A Place of Globalization
Cross-Cultural Cooperation between Estonian and Norwegian Business People in Tallinn
Kari Helene Partapuoli
Thesis presented for the Cand. Polit. degree at the Institute of Social Anthropology, University of Tromsø, November 1998. Revised: Copenhagen, August 1999
"For me Estonia is the area of land on the shore of the Baltic Sea where our ancestors settled. A place on the earth that with its variability and uniqueness makes one wonder, at the same time, about the diversity and the similarity of the whole world." (Ann Tenno, Estonian photographer).
This thesis sets out to describe and explain what it involves to do business in a Norwegian-Estonian cross-cultural setting, in a situation where Norwegian (and Western) business is expanding into Estonian markets, and more generally, the former Eastern Block. It is based on fieldwork in Tallinn from February to August 1996 among Norwegian-Estonian companies, and thus reflects a specific phase in the ongoing transformation of Estonian society. In the spring of 1996 Estonia had been an independent nation for five years and had during that time experienced extensive economic and social reforms. Since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 the country had also received considerable economical and political attention from the USA and the Western European countries in form of financial investments and developmental programs. Estonia in 1996 was a country which was adjusting to its new and still changing institutions and social structure. It was viewed by the West as a progressive country, suitable for profitable investments. This study will focus on how global processes influenced the cooperation between Norwegian and Estonian business people in Tallinn.
Anthropologists and sociologists have in latter years focused on the transnational flow of capital, business people and consequently business cultures as an aspect of the more universal processes of globalization that are currently taking place in the world. The increasingly world-wide cross-cultural business cooperation and communication raises many issues, not all of them purely economical. Most importantly, perhaps, it involves the interplay between truly global processes (such as capital flow) and local adaptation to such processes. When, as in the case here examined, a translocal flow of individual people takes place (as opposed to a flow of money or technology), the extra-economic aspects of business relations are clearly of the greatest importance. An anthropological study of these themes may hope to reveal specific discrepancies and correspondences between global, translocal and local business cultures as experienced by business people operating in cross-cultural environments.
The collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 obliterated the almost fifty year old division between communist and capitalist blocks in Europe, and parts of what had till then been the territory of the Soviet Union and its satellite states in Eastern and Central Europe, became major areas of interest for Western (and Norwegian) business life(1). The knowledge that people from the former Soviet Union and Western Europe had of each other during the Cold War was limited and often misleading. As a result of the now extensive contact between «East» and «West», the amount of mutual knowledge and understanding has increased dramatically. However, many misconceptions and prejudices concerning how people from the Western and the Eastern hemisphere think and live still exist. As contact has developed the need for information has increased as well. This is especially apparent when people engage in personal cooperation with real issues at stake like «doing business together». The shared and divergent understandings that the various actors involved in such cooperation have, of «how one does business» and how one creates a «suitable environment» for doing business, are of the greatest importance in the daily operation of a cross-cultural firm.
Norwegian business people come from a cultural business context considered to be Western and capitalistic, even though Norway (population 4 million) has a social-democratic system of government(2)that is often referred to as the «third way» (Hill 1993:177) and thus has a quite extensively planned economy. Norway is also one of the few countries in Western Europe, together with Iceland, Luxembourg and Switzerland, which has chosen to stay out of the European Union (EU). After the discovery of the North-Sea oil deposits, Norway has also become one of the richest countries in the Western world. Estonia, in contrast, is a former Soviet national republic which is now adapting to independent nationhood and a market economy. Estonia's national policy is based on a strong free market orientation including low public subsidies and liberal laws on the import and export of goods. The country, as the first of the Baltic states, has started membership negotiations with EU. While Estonia was part of the Soviet Union, poverty as a social phenomenon was nearly unknown, although scarcity was virtually omnipresent. The radical changes towards a market economy after liberation have on the one hand brought forward desired changes such as free travel, access to a variety of goods and freedom of the press. The termination of national subsidies, inflation and unemployment were, on the other hand, some of the negative factors of the reforms. The income level for many Estonians has been reduced after independence. A report worked out by the Norwegian research institute Fafo concludes that ten percent of the Estonian population was living below the subsistence minimum in 1995 (Grøgaard 1996:127-129). The ambiguity of the situation affected the cooperation between Norwegian and Estonian business people.
During my fieldwork, when I observed Norwegian and Estonian business people «doing business» together, it seemed clear (both to me and them) that their cooperation was heavily influenced by a number of extra-economic factors in the local socio-cultural environment, e.g. rules of etiquette and morality, administrative and legal routines, accessibility of information, ethnic and class differentiation, etc. In addition, local Norwegian and Estonian habitus; an embodied matrix, acquired through learning processes, which guides thoughts, feelings and actions (Richardson 1993:23), affected the cooperation. Pierre Bourdieu, who is the originator of the term, uses habitus to describe deeply learned cultural knowledge which is expressed through actions (Bourdieu 1977). Habitus guides and forms the basis for actions. It is an often unconscious style of practice which is imprinted in the body, but also leaves room for improvisations. Bourdieu says that the homogeneity of habitus within a given socio-cultural group causes practices to be predictable, understandable and taken for granted (Bourdieu 1990:58). In cross-cultural business cooperation the business partners may not share the same habitus, and their practices of «doing business» may be mutually unintelligible and unpredictable. Nevertheless, all my informants related to a set of (presumably global) ideas of what business is and how business should be done, which I shall refer to below as a global business ideology. In practical business cooperation, the interplay of this global ideology with local habitus and personal factors generated a wide range of different and inconsistent ways of «doing business», which I shall refer to as local business practices. Thus, most of the business people I met were firmly convinced that business was «the same everywhere», and tried to act in accordance with this view. This did not mean that they were unaware of the very obvious differences between Norwegian and Estonian business settings and practices. Many of them were conscious of the fact that there exist different ways of «doing business», and able to describe these differences in quite sophisticated detail. But when these same individuals were actually «doing business», they were often unable to act in accordance with their understanding, and tended to assume that all business people spoke the same «business language»: the language of market economics and commercial activity(3). Moreover, even in cases when the parties managed to work out satisfactory terms of cooperation, they did not necessarily refute the global business ideology explicitly as they were committed (cf. Goffman 1972) to global business ideology. Thus, the local processes of Estonian-Norwegian cooperation in Tallinn need to be situated within a larger context that reaches beyond their local setting. They are aspects of a wider, translocal, contact between Norway and Estonia, and are dependent on, influenced by, and even in part caused by global political and economic processes. What is taking place in Tallinn is an articulation of a global, Western-style business ideology within a local post-Soviet setting. The contradictions - between global ideology and local practices - that are inherent in this situation, form the subject matter of the present thesis.
My data, which were mainly collected among twelve small Norwegian firms in Tallinn (population 500 000), the capital of Estonia (population 1.5 million), serve to demonstrate the complexity of this situation. During the cooperation process there were a lot of misunderstandings between the parties concerning for example planning, management styles, proper relationships between business contacts and the flow of information. Some of these misunderstandings never became known to either of the parties, and some had serious economic consequences for the firm. Proper knowledge about each other's starting points and how the various parties in a cross-cultural firm view and react to their daily cooperation may be crucial for both the social environment within a firm and its economic success.
The main empirical focus throughout this thesis will be on cross-cultural cooperation between actors on the management level in Norwegian companies situated and registered in Tallinn but with Norwegian origin (see appendix 1 for a list of companies and individual descriptions). In all of the firms the management level included both Estonians and Norwegians. It consisted of Presidents, Managing Directors, Project Managers, secretaries and translators. Formally, there existed an agreement between the Estonian and the Norwegian partners on the terms for their cooperation. Both acknowledged that they took part in Western commercial business activities. There was general agreement on the global ideology of business. But as we shall see below, there was not agreement on how to «do business» in practice(4). These divergencies between ideology and practice could cause frustrations on both sides and even economic loss. My goal is therefore, first, to describe the ideological discourse about business that Norwegian and Estonian business people participated in, and secondly, to discuss how the business people related to the global ideology of business through practical cooperation.
During my fieldwork there were 14 firms in Tallinn with Norwegian involvement (appendix 1). Apart from the Estonian branch of Statoil(5) and Coca Cola(6) the management level of these companies consisted of 3-4 people on the average. I collected data from all of the 14 firms although the main body of my data is based on information from the 12 smaller firms. Coca Cola and Statoil are included in this study because they are viewed by the Norwegian business people as important forerunners for the Norwegian business environment in Tallinn, but I have only conducted interviews with a few people in these two firms. Most of what will be said about the two larger firms in this thesis is based on accounts from Norwegian business people who were not themselves directly involved with these firms. My data were collected through 37 formal and informal interviews (see appendix 2), in addition to extensive conversations, and participant observation in the social life of people connected to the firms. I also worked for one of the firms over a period of three weeks, mainly as a translator. In return for my services I was allowed to read business plans and take part in meetings. I lived in a student dormitory, had access to an office at Tallinn Technical University, and socialized with students and employees at the university. I returned to Tallinn in November 1996 for two weeks in order to take part in the official program during the Norwegian Prime Minister 's visit to Estonia. During this visit I participated in a «business day» with both Norwegian and Estonian business people present, and in a work shop on cross-cultural cooperation. I shall not at this point discuss my fieldwork in further detail, and in the main body of the thesis, methodological comments will be included only if they are directly relevant to my main argument. A more detailed and personal discussion of field methods and experiences is included as an epilogue. This does not mean that I consider methodological elaboration superfluous. The story about my fieldwork experiences and the story about my findings are inseparable, but the stories have different protagonists. In the first, I represent the reality of my Norwegian and Estonian informants, while in the second the researcher herself is brought into focus.
