Culture Smart! Sweden: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture

Sweden is, in many senses, an unspoiled paradise of achingly beautiful archipelagos, forests, mountains, lakes, and coastlines. The surprisingly varied terrain is full of contrasts and contradictions—as is its people.

Swedish society is based on the belief in equality, independence, self-expression, and respect. It is rights-driven, with a strong commitment to maintaining a safe and secure “home of the people.”

Although historically Lutheran, the Swedes today are largely secular and make their life decisions from a non-religious, rational standpoint. This does not mean, however, that they are not spiritual. It is in the natural environment that many Swedes find spiritual fulfillment—in the forests, on the lakes, and in the mountains. For many Swedes, reverence to nature is a kind of religion! And luckily for the Swedes, they are granted a lot of free time – a minimum five weeks’ paid vacation and several public holidays – in which they can enjoy their surroundings.

In the summer months, Swedes make as much of the outdoors as possible with picnics, sports events, or socializing al fresco at sidewalk cafés. Many Swedes are inseparable from nature, which brings them inner peace and harmony. In the winter they go for long walks in the crisp snow, ski along forest tracks, and skate on one of the many frozen lakes, while jogging, hiking, swimming, and picnicking are popular ways to enjoy Sweden’s long, beautiful summer days.

Swedes also make the most of their time outdoors by using locally maintained trails for cross-country skiing, jogging, walking, running, cycling, and horseback riding. In national parks there are trailside huts where hikers can stay for a nominal fee. By law, the “Right to Roam” allows the Swedes nearly unlimited access to any land or waterfront area, whether for mushrooming in the spring and fall, or for boating among the 25,000 islands in the Swedish archipelago. Sweden is also a fisherman’s paradise, with more than 96,000 lakes and a national border that is mainly coastline. As a way to get back to nature, around 1.8 million people own a summer cottage, “sommarstuga” which they will escape to during the long vacation.

So, don’t forget to pack a rucksack and some hiking boots when you visit Sweden – you will easily find somewhere to stop, relax and take in the breathtaking natural landscapes!

Book Details:

    • ISBN: 9781787022881
    • Format: Paperback
    • Page count: 200
    • Dimensions: 170 x 110 x 15mm
    • Published at: £9.99 / $14.99 / CAN $19.99

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Culture Smart! India: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture

All descriptions of “India” or “Indians” can only be offered as a simplification to aid understanding, rather than as a complete representation. That’s both the beauty and the challenge of visiting India – there is little that can be labeled generically as “Indian culture”. And there is little that compares with our own life “back home”, at least beyond the superficial trappings acquired during the British Raj or under the influence of reality tv.

The family is one of the most important and evident of all Indian values. Family in India means the extended family. Whether living under the same roof in the family home or scattered around the globe, family is the entire network of people who are related to each other by blood or marriage.

“If everybody tries together even a mountain can be moved.” – Malayalam proverb.

The extended family maintains and defines social boundaries, ensuring that individuals and single family units stay within the culturally prescribed norms. It is the family that forms identity, where values are passed on and lived out, on whom you depend for life and well-being.

Individuality, autonomy, and independence, highly esteemed values in the West, are antithetical to all that Indians traditionally hold dear. There is no such thing as “my property”, “my space,” or “my decision.” Individuals who act independently are viewed as selfish. Typically those rebels will be corralled through public ridicule or third-party communication.

Relationships and social responsibilities are of prime importance, since no one accomplishes anything on their own. Everything, from mothering and naming your children, to passing exams, and choosing a spouse, is done with the help of family. It’s not uncommon for business people to take time off work to attend the several day-long wedding of what we might see as a distant relative or to participate in a religious event. These things are viewed as acceptable responsibilities, and people feel obligated, if not overjoyed, to participate in them. Active participation in life events help to reinforce family identity and belonging, and ensure that just as you are there for others, they will be there for you.

The intensity and diversity of India can create both shock and awe for visitors that are not likely to subside. India is an experience best appreciated by those who are open to learn, able to cope with ambiguity, and willing to redefine generosity and friendship. Falling in love with India “is much like developing a taste for spicy food. You look at the chilies and don’t know how you’ll cope. But the aroma is enticing, so you dive in. If you don’t give up, one day you’ll discover that you’ve developed a craving for it.”

Culture Smart! India will make you aware of the basic values and behavioural norms you will encounter in India. It will help you navigate cultural differences and connect with real people, and offer many insights into the endlessly fascinating place that is India. Sab kuch milega!

Book Details:

    • ISBN: 9781787029002
    • Format: Paperback
    • Page count: 200
    • Dimensions: 170 x 110 x 15mm
    • Published at: £9.99 / $14.99 / CAN $19.99

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Culture Smart! Iceland: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture

Iceland has erupted onto the travel scene in recent years. With striking views of bubbling turquoise geysers set among rugged snowy peaks, black sand beaches, crashing glacial waterfalls, and the ethereal majesty of the northern lights, one can only wonder what took it so long. But what of the people who call this remote North Atlantic island home? Behind a stoic veneer lies a proud, industrious, and egalitarian people, whose straightforwardness and ability to wing it have seen them thrive in this beautiful but unforgiving environment.

