’m going to take a deep breathe and enjoy my Christmas “hygge” instead of getting upset over the small beautifully wrapped date boxes.