The thesis has five chapters, which focus on the following themes: global business ideology (Chapter One), the local context and its participants (Chapter Two), the articulation of global ideology through practical cooperation in the local setting (Chapters Three and Four) and finally conclusions (Chapter Five). The present, introductory chapter, will discuss how global discourse on business generates a global ideology of business. Global common denominators of business ideology will be discussed and incorporated in an analytical model of business as a «discursive object». The model will later be used as an analytical tool to explore the relationships between practical business activities and the ideal model of business. Chapter Two will deal with Western responses to the changes in Eastern Europe, which formed the background for the Norwegian business people's arrival in Estonia. We shall see how official policy and media in the West formed a popular view of the East as a challenging, «uncivilized» place, in need of Western help. The production of Estonian national identity will be briefly examined on the background of both historical events and mythical history that is actualized in the present. The chapter also gives an overview of the business environments in Tallinn and provides a brief description of the Norwegian-Estonian companies. Chapters Three and Four will analyze empirical cases through comparing cross-cultural business practice to aspects of the global ideology of business, as defined in this introduction. Chapter Three will mainly deal with misunderstandings in the cross-cultural cooperation, whereas Chapter Four will analyze more successful situations. Finally, Chapter Five will summarize how global ideology affected the Estonian-Norwegian business situation together with local Norwegian and Estonian business habitus/practices. A discussion of method is incorporated as an epilogue, as well as two appendices. The first appendix consists of a detailed list of the fourteen companies examined. This list should be consulted during the reading of the thesis. The interview guides I used during my fieldwork are included as the second appendix(7).
Globalization is a term which is often used to describe a dominant tendency within the modern (or rather postmodern) world of the late 20th century. It is a result of increasingly intensive contact between previously distant localities. Globalization theories deal with the ways localities are connected, how they are influenced by global processes and how localities effect the global level. Consequently Roland Robertson sees globalization as
«...indicating the problem of the form in terms of which the world becomes 'united'» (Robertson 1990:18).
Mike Featherstone argues that globalization processes produce, aside from their more obvious, socioeconomic effects (wage labor, monetary economy, citizenship, formalized education, and abstract ideologies such as nationalism), a «...globalization of culture» (Featherstone 1990:1; see also Eriksen 1991). As a result, people who have never met each other before can form anonymous «imagined communities» based on for example commitment to an ideology such as nationalism. Global cultural flows can produce ideas of similar ways of thinking and communicating among people which cross traditional cultural boundaries. Featherstone further argues that global cultural flows are complex, but although the terms globalization and global culture are widely used there seems to be no clear consensus regarding their meaning and results. Thus, the Norwegian author Thure Erik Lund argues that globalization has no intrinsic meaning at all: when we speak about globalization or a global culture we disregard the existence of local cultures, since the global culture is assumed to have an over-arching, and hence morally superior, value (Lund 1998:41). According to Lund, global culture is a fiction which exists only in the media or on the Internet and has little relevance to people 's actual lives. In contrast, many anthropologists and sociologists stress the complex effects of globalization processes such as global cultural flows. It is true that the world may become more homogeneous and uniform as global processes impinge on and eclipse distinctive local traits, but the world may also become more diverse in reaction to global, macro-level processes. Homogenization and diversification are two sides of the same coin, as most contemporary theoreticians seem to agree. It is therefore difficult today to find consistent proponents of either of these extreme positions. A more typical view might be that expressed by Thomas Hylland Eriksen, who states that the world is shrinking at the same time as various local distinctive traits enjoy recognition (Eriksen 1991). Jonathan Friedman similarly argues that assimilation and segmentation are two processes which take place simultaneously on the global scene:
«Ethnic and cultural fragmentation and modernist homogenization are not two arguments, two opposing views of what is happening in the world today, but two constitutive trends of global reality» (Friedman 1990:311).
I will argue along similar lines that a number of disparate events taking place in the world may be part of the same process, whether they originate from an obscure local community or a transnational company. I will argue that processes which are global in their reach also play a role in people's lives. Even though some global processes are transmitted through the media they still communicate between real places and purvey cultural ideas which are interpreted and articulated by real people. The idea of a global culture (or global cultures) does not presuppose the disappearance of local cultures, but takes into account that mechanisms which have a global effect will influence localities. The Norwegian and Estonian business people will, for example, relate to global ideas of business culture when they are cooperating. Throughout this thesis global processes will be identified and related to local processes.
Translocal contact between people and transfer of technology have always existed to some extent. In the second century BC, Polybius wrote of the rise of the Roman Empire:
«Formerly the things which happened in the world had no connection among themselves ... But since then all events are united in a common bundle» (quoted in Robertson 1990:21).
The difference today is the extent and intensity of the global flows. Since the 1970s we have seen an increasing internationalization of capital, technology, goods, information, media and production. The seemingly footloose nature of international capital, production etc. has made theoreticians point to deterritorialization as an important aspect of globalization (e.g. Appadurai 1990, Cox 1997, Eriksen 1991, Storper 1997). A car factory can close down in Tokyo and influence the stock markets in Oslo or Tallinn. People connected to the Internet in Ny Ålesund, the northernmost community in the world, can communicate with Internet users in Nigeria. This focus on deterritorialization as an aspect of globalization does not, however, preclude a regard for local geographies within the world, but is a way of explaining the reach of global processes. But it is also true, as the geographer Kevin R. Cox argues, with reference to critics like D. Gordon (1988), P. Hirst and G. Thompson (1992), that global processes with beneficial social effects mainly reach the Western World and not the Third World countries (Cox 1997:3). This, however, should not overshadow the more general point that the reach of globalization is, practically speaking, universal today. Even resistance against this trend by major economic and political powers cannot in the long run, keep the global world out, as the fall of the Soviet empire convincingly demonstrates. There remains, however, the complex question of how global processes touch down in various localities, which can only be answered empirically.
At least two dynamics of globalization can be identified within the deterritorialized world. There exists a world-wide flow of images through, for example, commercials, television and the Internet and a world-wide flow of capital and commodities through international transactions and stock exchanges. These are flows which are initiated and manifested by people, but do not necessarily involve direct human contact transnationally or have a fixed center. The other main dynamic involves a flow of people and involves direct encounters. These are people like tourists, immigrants and business people who for various reasons move around in the world. They may be air hostesses or exchange students, but together they form a fluctuating global world of interpersonal contacts. This distinction between two separate flows with separate characteristics within the global dynamics is, of course, analytical. Global processes always include both human contact and a disassociation from place: the flow of people to and fro between Western and Eastern Europe is a result of global political processes, and global Coca Cola commercials would not be made unless they influenced local consumers to buy the soft drink. The difference between these two spheres is that one is constituted of people and involves direct, personal encounters in real, local settings, while the other can influence localities without the actors ever being physically present. Though different, both dynamics involve the communication and transfer of ideological concepts and enable communication between people and a sense of shared global cultures. Both the flow of images, money and commodities and the flow of people thus contribute to shaping our ideas about aspects of the world. They provide us with knowledge about foreign countries, notions of how business should be done, beauty ideals, political ideologies, expectations of standards of living, progress, identity etc. There exists, somewhat paradoxically, a global idea of «indigenous» cultural representation; Inuits, Sami and Nenets meet with Indians in global conferences focusing on preservation of local identity. Similarly, and less surprisingly, there exists a common, global ideology of how to «do business» among Norwegian and Estonian business people despite their different business backgrounds. These ideas affect the practice of the people who are «doing business» together.
Arjun Appadurai further differentiates global processes by defining five dimensions or «landscapes» of global cultural flow within which actors navigate: ethnoscapes (human movement), technoscapes (technological flow), finanscapes (financial transfers), mediascapes (flows of images produced by media), and ideoscapes (flows of ideology) (Appadurai 1990:297-301). Finanscapes involve the complex nature and form of global capital influenced by stock exchanges, currency markets, multi-national companies, national financial policies, the movement of business people, etc. Political images, often connected to nation states or opponents of national policies, are the main contents of Appadurai's ideoscapes. Ideoscapes constitute a fluid discourse on terms such as 'freedom', 'democracy', 'human rights', 'dictatorship', 'power' etc. I shall not discuss Appadurai's «scapes» much further in the following. I will use them to define the empirical focus of this thesis, which will be on what I have chosen to call businesscapes, which exist in the intersection between finanscapes and ideoscapes, between the practice of «doing business» and the ideological discourses concerning how to do business.
As Appadurai points out, the relationship between the «scapes» is always one of disjuncture and unpredictability:
«...current global flows occur [...] in and through the growing disjunctures between ethnoscapes, technoscapes, finanscapes, mediascapes and ideoscapes.» (Appadurai 1990:301).
This means that the flows of people, images, ideas, money, and machinery tend to manifest themselves in incompatible combinations. Appadurai mentions as an example the Japanese who are open to import and export of goods, but oppose the idea of immigration (Appadurai 1990:301). We should expect cross-cultural business people, operating on the disjuncture between ideoscape and finanscape, to exhibit similar breaches of logic.
