Safe From Harm #6:
A World Scout Moot is a meeting place of many cultures
The Moot encourages meetings between individuals from different cultures, religions, countries, and contingents. You will get to know people who live outside your own local community, and discover that strangers can become friends. The Moot is a place where a number of different cultures come together.
Different cultures have different norms, and what you do affects others. This module will discuss cultural differences with an emphasis on Icelandic culture and the Icelandic people. Welcome to Iceland!
It is important to be aware of how your behaviour may affect other people. Our cultural background influences our actions and interpretations of what is happening around us. Most of the time we are not aware our own way of thinking or acting, since it is the normal to us.
To people from a different cultural background, however, our actions may seem rude or inappropriate. At the Moot, where many cultures will meet, we should be aware of how we treat others, how we speak to each other, what kind of jokes we tell, and of our body language. One way of minimizing the probability of misunderstandings due to different cultural backgrounds is to ask before you act.
Values and norms
Differences in values and norms originate from what we believe to be important. For example, which do we believe to be more important, the family or the individual? Is it more important to be successful or happy? Is religion a private matter, or the concern of society? Is a society mainly agricultural or post-industrial? These are only some of the factors that influence our values.
It is important that we understand and respect other people’s cultures and values. Some aspects of this may become visible during the Moot and we must be aware of this.
For more information, a good source to consult is Inglehart-Welzel Cultural Map of the World.
Here are some examples of cultural aspects that influence behaviour:
In some cultures, it is considered appropriate for men and women to wear shorts and sleeveless tops; whereas in others, such clothes are considered too revealing and people are almost completely covered. Please be sensitive to this when changing clothes for activities, and dress modestly so as not to cause offence.
If you visit an Icelandic swimming pool, you will notice that everyone is required to wash in a public area, without swimwear, before entering the pool. Icelanders learn from a young age that it is normal to undress and shower with persons of the same sex. This can, however, be a problem for people not used to this routine.
Some cultures are very informal, whereas others are very formal, particularly concerning intergenerational relations and relations between the sexes. Some behaviours may be regarded as disrespectful, although they may merely be the result of a lack of sensitivity. If in doubt, adopt more form behaviour, for example avoiding hugs and kisses, if you are not sure how the other person will react.
Icelanders in general are very informal. The reason for this may be that Iceland is a small country where everybody knows everybody else (no, not literally), and ever since the settlement of the country, the custom has been to refer to people by their first names. This remains the case today, and Icelanders even refer to the President of Iceland, Guðni Jóhannesson, as Guðni, rather than Mr. Jóhannesson.
Icelanders also tend to be very direct and, as a result, may sometimes appear a bit rude. They tend to get straight to the point, forgoing introductory pleasantries, when communicating with one another.
Cultural differences are evident in dining habits. For example, in some cultures it may be the norm to say a blessing before meals. In some cultures, people eat with their hands, whereas in others they use chopsticks or cutlery.
Often, culinary culture is under religious influences, and some religions include prohibitions concerning the consumption of particular foods or beverages. When sharing a meal with individuals that have been brought up in a different culture, you should take their customs and religious background into consideration.
During the Moot you may be offered traditional Icelandic foods with which you are unfamiliar, such as fermented shark, dried fish, or skyr. We hope you will enjoy!
In Scouting, there should be equal opportunities for all members — male and female – although views on how best to achieve this may differ among cultures.
In some contingents, male and female Scouts share tents, while in others they are segregated. For Icelandic Scouts it is normal for males and females to share tents.
The Moot is organized with a view to gender equality, as Iceland ranks at the top of World Economic Forum’s list on gender equality throughout the world. In addition, the world’s first democratically elected female president was Ms. Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, President of Iceland from 1980 to 1996. The world’s first openly gay prime minister, Ms. Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, was also Icelandic.
It is important to be aware that what is considered correct or appropriate may vary between religions. This concerns such matters as food, clothing, and symbols. For example, in the case of different religions, special consideration is often required concerning food, clothing, and rituals. If someone does something that is considered wrong or inappropriate within your faith, it is most likely that he or she is unaware of this, and that is doing it without any bad intentions.
The Icelandic population is at present overwhelmingly Lutheran, although there are also Catholic and other Christian denominations, as well as several non-Christian minority religious groups. The largest non-Christian religion in Iceland is Germanic Neopaganism (Ásatrú), a modern form of the ancient Norse religion.
Cultural differences exist concerning the amount of interpersonal distance considered appropriate and comfortable during normal conversation. Another factor is the extent to which it is considered normal to touch another person during conversation. For example, whether it is OK to hold hands or pat another person on the head. Buddhists, for example, consider the latter example highly offensive.
Even though Iceland is the most sparsely populated country in Europe, with 330 000 inhabitants inhabiting an area of 103 000 km2 (40 000 square miles), there are no general rules on what distance to maintain between people. If you are unsure, ask, as this is the safest way of not insulting anyone. Likewise, if you are uncomfortable with the behavior of somebody else towards you, let him or her know.
Concept of time
Being on time means different things to different people, and may reflect cultural differences. It can mean everything from arriving five minutes before the scheduled time to two hours later. Differences in views about this can be a source of conflict.
It is often said that Icelanders are never on time, and are always late, but that when help is needed, they will be the first to arrive. This is partly due to cultural factors, as, historically, Icelandic farmers and fishermen had to (and to a large extent still must) be flexible and prepared to change their plans according to the weather and other vagaries of nature. HOWEVER … at the Moot we urge everyone to be on time for all activities, be it work or leisure. It is extremely important that everyone respect the schedule to ensure a positive Moot experience for all.
Our cultural background influences our interpretation of what is happening around us. Different cultures have different norms and values. Examples of aspects that may differ from culture to culture and lead to misunderstanding are:
- Dress code
- Personal space
- Concept of time
At the Moot, you may find other examples of cultural differences that affect people’s behaviour. Just remember to keep an open mind and use the opportunity to learn from other cultures, as well as to teach people from other backgrounds about your own cultural heritage and customs.