One common phrase you might hear in Iceland is  “verti∂arhugarfar” or “fishing-season mentality”. As any fisherman will tell you, when the season is right and the shoal appears, the time has come to cast your net. And, more than that, cast as many nets as you can, because tomorrow may already be too late. It encapsulates the almost gung-ho manner in which people will make the most of an opportunity that presents itself, to the extent that they may sometimes end up going too far and, in doing so, damage their own prospects of continued success.  Icelanders like to seize the day, and make the most of the present in spite of any perceived risk. We like that approach too!

This mentality is not surprising when you consider the Icelandic concept þetta reddast—pronounced “thetta reddast”—which is used to express the firmly held belief that everything will turn out all right in the end, that it will be so without the need for extensive planning or worry, and that one should be ready to adapt to the circumstances, whatever they require. Translated roughly, it means “everything will work out fine,” and goes some way to explain the Icelandic peoples’ willingness to forgo caution in order to seize opportunities as they arise.

While other cultures are more inclined toward meticulous organisation, the Icelander is more sensitive to the unpredictability of life, so flexibility and a basic optimism that things will turn out for the best are more highly valued. And how could it be otherwise? Iceland is not stable—it is perched on the convergence of two tectonic plates and has more than thirty volcanoes that could erupt at any time. The weather can change dramatically, and the country’s economic health is almost entirely determined by the price of aluminum, fish, and the number of tourists who decide to visit in the year—factors that are largely out of anyone’s control, as the recent pandemic has made abundantly clear.

It was only a couple of generations ago that the majority of Icelanders were farmers and fisherman who were at the mercy of nature and extreme weather conditions, and so, having become highly attuned to uncertainty and the necessity of adaptation, they have developed a more flexible and optimistic attitude toward life and its twists and turns.

Culture Smart! Iceland will equip you with a deeper understanding of your hosts and their complexities, as well as with vital insights to turn your visit into a more enriching experience.

Book Details:

    • ISBN: 9781787029040
    • Format: Paperback
    • Page count: 200
    • Dimensions: 170 x 110 x 15mm
    • Published at: £9.99 / $14.99 / CAN $19.99

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Culture Smart! Italy: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture

It is impossible to be bored in Italy. To excite, delight and stimulate you there is the beauty of the land, the elegance and charm of its people, the variety of its regional cultures, the quality and dash of its design and engineering, the reputation of its artists, sculptors, writers, musicians, and filmmakers, and, of course, the glory of its monuments and architecture.

One of the great pleasures of Italy, though, is eating and drinking. Each region has its individual cooking style and ingredients. In the north black pepper, butter, and rice are the staples. In the south it’s hot red pepper, olive oil, and pasta. In Piedmont scented truffle may be grated over your risotto; Liguria has a pasta sauce of crushed basil and pine nuts called pesto; in Tuscany you may eat freshly caught hare and tomato, or wild-boar sausages; and in Sicily you will be offered the most delicious sardines. Many of these ingredients will have been prepared that day, brought fresh from the market.

Italy’s rich diversity and localism explains why there are more than two thousand names for the huge variety of pasta shapes, and more wine labels – at least four thousand – than anywhere else in the world. Italy has many food festivals, called sagre, where local food is on display.

A full-scale Italian meal is substantial, and so varied that it bears out the adage, l’appetito vien mangiando (the appetite grows with eating). Two main courses are preceded by a starter and followed by cheese, a dessert, and/or fruit. And no one is in a hurry when eating out in Italy! The interval between secondo piatto and the cheese and fruit, followed by dessert and coffee, is the time for leisurely conversation and is what authentic Italian dining is all about.

Like all our guides, Culture Smart! Italy focuses on the people. How do they behave? What makes them tick? What is the best way to get on good terms with them? For that is the real way to enjoy Italy. Buon Appetito!

Book Details:

    • ISBN: 9781787028760
    • Format: Paperback
    • Page count: 200
    • Dimensions: 170 x 110 x 15mm
    • Published at: £9.99 / $12.99 / CAN $17.99

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Culture Smart! France: The Essential Guide to Customs and Culture

Cinema is the youngest art form, just over a hundred years old, and France was its birthplace. France boasts the third-highest cinema attendance in the word after the USA and Japan, both in terms of admissions and revenues.

The success of French movies is partly due to state protection of the industry. A proportion of films must be in French and produced by French production companies (the same goes for music), and because programs cannot be released on DVD until six months after their theatrical release, France is still a nation of cinephiles and cinema-goers.