As we have seen, the ideology of «doing business» among Norwegians and Estonians in Tallinn is a result of processes on a larger scale than the day-to-day cooperation between the parties. The fall of the Berlin Wall resulted not only in changes within Eastern Europe, but also in a wide-spread acceptance of capitalism as the victorious world ideology. International financial organizations such as The International Monetary Fund (IMF) invested and lent money to Eastern Europe through the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) on the condition that sweeping socioeconomic reforms be carried out, including large-scale privatization of the economy. Governments in the West designed bilateral aid and reconstruction programs based on the guidelines of the IMF and EBRD and on a global political ideology based on classical liberalism. The global media focused heavily on the new business opportunities in the East. As a result of these and other global processes, large multinational companies as well as individual Western entrepreneurs started moving into Eastern Europe.
The Norwegian business people who arrived in Tallinn between 1989-90 and 1996 were part of this process and their «scape» of activity was definitely characterized by disjunctures. One example of disjuncture between expectations and practice was when some of the Norwegian business people came to Tallinn because they saw it as a place which offered quick profit coupled with risk, which was different from the Norwegian business setting, but were surprised when business was done differently in Tallinn. Even though the Western press and politicians emphasized the willingness of the East to embrace capitalism, Western business people who came East quickly learned that practices do not necessarily accord with ideology. The ideas the Western actors had of «how one does business» frequently failed to match the way «business was done» in Eastern Europe. Something similar was experienced by the Eastern Europeans, whose expectations of how Western business was done often differed from the way the Westerners actually «did business». This was often confusing for them, since they from the outset had assumed that Westerners would know how to «do business».
It has been pointed out by most theoreticians on globalization (e.g. Cox 1997, Cvetkovich and Kellner 1997, Friedman 1990, Gertler 1997, Miller 1997) that the relationships between global processes and localities are extremely complex. Global processes touch down in localities and influence them. But various global processes may be articulated in various ways in each place. Some may have no significance in one place, but play a crucial role in others. Students at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland are, for example, engaged in environmental protection on a global scale and consequently many students become vegetarians and take part in demonstrations against global pollution or ruthless exploitation of endangered species. Conservation of the world's environment plays a lesser role among students at the University of Tromsø in Norway, where students line up at the local branch of Burger King late Saturday night to enjoy a juicy hamburger and only demonstrate en masse when the government threatens to reduce public spending on students. «Save the Whales» is thus in many parts of Norway a suspect slogan, which is seen to threaten local adaptation. It is almost impossible to predict the shape of global influence on a local setting.
In this thesis «the local» is defined as the geographic place Tallinn where Norwegian-Estonian cross-cultural business cooperation takes place. This locality is affected by global processes on a day-to-day basis. Indeed, the cooperation itself is part of a global process. The local actors involved in these global processes are Norwegian and Estonian business people. Like business people elsewhere, they travel and meet, directly, in person-to-person encounters or, indirectly via fax, e-mail or telephones. In the course of these meetings, their conceptions of what business is and their experiences of how «business is done» are communicated and spread, and they thereby contribute to an international ideological discourse on how to do business. This discourse is fluid, and its meanings are subject to constant negotiation, as the local and global conditions of international business change. But as I have emphasized above, and in spite of the fact that business people themselves often are very well aware of the fluidity of their discourse, they often tend to assume that they all «speak the same language», the most universal of all global languages today: the «language of business». In this respect, Norwegian and Estonian business people in Tallinn are no exception. They are often unaware of the conflicting business practices that lie behind their apparent agreement. But in the cooperation situation they are unavoidably confronted with the discrepancies between global ideology and local practice, and in the course of time they may learn from these confrontations and generate new ideas of how to «do business» on the background of their experiences. The Norwegian business people who are the main subjects of this thesis become a new kind of professionals (Featherstone 1990:8) who travel back and forth in the global world and hold knowledge and skills of how to «do business» in Estonia with Estonians. They experience business in cross-cultural settings first-hand, learn from their experience, and may ultimately succeed in developing and embodying a new business habitus based on their practical experiences.
Business in the 1990s has become a universal concern that is discussed on many different arenas all over the world. It is of vital importance today to understand this global ideological discourse concerning what business is, how business should be done, how a business person ought to dress, speak, behave, etc., because business is increasingly «done» in complex, cross-cultural settings, where misunderstandings are likely to occur. Since the business discourse has an extremely powerful influence on global affairs, these misunderstandings often have crucial impact on local conditions. Business people working in cross-cultural environments will be challenged by different ideas of business as well as different practices of «business». With business expanding on a global scale, a common understanding or idea of the ground rules of business becomes important to the actors themselves in order to simplify and understand their jobs.
Thomas Hylland Eriksen and Runar Døving point out in their article «In Limbo: Notes on the Culture of Airports» that the meaning of airports varies from place to place, at the same time as there exists a universal, decontextualized meaning of «the airport in general» (Eriksen and Døving 1992). In one way it can be said that all airports are alike because they relate to the same rules of behavior, or what we may call the same «culture»: «If you've seen one, you've seen'em all» (Eriksen and Døving 1992:1). This can also be said of business. Behavior acquired in one setting can be of use when «doing business» in a different place, and some factors of business are predictable and disengaged from local context. The question is how and why some traits are globally recognizable as belonging to the business sphere.
Hege Aasbø (following Michel Foucault), states in her thesis on discourse concerning the preservation of cultural monuments in Zanzibar that discourse is a very large-scale «discussion» which is separated from time and place and consists of verbal statements, written texts and actions (Aasbø 1997:8-9). Foucault points out that this discussion creates «discursive objects» (Foucault 1972). Discursive objects can be explained as reified themes around which the discussions center. The discursive objects are treated by the partners of the discussion as if they were objective «things». Foucault's example is the discourse on sexuality in psychology and in the wider public in the nineteenth century, which created sexuality as an object of discourse which is now part of our «reality». This thesis will not attempt to give a historical account of how business became an object of discourse (though it is clear that its roots go back at least to the eighteenth century, see Jürgen Habermas 1962). I will merely point out that business today is an established discursive object which is part of our reality, while it is still being debated. The term discourse is not fixed to time and place and is therefore suitable to use on phenomena with both local and global reach. The discourse on business is manifested in local settings such as Tallinn or Oslo, while it is simultaneously part of an international discourse on business.
The ideological discourse on business takes place on both global and local arenas, for example at conferences organized by the World Trade Organization, on the one hand, and in informal communication within the Norwegian-Estonian business environment in Tallinn, on the other. In the latter context, the Estonian business people would define «business» by contrast to how things were done during Soviet times. Estonians, they would say, fit the image of competitive and liberal-minded business people perfectly. They would emphasize the intensely competitive nature of Estonian national character and contrast this to the communist ideology, under which, of course, Estonians, as «natural entrepreneurs», had suffered inordinately. Norwegians would likewise contrast business with conditions under Soviet rule, but they would frequently invoke these conditions as explanations of why Estonians were incompetent business partners, of why «Estonians do not know how to do business» (a common expression of frustration). Such statements may of course be taken at face value and understood as objective judgments of what kinds of action are effective in generating profit, but they are also contributions to an (ultimately) global ideological discourse on how to «do business», in which business itself is taken for granted and treated as a discursive object, an ideal, against which concrete behavior by individuals or groups is evaluated. Thus, an American businessman stationed in Tallinn, who read one of the cases presented in Chapter Four of this thesis, frowned and said that «No real businessman would do business in this way», when he read that a Norwegian businessman had agreed to own only 48% of the shares in his Estonian company. Again, the objectivity of the judgment expressed in this statement may be emphasized, and may well be valid, from a purely professional point of view. But the statement is also a contribution to a discourse that goes much further than this. Thus, an advertisement for a Hong Kong bank in an international glossy magazine pictures two Asiatic businessmen sitting at a table eating with chopsticks and wearing Western-style dark suits. By the table we see an executive briefcase and the front of a Mercedes. The caption reads: «Everything has changed. Except the relationship, and the barbecued duck». One of the messages of this ad is simply that it is safe for Western business people to «do business» in Asia. It emphasizes cultural differences, such as the use of chopsticks, and the importance of personal relations in Asia, as opposed to the supposedly more formal character of «doing business» in the West. But the clue is that «Everything has changed». Even though Asia is different from the West (and even though this difference might be supposed to increase with the incorporation of Hong Kong into Red China), this Hong Kong bank knows what business is. This knowledge is proven, not by statistics or facts, but by the businessmen's attire, their car, and the calm, glossy, exclusive esthetic of the ad itself. This ad, along with the statements quoted above, contributes to creating, maintaining and changing the global discursive object we call business.
Noting that business exists as a discursive object, and that there exists a global discourse on how to «do business» properly, we shall attempt to describe some of the general and most common traits that define business and business people within this discourse. The model of business which will be presented below stipulates and outlines an ideal of habitus which business people everywhere relate to. The Dutch scholar and humanist Erasmus Rotterdamus described business people in the following way in the fifteenth century:
«the most foolish and vulgar people who exist are business people. They are involved in the most pitiful and degrading craft one can imagine, and besides that they do it in the most shameless way; even though they lie, take false oaths, steal, swindle and always try to cheat on other people, they always force their way in order to be the first, that is why they always have their hands full of gold.» (in: Tikkanen 1987:59 - my translation from Norwegian).
This negative quote might sound disrespectful, but in its own way it describes important aspects of business even today, although business in the 1500 and 1600s was a more marginal activity than it is in the 1990s. (It did not enjoy the same prestige as it does today, as it was mostly done by marginal groups like small-scale Jewish traders or powerful trading families who made fortunes on loans to the Kings or Popes and suffered bankruptcy if the King refused to pay back the loan (see for example Palmer and Colton 1965).)
As the ad for the Hongkong bank suggests, some external factors like clothing help us determine whether or not we are dealing with a business person. When I asked business people to describe businessmen and women they often started with the dress code in business. One Norwegian businesswoman said: «I would have to start with the clothes. Business people have to be dressed nicely and most of them carry a briefcase». The dress code makes it easy to recognize business people. No one will question whether the two Asian men in the ad mentioned above are business people. The dark suits immediately indicate that they work with business even though the ad never mentions the word. I shall not attempt to give a further account of the style in clothing among business people, except to note that there are some differences between how business people dress in Tallinn and Oslo. I once met a Norwegian businessman on the plane from Stockholm to Tallinn who told me that when he met his business partners in Norway he did not always wear a suit, and he had once forgotten to bring a suit and tie to Estonia. The people he tried to make a deal with in Estonia only addressed his Estonian partner who was properly dressed for the occasion. Estonian business people thus dress more formally than Norwegians. One will rarely see an Estonian business person wearing jeans, while this is not uncommon in Norway. This distinction, though in itself perhaps of minor importance, is, as we shall see, symptomatic of more general conflicts that arise between the parties of Norwegian-Estonian business cooperation. It indicates, moreover, that although there exists a generally recognizable global code of dress in business, this code is subject to subtle local variations.
The most striking aspect of business and the main aim of business and business people is, as Rotterdamus put it, to «...have their hands full of gold». Profit, to make more money than you have invested, is the superior goal of all business. But profit is not a goal that can ever be achieved. Once profit has been «made», the ideal business person does not rest contented, but immediately looks around for opportunities for new investments, in an ever-expanding spiral of growth and maximizing. «Accumulate, accumulate! That is Moses and the prophets!» (Marx 1867), is how Karl Marx described this basic spiral of growth in classical economy. The idea of accumulation is clearly visible in today's business. If the financial annual results of a firm are better than the previous year, it is common practice in business to estimate an even higher profit rate for the following year. The grounds underlying this logic are based on an ideal belief that a 5% growth rate one year can be doubled into a 10% growth rate the next year. Norwegian media will, for example, report that SAS had a bad result this year because the organization operated with a 100 million kroner profit, down from 200 million kroner last year (not actual numbers). The company has a positive balance, but they have not managed to further maximize surplus and thus the final result is described as disappointing.
It is the search for profit that makes the Norwegian business people invest in Tallinn/Estonia. Tallinn is considered to be a new market with new possibilities and attendant risks. My material shows that many Norwegian business people come to Tallinn more or less by chance, but none would even have considered Tallinn if they had not viewed the business opportunities as profitable. As Tallinn was seen as a profitable (and high-risk) market, it may have been particularly attractive to business people who were trying to start the first turn on a profit spiral, and not only to established firms which just wanted to maximize their surplus.
But business, as a global discursive object, is more than the mere search for profit. The ideal business person is also a responsible agent. Max Weber, in his classical discussion of «The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism», described the connection between the search for profit and the emphasis on responsibility, as part of the foundation for the development of capitalistic society. Weber emphasizes that maintaining a cycle of profit is a long-term activity, which is impossible to engage in without long-term predictability in business relations (Weber 1981 ). Business ethics are one aspect of responsibility which are often focused on by the public. When business people act irresponsibly in order to gain profit, the press might react critically. But another and more fundamental aspect of responsibility is the responsibility business people have towards their business partners and their employees. In order to establish good business contacts one has to appear as a responsible business person. Appearances, including proper clothing and a representative office, are factors which initially indicate whether a firm or a business person is trustworthy. But reputation, based on whether or not one has in fact fulfilled one's commitments in previous business relations, whether one pays back loans, delivers goods on time, is scrupulously discrete in dealing with third parties, etc., plays a much more fundamental role in the long run. In the early stages of cross-cultural business cooperation, we might expect problems of responsibility to be endemic, since the parties have poor access to information about the reputation of prospective partners. Consequently, responsibility or the lack of it was one of the most recurring themes when Estonian and Norwegian business people described each other. Both parties often claimed that the other party acted irresponsibly.
A third significant factor of business as a discursive object apart from responsibility and profit is willingness to take risks. Risk and profit are closely connected. Investment is always risky, and gambling is often necessary in order to attain profit. (It must be pointed out here that there is a difference between business people who are risking their own money and those who work for larger firms and do not have the authority to risk large amounts of money or do in fact risk other people's money). The general opinion among the business people I spoke to is that larger investments increase the chances for a high profit, but also for losses. The factors of risk are seldom constant and they vary from one context to another. Economic crime, insufficient infrastructure, red tape, undeveloped markets are some critical external factors in Tallinn which increase risk. Problems of concrete business cooperation within a firm are also a source of risk. But the key to success (i.e. profit) also lies in the cross-cultural cooperation. «Transaction costs» and the factors of risk both within a firm and in relation to its external environment can be reduced significantly by successful cooperation between Estonians and Norwegians.
Rotterdamus goes on in his description: «...they always force their way in order to be the first». Closely connected to risk is the entrepreneurial activity which is likewise a distinctive feature of the global discursive object business. Fredrik Barth describes entrepreneurial activity as maximization of profit, experimental and speculative activity and willingness to take risks (Barth 1972:7-8). In order to succeed in business the ability to be the first to exploit or create a new niche and take chances in order to maximize profit are viewed as important. Barth also defines entrepreneurship as the ability to exploit discrepancies between different niches (Barth 1981). An example of this may be to move the production in a Norwegian factory to a low cost country or to attempt to sell previously inaccessible Western products on the Estonian market. Part of creating a niche is timing - to be at the right place at the right time. It was frequently pointed out, by Norwegian and Estonian business people in Tallinn, that the Norwegian business people had arrived relatively late on the business scene in Estonia. The Swedes and especially the Finns had already taken advantage of the most attractive parts of the Estonian market. To be first is thus important, but not always easy. Perhaps as a result of this, most of the Norwegians were involved in numerous projects at the same time, hoping that at least one of them would succeed.
Yet another significant factor of «doing business» that has global acceptance is the ability to create networks and establish business contacts both formally and informally. The coupling of business and personal relationships was noted by William Baron Scott, a British jurist, as early as the eighteenth century when he remarked that «A dinner lubricates business» (Scott 1745-1836). The importance of networks is emphasized in today's literature on business: an article written for SAS's flight magazine focuses on how men traditionally have better networks than women and thus do better in business and describes initiatives to teach women how to «network» better (Hervig 1998:22-23), a Norwegian journal for management and economy publishes articles about networks of knowledge within and between companies (Larsen 1998:73-79) and textbooks directed towards students of business and management deal with the importance of alliances and networks (Haugland 1996). The informal aspect of networking is also considered important in business. By knowing and trusting the persons one is «doing business» with one can reduce the risks involved. The possibility for informal contracts and deals also increases by having a large network. A good and extensive network may simplify the process of creating new business relations and the introduction of new projects in a business environment.
Business people covet profit. To attain profit, they run risks and try to find new niches for entrepreneurship. They form both formal and informal networks for themselves and the firm, and seek to establish contacts based on responsibility and trust. These are «common denominators» for business everywhere on the globe, and constitute an ideological frame of reference for both Norwegian or Estonian business people. Of course, the five general factors characterizing business as a global, discursive object that I have singled out above are only analytically separable. In the actual ideological image of the «ideal business person» they are intimately connected, and prescribe an integrated «way of being», an ideal global «business habitus» that local actors strive to realize in their local business activities. In actual business situations, each of the five global factors (profit, responsibility, risk-taking, entrepreneurship and network building) are constantly reinterpreted to fit the local circumstances. Clearly, some local business scenes are more compatible with the ideal they describe, or with parts of the ideal, than others. Thus, Tallinn, as a local place where business is «done» in accordance with the global ideal of business, is a place where risk-taking behavior and entrepreneurship seem problematic, while assessing responsibility in partners and achieving reliable networks are perhaps more appropriate. But in addition, there are also other factors of business that are specific to this local context, and that are not, or are only very poorly, reflected in the global discourse.
The Norwegian press often reports on how Norwegian business people fail in Eastern Europe. One recent example was the Rosnor case in northern Russia where the Norwegian investors were ousted by their Russian counterparts (Dagens Næringsliv, February 19th, 1996). A different «business culture» in the East, often including corruption, is a common explanation for mishaps. Lately the public debate in Norway has focused on the moral aspects of «doing business» abroad. The Norwegian involvement in China and Nigeria are two examples. Critics like NorWatch argue that it is unethical to conduct business in a country that breaks human rights by for example imprisoning government opponents. But apart from these debates very little attention is directed towards the activities of Norwegian business outside home. Ways of controlling or evaluating Norwegian businesses abroad are limited if not totally absent. This is especially the case for businesses which do not receive any public subsidies from the Norwegian government. My study is one way of focusing on Norwegian business activities abroad without merely pointing to the unstable situation in the host country or the moral aspects of investment. This thesis will try to present the reality as it appears for the people involved and provide information about a type of business activity which is unfamiliar to most people, at least in Norway.