One of the most famous international film festivals is the annual Cannes Film Festival, and French films and actors also often receive awards internationally. An example was the 2019 historical drama Portrait of a Woman on Fire, which tells the story of a forbidden affair between an aristocrat and a painter commissioned to paint her portrait. Unlike the UK, foreign dramas on French TV tend to be dubbed rather than subtitled.

Delve deeper into what makes the French “different”. Charming, challenging, uncooperative, questioning, and doing things their own way and to their own advantage are all distinctly French traits. But what is it that makes the French so distinctive? And how do you get through to them?

Culture Smart! France will give you insights into the essence of the characteristically strong French national identity so you can make the most of your time in France and better understand the people who have had such historical and cultural influence over Western civilization.

Book Details:

    • ISBN: 9781787029088
    • Format: Paperback
    • Page count: 200
    • Dimensions: 170 x 110 x 15mm
    • Published at: £9.99 / $12.99 / CAN $17.99

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Culture Smart! Bhutan: The Essential Guide to Customs and Culture

Discover the last true Shangri-la – no longer hidden within the folds of the mighty Himalayas.

In Bhutan, mask dances, called “cham”, are performed during a “tshechu” (a religious Buddhist festival), depicting and describing, through movement and music, the teachings of Buddha and the dharma. They are broadly categorized into three distinct themes: dances with moral stories; dances that purify and protect from destructive spirits; and dances that celebrate the triumph of Buddhism and glorify Guru Rinpoche and his deeds.

The dances are a powerful way of bringing Buddhism closer to the people, who largely depend on the clergy for guidance on the spiritual path. The Bhutanese believe that the mere act of watching the “cham” allows the spectators to gain merit and receive a special blessing.

“Atsaras” (clowns) are an interesting feature of the festival ground, frolicking around and entertaining the crowd with their antics, and often brandish a large wooden phallus. Each dance is meaningful, but some, with their dramatic narratives and visual splendor, are particularly popular with the audience.

The “Raksha Marcham”, or the Dance of the Judgement of the Dead, is one of the most interesting mask dances performed at the “tshechus”. The drama unfolds with the dance of the Rakshas, the aides of the God of Death, “Shinje Choekyi Gyalpo”. It is Judgement Day, and the first to appear before the God of Death is a sinner, dressed all in black. His sins outweigh his good actions, and he is sent to hell. Then comes another person, dressed in white, and again, the God hears his deeds. He is found to be virtuous and led to the pure land.

Culture Smart! Bhutan gives you an insight into the country’s history, values, customs, and age-old traditions. It describes the historical circumstances that have shaped the Bhutanese people and their way of life. It debunks some myths and helps you to discover this fascinating country for yourself. It highlights changes in attitudes and behavior as the country modernizes, while offering guidance on how to develop a rapport with the Bhutanese and forge meaningful friendships.

Delve deeper … travel smarter.

Book Details:

    • ISBN: 9781787029088
    • Format: Paperback
    • Page count: 200
    • Dimensions: 170 x 110 x 15mm
    • Published at: £9.99 / $12.99 / CAN $17.99

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Culture Smart! Ghana: The Essential Guide to Customs and Culture

“You cannot tie a knot without using your thumb” – Ghanaian proverb.

In Ghana, relationships are the most valued of possessions. The idea that you can live next to a neighbor for years without knowing their name, as can happen in the West, is entirely alien to Ghanaians.

Rather, mutual help, collective responsibility, and reciprocal obligations are all regarded as important, and observers of Ghanaian life often remark on the strong sense of community found there.

A babysitter is never needed; people work together on communal farming projects, wealth is shared, and the elderly are never left to become lonely or isolated. So valued are relationships that a man will forego half of his evening meal and even his wife’s place in his bed should he receive an unexpected guest.

These communal values are extended to all, locals and visitors alike, so on your trip be prepared to receive numerous invitations to meals, parties, and even distant hometowns. If you have time to accept the invitation, it is a great opportunity to become more acquainted with Ghanaian culture and, more than likely, will mark the start of a new friendship.

Ghana is highly recommended for those seeking a different kind of vacation; a visit to this country can be both eye-opening and life-changing.

Visitors are warmly welcomed, but Ghanaians require them to be sympathetic to their customs and beliefs, and will have no hesitation in saying, “We don’t do that here,” should a faux-pas be made or a taboo broken.

It’s important for Ghanaians that they, and their guests, observe certain cultural rules and codes of conduct. Culture Smart! Ghana describes these rules, explains where they come from, and offers the reader an opportunity to get under the skin of Ghanaians and enjoy all that this beautiful country has to offer.

Show Ghanaians and their culture respect and you will, without a doubt, be made to feel welcome. Akwaaba!

For more on the culture and customs of Ghana, read our guide.

Book Details:

    • ISBN: 9781787022720
    • Format: Paperback
    • Page count: 200
    • Dimensions: 170 x 110 x 15mm
    • Published at: £9.99 / $12.99 / CAN $17.99

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