When anthropologists choose their field of study, the world of commercial business is seldom an alternative. There are a large number of anthropological studies of trade within communities in the Third World or studies of non-monetary economies such as Barth's study of economic spheres in Darfur (Barth 1981) and Clifford Geertz's examination of economic modernization processes in two Indonesian towns (Geertz 1963). But the situation of business people operating in the economic system of the Western World is mostly ignored. One exception is Edward T. Hall and his wife Mildred Reed Hall who have written books on cultural differences between American and Japanese business people and American, French and German business people (Hall and Hall 1987, 1990). These books are largely directed at the people actually «doing business», not social scientists, and function as guide books in how to «do business». But the authors also introduce analytical tools for a cross-cultural understanding of business situations (these analytical tools are developed in other works by Hall, see for example Hall 1984). But on the whole, anthropology has been known to seek the exotic as its focus. Western-style business may be viewed as familiar and consequently not interesting to American and Western European anthropologists. Another aspect of anthropology is the tendency to study 'down'. It has been argued that Western anthropologists only study people with fewer resources than themselves. Traditionally such studies were conducted in countries which are considered less fortunate than the West when it comes to financial resources and influence over the World system. When anthropology is done in the West, the anthropologist often focuses on groups which have less power, such as sub-cultures and ethnic minorities. Laura Nader notes that little anthropological work in the United States has been directed towards the middle and upper classes (Nader 1969:289), and although the situation has to some extent changed during the thirty years that have passed since Nader's article was written, her argument is still in the main valid. Business people are viewed as a powerful group in the Western world, even the ones who are focused on in this study, who do not enjoy as much power as executives of multi-national corporations. Business people may have a higher Western education and make a lot of money. They speak the language of stock exchanges, international trade and banking; all considered to be powerful arenas. One of the reasons Nader gives for anthropologists to study 'up' is that we should not neglect issues which influence our daily lives (Nader 1969:286). It is not difficult to see that Norwegian and Western business done in Estonia, has direct influence on the daily life of Estonians, although it does not, directly affect the lives of people in Norway.
The often small entrepreneurs who set up businesses abroad form a sea of knowledge concerning how global processes materialize themselves on a micro level. These business people come in different shapes: Swedish brothel owners in Asia, Norwegian scrap metal dealers in Kaliningrad, Pakistani shop owners in Norway, Norwegian business people in the Baltic States and American business consultants in Estonia. They are often more or less long-term and committed residents in contrast to more mainstream actors such as representatives of transnational corporations. Through their practical experience with working in a global environment they become global agents who hold valuable knowledge about global languages of power in various localities.
The experience of such agents raises more general issues that are relevant outside the Estonian-Norwegian context. Among Estonians the nature of Norwegian and other foreign business activity is discussed regularly both in the media and among the people directly affected. This side of the story is seldom told outside Estonia. In my opinion it is important that Estonian perceptions of Norwegian business customs are known in Norway. The knowledge that both sides have of the situation they have in common is rarely presented as a whole. It is my hope that a presentation of the situation from both sides by an outside observer will contribute constructively to our understanding of the day-to-day situation of «doing business» in a post-communist country or even in cross-cultural settings generally.
My study will mainly focus on concrete segments of cooperation between the actors and on cultural context. I will not offer a cost-benefit analysis of the Norwegian firms in Tallinn. Nevertheless knowledge of the local situation is often a prerequisite for successful cooperation and therefore directly linked to economic accomplishment. So I must disagree with one of my Norwegian informants who claimed that as long as he «knew his job» as a business person, he did not need any knowledge of Estonia beforehand (see Chapter Three). I believe that the «job» of «doing business» is not the same everywhere, and that an awareness of the surroundings one is «doing business» in only increases one's chances of economic gain and reduces the risk of actually harming the country in which one is a guest. The two seemingly opposed perspectives are interdependent.
Glasnost, perestroika and the collapse of the Berlin Wall are well known historical concepts and events which symbolize the break-up of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Block. The changes did not only affect the former Soviet Block, but also created an insecurity for the future of the rest of the world. The situation in Europe had been kept stable since the Second World War. The Eastern and Western Blocks faced each other as enemies, but the situation was frozen in a stable deadlock. The dramatic power struggle between the USSR and the USA and Europe created a constant threat of war, but also a degree of predictability within the world community. With the new and unclear situation it became important for the international community to influence the development in order to ensure stability. A new type of attention had to be directed towards the East. A will and a sense of obligation from the West to change and help the East evolved. What direction the development should take and how reforms ought to be implemented became important issues both to the countries of the former Eastern Block and to the surrounding world community. Powerful international organizations like The International Monetary Fund (IMF), The European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), The European Union (EU) and The International Finance Corporation (IFC) recommended dramatic economic reforms involving a high degree of privatization and a turn towards a liberal market economy. The fulfillment of these reforms, often measured by the rate of the country's inflation, became in many cases obligatory criteria for the reception of funding. The fall of communism necessitated its replacement by the victorious capitalistic ideology. The Eastern part of Europe was considered a promising market, and forty thousand Western European companies opened up offices in Eastern Europe from 1989 to 1995 (Thorheim 1995:12).
But as John M Howell asks in his book Understanding Eastern Europe «...why privatise?» (Howell 1994:71). Privatization was strongly recommended as a sensible policy for the countries in the East and was implemented in all of them, although to various extents. It was also seen as a value to quickly implement reforms involving a high degree of privatization, as stated in a Norwegian report to Parliament on Norwegian aid to Eastern Europe:
«The general impression is that the countries which have [...] carried out rapid reforms have had a more favorable economic development compared to those which have adopted a more gradual reform strategy» (Stortingsmelding Nr 47: 10 - my translation).
One may argue that the countries which were the first to implement market oriented reforms, such as the Baltic States, Hungary and the Czech Republic, also had the most favorable basis for reforms. They were relatively small and had experienced some economic reforms prior to 1989 (Mailand-Hansen 1988). The economic success of these countries may thus be due to their favorable starting points in contrast to other Eastern European countries, and not only the swiftness of their implementation of reforms after the breakdown of the Eastern Block.
The strong belief the world community had in the success of rapid implementation of privatization as an instrument to stimulate economic growth in Eastern Europe leads Howell to point out that the Eastern countries were asked to go through with privatization to an extent that no Western democracy has ever done. He claims that the world had no prior experience with a privatization process like the one about to be realized in the East in the beginning of the 1990s. The ideology of capitalism and liberalism seems to have become stronger in the Western world after the breakdown of the Soviet Union. But in many ways it is an ideology that is being implemented to its fullest extent in countries outside the Western hemisphere. In practice every Western country is, to a greater or lesser extent, based on the idea of the welfare state, not a totally privatized state, and spends a large part of its gross national product (GNP) e.g. on health-related services to its citizens. Even Great Britain, which has gone through profound privatization processes compared to other Western countries, has privatized quite gradually and still spends large amounts on social services provided by the state. The average public spending in the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries amounted to 45.9% of GNP in 1997 (Skonhoft 1998:2). It thus seems strange that countries which until recently have been heavily dependent on state services should be advised to go through with a rapid privatization of sectors such as the postal services, hospitals, electricity and water supply. Nevertheless, this is the procedure the IMF and the World Bank recommend towards countries in Eastern Europe, Africa, Latin America and lately in Indonesia. In order to be considered creditworthy and to receive advantageous loans during the economic crisis the country experienced in 1997-1998, Indonesia had to reduce its official spending dramatically. This is not to say that the reforms throughout Eastern Europe have been unsuccessful in all respects. But the elimination of public safety nets in already rapidly changing societies, without the reinstatement of new institutions, has created a situation of insecurity among the public. Thus, in the Fafo report mentioned above, on living conditions in Estonia after independence, the research team found that a majority of the Estonian population distrusted the new national authorities and that many Estonians viewed the recent changes as a threat to their standard of living (Grøgaard 1996:243).
Even Norway, a country with considerable focus on high public spending which has only recently started to privatize a few national institutions, has based its official strategy towards Eastern Europe on private enterprises and liberal capitalism. Norway's main official response to the changes in the East was the establishment of the Action Program for Eastern Europe(8)by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1992. The main aims of the program are:
«...to contribute to a fundamental restructuring of the countries in Central and Eastern Europe and the CIS states in order to ensure a democratic and economically sustainable development» (Stortingsmelding 47:3 - my translation).
The main geographical areas of interest in 1994 were North-West Russia, the Baltic states and Poland. Twenty five percent of the program's funds were directed towards the Baltic states. The program calls on commercial enterprises to invest in the area and offers funding (three of the firms I studied in Tallinn had previously received financial aid from the Action Program, though only one of them did so during my fieldwork).
In addition to the Western governments' official policy towards the East based on a will to change the societies through the application of liberal capitalist ideology, media and popular opinion stressed the importance of the West «helping» the East with know-how derived from the experience of living in the Western world. The «helping» attitude was at the same time a mixture of idealism and condescension on the Western behalf. One of the few exceptions to this tendency was an article written in a Danish newspaper in 1988, which focused on what Eastern Europe could offer Western Europe. The article claimed, among other things, that inspiring intellectual discussions going on within Eastern Europe could contribute to constructive critiques of the West (Sperling 1988:4). In the business arena the Western world could offer «help» in the form of hard currency, capital and commercial skills to the East, which was portrayed as a place with high productivity, skilled labor and low wages. In the early years after 1989 Norway was very positive towards interaction with the former Soviet Block. Environmental cooperation, cultural exchange, trade and commercial business were some of the main activities. Russia was seen as the most important partner in all respects, also when it came to business, but Estonia and the Baltic states were viewed as attractive markets for investment as well. Estonia and the Baltic states also valued Western investment highly. Marian Walny, a Polish mayor, describes his situation at the time like this:
«What characterized me as a mayor in the beginning, was impatience on the one hand and on the other hand a lack of experience, a lack of theoretical knowledge and that I trusted people too much. The wish to change and improve the world was overwhelming» (Letnes 1995:12).
His words and especially the last sentence cover much of the general feeling at the time: improvements coupled with impatience. Western investors could argue that they were «helping» the society in question by investing, while they had the possibility of making money at the same time. The Eastern party wanted Western capital in order to make their region or country wealthy, prosperous and safe. A general feeling among many Estonians was that Western investments in their region would create strong bonds to the West and hence reduce the risk of Russian military, political and economical dominance (e.g. Stalsberg and Harry 1996). At the same time a considerable amount of short-term humanitarian aid was directed to the East from the West. The sense of helping, recreating, reforming and changing a region for the better was strong on both sides.
One aspect of Western ideological discourse was aid to and restructuring of the former Soviet Block. Another element was the representation of the East as an 'Eldorado' for money making and almost anything else. The former Eastern Block was suddenly the 'land of opportunities'. In order to be successful in the future, investments in the East were seen as essential by both Western media and public. I have noted this even in the case of my own fieldwork. The responses from people in Norway when I told them about my project are invariably that I had made a wise choice of region and that I most definitely will get a job(!). A parallel might be the perception of computer technology as 'the future'. One of the aims of the Norwegian and Western aid to Eastern Europe was the spreading of global business ideology to the East. The assumption was that Eastern Europeans were unaware of how to relate to the business ideology and how to «do business». With both official policy and popular opinion emphasizing Western involvement in the region as aid and help, the motivation for Norwegian business people to «do business» in Estonia was only strengthened. In a parallel strand of discourse that was simultaneously followed, especially in the media, the East was portrayed as booming and hazardous. The focus on the mob, corruption, violence, insecurity on all levels, prostitution and fast money helped to mystify the East. A Norwegian film was shot in the Latvian capital Riga, called The Virgins of Riga (Jomfruene i Riga), picturing Norwegian business people striking shady deals, succeeding by chance and being entertained by women and cheap liquor. The East was seen as daring, unreformed, unstable and adventurous. The then Norwegian Minister of Trade, Grete Knudsen, described the situation for the Eastern countries and the Norwegian business people as the «...great challenges in the [Eastern] countries» (Thorheim 1995:21). The Baltic states were featured in an article in one of the main Norwegian financial papers, Dagens Næringsliv, which described them as the «Baltic Bonanza» (Bugjerde and Engdal 1996:20). The same paper interviewed a Norwegian scrap metal trader in Tallinn (Engdal 1996:18) and described Via Baltica, the highway project meant to connect the three Baltic states, as an extremely dangerous road where one is likely to be killed or robbed. Dagbladet, one of the most widely read daily newspapers in Norway, printed an article by an economist, titled «Norwegian Encounters with the Mafia» («Norsk møte med mafiaen») (Maurseth 1996:42). The article was accompanied by a black and white drawing, picturing two gangsters, with hand-guns instead of heads, threatening each other at gun point. The main argument of the article was actually that only very few Norwegian companies had contact with the so-called Mafia. That the title had to focus on the Mafia and that the article was illustrated in the described manner falls in line with the ongoing discourse picturing the East as something out of the Wild West. Norwegian business people in Tallinn could all tell stories in the same genre as the newspaper headlines from Norway. At the same time they often pointed out the importance of correcting the negative 'Wild West' image that the Norwegian press painted of Estonia.
The Mafia, corruption and violence, or rather the stories about Mafia, corruption and violence, had a mythical importance among the Western people in Tallinn (see Chapter Four). Literally the first description that was presented to me by a Norwegian business person in Oslo who also had an office in Tallinn was that «Tallinn is the Chicago of Europe». He went on to say that «...the whole of Estonia is corrupt, they'll smuggle anything - even liver paté!». One of the stories which circulated among the Western crowd in Tallinn was a horror story of an American businessman who had to jump out of window in order to avoid two Russian gangsters. This is how the story was told to me: The American had been drinking at a popular bar among the Westerner crowd in Tallinn. He made friends, or so he thought, with two Russian men. They talked about music and found out that the American had some CDs that the two Russians were interested in borrowing. When the bar closed, the American invited the two men up to his apartment to look at his CD collection. Once in the apartment the two men attacked the American. He managed to crawl into the bathroom and lock the door. While in the bathroom, he could hear the two men discussing how to kill him. He decided to jump out of his bathroom window, which was on the third floor. Both his arms and legs were crushed in the fall. He lay screaming in the street for a couple of hours until an ambulance arrived. He stayed in a hospital over the weekend in agonizing pain, without receiving any anesthetics. He constantly asked the nurses to call representatives from his company, which they refused. On the following Monday his Western employers were finally contacted. They ordered a helicopter, and he was flown out of the country and never set foot in Eastern Europe again.
There are other stories about men being drugged by Estonian and Russian women and subsequently robbed, of women being molested, of people being shot at noon in the main street, of a bullet missing the Finnish ambassador's wife by millimeters while she was drinking coffee at a friend's house - and the local police allegedly commenting: «What can we do, there are bullets flying everywhere!» etc. But the story above represents the utmost scare for Western people living in Tallinn. It combines the crime factor, insufficient medical infrastructure (no anesthetics at the hospital), the unpredictability of the Estonians (why did the hospital not call the Western employers at once?) and emphasizes the differences between East and West (he is flown out of the East in a helicopter to get proper treatment in the West).
Some of these stories are rooted in reality, but their meaning is generated through their use in discourse. The stories are utilized not only as a way of coping with the difficulties of living in Tallinn and dealing with fear, but also as a way of reinforcing the myth of Tallinn as a challenging place for a Western person to be and to «do business». Thus the myths of Tallinn may be utilized as explanations for some of the problems Norwegian and Western business people experience in Estonia. The stories also function to personify the experiences of Tallinn. When a Norwegian business person (or anthropology student) tells or relates to the stories, they mediate the difference between themselves and the Estonians. The Estonians are «less developed» and live in an unstable country as opposed to the stable and civilized West. They are also saying that they are brave individuals who are able to master life in Tallinn. The Estonian author Viivi Luik describes, in her novel Ajaloo ilu (The Beauty of History), how the scare of being summoned for interrogation during Soviet times sounded both impressive and indeterminable (Luik 1994:61). She presents the uncertainty of not knowing when or for what reasons one could be summoned, but the certainty of knowing that there existed a threat, that was mystical, scary, impressive and real at the same time. Similarly the scare of corruption, violence and the Mafia today generates stories which might be based in reality, but mostly support the idea of Tallinn as a barbaric and wild place. Why else would I choose to do fieldwork in Tallinn rather than in civilized places such as Berlin or Paris! But despite, or maybe because of, its criminality and risk, the East continued to be seen as a place with new possibilities. I have often heard Tallinn described as a «Boom Town», a metaphor associated with the Gold Rush in California, and Eastern Europe as a whole described as the «Wild West». These metaphors are connected to the history of North America. Frederick Jackson Turner presented his 'Frontier Hypothesis' in 1893, where he focused on the importance of the conquering of the American West in American history. Turner argued that the idea of «the frontier» shaped American mentality in important ways. He described life on the frontier as follows:
«[...] at the frontier the environment is at first too strong for the man. [...] Little by little he transforms the wilderness [...]» (Turner 1966:11).
Whereas Turner focused on the effects of «the frontier» on Americans, America was often viewed, by Europeans and foreigners in general, as a «frontier society». This image of the USA was an important part of the European myth of America. Similarly, the Western focus on the East in general and on Tallinn in particular as unstable and explosive generates an image of the East as a «frontier society». But in Eastern Europe it is the barbaric culture which needs to be «transformed», not the wild nature. Both Western and Eastern Europeans can thus take part in a quest of civilizing the East, although with different motivations. The conquering of a frontier can be a suitable task for business people who, as the ideal model of business presented in Chapter One implies, are supposedly competent in handling risks and entrepreneurship. New markets such as the Estonian offer unused business opportunities and risks which may prove profitable. The ultimate Eastern frontier would be Russia, of course, but Estonia seems to offer many of the ingredients of a «frontier society» in more moderate form; it stands as a «frontier» between «uncivilized» Russia and the «civilized» West.
«To describe Estonia seems like an infinite task, as it presents new facets of itself with every step one takes.» (Ann Tenno, Estonian photographer).
We have so far focused on the production and contents of Western and Norwegian myths of Eastern Europe and Estonia. But the Western images of the East may not coincide with local identity or the local «ideology of self». By looking at actual historical facts as well as myths of Estonia based on history, some aspects of Estonian collective identity will emerge.
With its strategic location by the Baltic Sea, Estonia and its capital Tallinn has throughout history been a center of international trade and commerce. Estonia was an important link in the Viking trade routes via Russia to the Byzantine empire as early as the ninth century (Cannon and Hough 1995:21). During the first two periods of German rule in Estonian history (1227-1238(9)and 1346-1561), several Estonian cities were members of the Hanseatic League, and Tallinn was the most significant of the Estonian Hanseatic cities. Walking through the streets of the Old Town of the city once called Reval, one can still see typical trade houses and Guild Halls from the Hanseatic period. The Old Town is in many ways the heart of Estonia. It is a unique place because of its beauty and well-preserved architecture. Each house in the Old Town represents a period of Estonian history and the extensive renovation carried out after independence has brought new life into each characteristic place. The mixture of past and present is striking. A McDonald's sign is the first thing you see when entering the Old Town through its city gates, but the fast food restaurant is housed in an old building which is beautifully restored. Close to McDonald's, women are selling high quality home knit sweaters to mainly Finnish tourists from market stalls. Outside the Old Town the city is growing fast, and in 1996 the Estonians were discussing whether or not to build a skyscraper. A bit further from the city center one finds shabby apartment buildings from Soviet times, but also residential districts with single family houses.
Present day Tallinn is a city which has gone through a lot of changes. Eight different flags have flown from Pikk Herman (Long Herman) at the castle of the Estonian parliament through history. The Danes ruled from 1219-1227 and from 1238-1346. In a short interval between the Danish periods, the German Teutonic Knights administered Estonia. They returned in 1346 and stayed until 1561, after which the Swedes controlled Estonia until 1710. From 1710 until 1917 the Russian Tsars governed. In 1918 there was again one year under German rule before Estonia gained independence in 1918. But this lasted only until 1940, when the Soviet Union held Estonia for one year, before Nazi Germany took over. Estonia was annexed by the Soviet Union again in 1944 and this time it lasted until what is referred to as The Singing Revolution culminated in independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The term 'changing society' can be used to describe Tallinn in many periods of history, but the speed of the changes during the last six years since independence is perhaps unprecedented.
Starting in the late 1970s, the Soviet Union experienced a dramatic economic decline, a measure of which can be seen e.g. in the decline in energy and steel production (Nielsen 1996). By 1989 the Soviet press could report record inflation levels, a nationwide coal strike, low labor discipline(10), ethnic conflicts, increased absence from work, and a shortage of grain (UPI 1990). Public protests against official politics which started with the onset of Glasnost in the middle 1980s came as a result of economic crisis as well as the liberalization of politics under Gorbachev, which increasingly allowed critical views to be voiced through the media. In 1987(11), Estonian television revealed plans to extract phosphorite in the north-east of Estonia. This would allegedly affect one third of the ground water in the country. As a result of the frustrations of the economic recession and the new liberalization of the press, the issues concerning the extraction were heatedly discussed in public. Important groups such as the bar association of lawyers and the university council declared their opposition to the planned extraction. This debate formed the starting point for wide protests against Soviet hegemony. In June 1988, 150 000 people gathered at the song ground in Tallinn and later 300 000 gathered in September, as a manifestation of opposition against Soviet rule, and the name The Singing Revolution was coined. The song ground normally hosts the traditional song festivals where traditional Estonian songs and dances are performed, which are, depending on the political climate, held around the first of July every fifth year in memory of the first song festival in 1869. Folk songs played an important part in the national movement in Estonia both during the national awakening in the late 1800s and during the process of regaining independence from the Soviet Union. At one point during the Singing Revolution, a human chain of some two million people held hands across the Baltic nations on the sixtieth anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, on August 23rd 1989 (Lindström 1994:53). A young Estonian told me that he had never felt so happy before: «I cannot explain the maddening feeling of happiness in my stomach», he said. During the Singing Revolution, people demonstrated against Soviet rule and a nationalistic people's front was formed and won a majority of the seats in the Estonian Soviet during the first elections with more than one party participating in 1990. All through the Singing Revolution, the Soviet army reminded the Baltic people of its existence by driving through the streets of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania by night in combat vehicles, and in the first half of 1991 the situation came to a head. On January 13th 1991, Soviet forces stormed the TV tower in Vilnius, Lithuania, and fourteen people were killed in front of TV cameras. The pictures were broadcast world wide. A week later there was shooting in Riga, the Latvian capital. On August 19th conservative communists seized power in Moscow through a coup and Soviet groups occupied TV towers and radio stations throughout the Baltic States. The ports were blocked and troops were flown in from Russia. The Baltic parliaments declared the coup illegal and Estonia declared independence the next day. After the coup in Moscow failed, the Soviet Union swiftly recognized Baltic independence. Estonia had regained independence through the Singing Revolution after having been part of the Soviet Union for more than 40 years (1940-1941 and 1944-1991).
An Estonian friend returned to Tallinn from Norway in Christmas 1991, four months after independence. The trade agreements with Russia had been canceled and the economic recession was worsened. There was no electricity or gas and Tallinn was blacked out. She told me that she had never seen so much poverty in Estonia. Her family ate porridge for Christmas instead of the traditional Estonian Christmas meal consisting of, among other dishes, Estonian blood sausages. But the new year promised changes and optimism for Estonia. The optimism and the need and wish for change was typical of the period before and immediately after independence. Estonia was a country which yearned for changes, and the withdrawal from the Soviet Union was seen as the solution to all problems. However, the reality after independence was different from what many Estonians had hoped. Kristin Rande, who did fieldwork in Lithuania in 1992, describes how the optimistic visions of the future which had been so evident in Lithuania during and right after independence were transformed into feelings of instability and failure (Rande 1996). She explains the growing pessimism as a consequence of the discrepancy between the expectations of life after independence and actual reality. Something similar, though perhaps not as dramatic, happened in Estonia, and the hardships after independence (together with the Soviet legacy) were often blamed for the declining standards of living and the disappointments many Estonians felt.
The optimism and enthusiasm during and after independence can partly be ascribed to a «collective memory» (Connerton 1989) of the first Estonian republic, which lasted for 22 years (1918-1940), between the two world wars. The myth of Estonia as an independent nation and part of Europe instead of Russia, which had been kept alive all through the Soviet period, suddenly promised to be realized in practice during the liberation process and the years of Estonian nation-building. Torstein Bach, who has done fieldwork in Estonia, points out that the First Republic was used as a model during the establishment of the present Estonian republic. Independent Estonia after 1991 was also often viewed as a continuation of the first republic in 1918 (Bach forthcoming). The meaning of national ideology is, according to Rande (following for example Anderson 1983 and Kapferer 1988), shaped by what she calls the «historical present» (the «presence» of the past in the here and now), and provides meaning for the nation as well as for individuals (Rande 1996:23). Such interpretations of history were widely used in the process of creating an Estonian national ideology after independence, and some periods of the country's history were given stronger emphasis in the forming of national consciousness than others. Selected aspects (both positive and negative) of Estonian history which were considered to be of current interest, were part of the creation of a national ideology.
An Estonian friend of mine told me that right after independence Estonian national identity was debated among Estonians. The participants were looking for historical facts or events which would describe Estonians. My friend told me of an Estonian proverb which was commonly referred to as characteristic of Estonian character: «The favorite food of an Estonian is another Estonian» (Eestlase lemmiktoit on teine eestlane(12)). When I confronted people with this saying they all recognized it (except Russians living in Estonia) and agreed that it was descriptive of Estonians. Many Estonians would characterize Estonian national identity as competitive and envious. They saw this as both a negative and a positive trait of their people. Estonian business people would voice similar opinions when they described Estonian ways of doing business. The Estonian novelist Anton Hansen Tammsaare portrays two Estonian villagers/farmers in his five-volume epic Tõde ja Õigus (Truth and Justice), who initiate a feud between their families which lasted for generations (Tammsaare 1926-33). They were competing to dig a grave, but neither of them wanted to give up before the other. This novel is well-known in Estonia as a description of the developments of the Estonian nation from 1870 to 1930, but was also referred to as an example from literature of the Estonian competitiveness and envy of other people. Other aspects of history were also utilized in order to understand and analyze Estonian identity. Quite often this interpretation and use of history would portray Estonia and Estonians as different from Russians and as oriented towards Western Europe.
Estonia was seen as a special place in Soviet times by both Estonians and Russians, and was often referred to as «Our West» within the Soviet Union. It was common for people living in Russia to go on shopping trips, take vacations and buy summer homes in Estonia and to regard this as a somewhat «Western» experience. The Baltic states became a socioeconomic laboratory within the Soviet Union as early as in the 1960s (Mailand-Hansen 1988). Around 1970, Estonian salaries were paid on the basis of labor achievement, production was decentralized, and working hours were reduced ten years before these reforms were attempted in the rest of the Soviet Union. Several major economic reforms were initially tested in the Baltic states, and some remained in force there, even after they were abandoned in the rest of the Soviet Union (Nove 1977). People from the Baltic States were allowed to travel rather extensively to the West. But even though this exceptional position within the Soviet Union perhaps made the Estonians more oriented towards Western ways of life, Tallinn in 1991 was still definitely outside the sphere of direct Western European influence, and the coastal borders to Europe were often completely sealed off by military posts. Nevertheless, Estonians being situated on the Western border, receiving Finnish television, having a European history and enjoying a special status within the Soviet Union, had an awareness of being different form Russians and at odds with Soviet ideology, even while they were a part of the Soviet Union.
Estonians will emphasize the Hanseatic period, the Swedish era and the first Estonian republic as the most positive periods in their history. The Soviet times are often blamed for everything that is dysfunctional in Estonia today. This is similar to what Rande noted in Lithuania two years after independence. She argues that the Lithuanians used the Soviet legacy as an explanation of why things had not gone as planned (Rande 1996). The «Hanseatic spirit» is treasured and brought to the surface in many parts of Estonian life today. The Old Town is a magnet for tourists, but also a symbol of pride to the Estonians. The Hanseatic history is often used by Estonians as an example of a prosperous time when Estonia played an important part in the trade within Europe, and contrasted to the Soviet period. It is also said to prove that Estonians are traders at heart, have long traditions of commercial activity and know not only how to relate to the planned economy that existed during the Soviet period. The Swedish times are associated with education. Estonia's first university; the University of Tartu, was established by the Swedish king as Sweden's second after Uppsala. These periods are examples of historical events which are viewed as better for the Estonian nation than other historical periods(13).
But despite these positive visions of Estonia in history, the Soviet legacy exists for better or for worse in present-day Estonia. Almost anything can be blamed on the Russian influence or the Russians still living in Estonia. Some things are easy to notice like the Soviet-style buildings or the ethnic Russians, but certain kinds of behavior and certain legal and administrative traditions are also explained by reference to the Soviet period. Parts of Estonian management styles and behavior in the workplace would be accounted for by my Estonian and Norwegian informants as results of the Soviet past. For example one Norwegian businessman complained that his Estonian employees were unable to plan ahead and take responsibility. He interpreted this as a result of the Soviet system. During Soviet times, he said, Estonians did not own their own apartments or have any real influence on their jobs. Since they were told what to do and were unable to make truly individual decisions, they did not feel obligated to act responsible at work. This behavior continued to be a part of their lives in 1996, according to him. An example of how Estonians themselves 'blame everything on the Russians' was when I discovered cockroaches in my room. The Estonians would give me a sad look and tell me that I would never get rid of them and that there were no cockroaches in Estonia before the Russians came. But Estonians are not only negative about their recent past. Many people would complain and say that some things used to be better prior to independence. The level of crime was lower, it was easier to keep a job, the pensioners had a more secure situation, everyone could afford medical care and society was generally more secure. But if you ask any ethnic Estonian whether he or she wishes the country to return to the Soviet Union they will most certainly say no.
One of the most visible results of the Soviet influence is a Russian ethnic minority which constitutes approximately 30% of the Estonian population (U.S. Bureau of Census 1989). The majority of these Russians moved to Estonia during the Soviet period, mostly because of higher salaries and somewhat higher living standards in Estonia and a shortage of workers. Some Russian families also have roots going back to Tsarist times. There exist a number of obstacles to obtaining citizenship for Russians in Estonia, all sorts of discrimination against the Russians, the Russian language and the general legitimacy of Russian culture. The antipathy towards Russians has long historical roots, and Estonians and Russians today have limited contact. Estonia has been criticized by Russia as well as the rest of the international community for the handling of their Russian minority, especially the knowledge tests in the Estonian language and culture that are required in order to acquire Estonian citizenship. This has worsened the political relationship between Russia and Estonia and among other things led to high customs on Estonian goods exported to Russia. This is an important issue for Estonia which wishes to promote itself as a transit country between the West and Russia and as a country which is well-informed about how to do business with Russia.
During the first Estonian Republic a notable number of foreign companies settled in Tallinn and Estonia. From literature and historical sources it seems as if in the commercial sphere at least much of what happened during the first Estonian republic, is repeating itself today, only to a much greater degree (Kross 1991). Already during the Glasnost period foreign investors started to regard Estonia as an interesting market, and in 1996 Estonia received more foreign investment than both its Baltic neighbors together, although both Latvia and Lithuania are bigger than Estonia. (This tendency seems to be changing in 1998, as an EU report claims that development in Estonia has slackened and that Latvia is about to take over as the most progressive Baltic nation (NRK Tekst TV 1998).) Most of the Western capital was directed towards Tallinn. Among the Nordic countries Finland has made the largest investments in Estonia. But Sweden and Denmark are also well represented. Norway, with traditions in export of raw materials like oil and fish, rather than trade outside its borders, is only represented with few and mainly relatively minor companies (see Chapter Three and Appendix One).
Estonia has through its history been
influenced by both Western and Eastern Europe. These different influences
affected the formation of an Estonian national identity after 1991. We
have so far focused on how Estonians see themselves as competitive, different
from the Russians, and as «natural traders», as a result of the focus
on the Hanseatic period in the country's history, a tendency to contrast
themselves to Russians, and an idea of Estonians as individualistic and
competitive as opposed to the communist ideology. The awareness of these
national collective traits may be more dominant in the capital city than
in the rest of the country, as there are considerable differences in lifestyles
between Tallinn and the rest of Estonia. It is difficult to know how aspects
of the collective national identity, such as the «favorite food» proverb,
create meaning for individual Estonians and affect their actions. But
through studying the Estonian business people's practices and reactions
to the Norwegian-Estonian cooperation, we may be able to understand the
effects of some parts of the national ideology on for example
Estonian business practice. Another issue which influenced the Estonian
business people's cooperation with the Norwegians was their idealized
conception of the West, fondly nourished throughout the Soviet period.
After independence many Estonians expressed disappointment. Life in independent
Estonia did for many people seem more difficult than during Soviet times.
Similarly, Estonian business people were often disappointed when they
did business with Norwegian business people, as they did not live up to
their expectations of the ideal Western business person.
The old town of Tallinn is today a mixture of historical architecture and new Western style restaurants and stores. It is a place where people seem to be constantly rushing somewhere to become rich fast. Women dress according to the newest European fashions and men in suits with mobile phones are a common sight. New stores and bars pop up almost every week and old ones suffer bankruptcy. People who have experienced the changes from communism to capitalism describe them as unbelievable. Estonia has in many ways gone from one extreme to another. Today only Hong Kong has more liberal trade regulations. The younger generation stresses the liberal, individualistic and competitive nature of their society, and expresses pride in Estonian national identity. The Estonian Finno-Ugric language, which is closely related to Finnish, is a distinctive national stamp which the Estonians take pride in. And it seems as if Estonia is on the right track, if they want to achieve what they term a 'Western standard'. The economy is growing fast, the local currency which is pegged to the German mark is strong and Tallinn has its own stock exchange. Just recently Estonia was invited, as the only Baltic country, by the EU to start membership negotiations.
Outside of the old town, Tallinn looks different. The suburbs are dominated by high rise «cookie box» buildings built during the Soviet era. Here the old «trolls» (electric buses) and trams run crammed with people next to the rush hour bumper-to-bumper-line of new Western cars. Tallinn is a city of contrasts and in some respects it has always been so. The manor houses from the 1700s inhabited by the German aristocracy in the Estonian countryside do not look anything like the plain wooden Estonian farm houses from the same period. And though the communist philosophy was one of equality, even during Soviet times people talked about a «threshold» culture:
«During Christmas time we celebrated at home, but once we left the house there were no signs of Christmas. We even had a tree at home.» (30 year old Estonian woman).
Behavior and even language could change literally by crossing a threshold. At home one could express opposition towards Soviet rule, but once out of the house people would conceal such opinions. Today the fancy new offices down town have little in common with the small and crowded apartments in some of the suburbs of Tallinn. But modern offices may be concealed behind steel doors in run-down buildings. The gaps between rich and poor, old and new, ethnic Russians and ethnic Estonians, and Tallinn and the rest of Estonia are growing fast. It is for example not difficult for a Western firm to hire qualified Estonian workers. It is common for many young Estonians to speak competent English, Finnish and Russian in addition to Estonian, and to be well informed on Western ways of running a business. Some of the Norwegian firms even hired Estonians who were fluent in Norwegian or Swedish. But there are significant differences between the people who have this knowledge and those who do not. People who have the skills to work in Western firms or private businesses have a better possibility to make more money or to get a job than those who only have a Soviet education. It also seems as if the people who are oriented towards the new philosophy of private enterprise and Western values are more optimistic about their future than the people who do not hold this knowledge. This divide is also reflected in other spheres of the society. There are parts of Tallinn which only serve the needs of Estonian and Western business people, Western-oriented Estonians and Westerners living in or visiting Tallinn. These coffee shops, hotels, stores or apartments may be almost unknown to some inhabitants of Tallinn. One example is when I took an Estonian friend of mine who is from a village outside of Tallinn, but studying in Tallinn, to a coffee shop, and it was the first time in her life. Tallinn today is a place where people living and working next to each other may inhabit completely different life-worlds. The Norwegian business people who come to Tallinn mostly participate in the modern aspects of Tallinn and relate to Estonians who are oriented towards Western-style business.
The first Norwegian business people came to Tallinn in 1989. One of the businessmen who arrived early was «Frank» (fictive name), who a few years later, when it became legal to form Estonian companies with foreign ownership, established his own firm. Frank had a background in a business experience from Russia. He went to Moscow, in the early years of the Glasnost period, with the intention of selling and repairing vacuum cleaners. He was asked to give a price estimate on the repair of a stock of vacuum cleaners by business associates he established contact with in Russia. Frank made the estimate in Norway and returned to Moscow to present it to his new Russian partners. Once back in Russia he never saw the men he had established contact with during their first trip, but were met by people with whom he was unacquainted. This incident made him feel uncertain and he returned to Norway.
Back in Norway he heard that Tallinn held interesting business opportunities and that Estonians were much easier to do business with than Russians. He came to Tallinn in 1990. In Estonia he had made arrangements to organize the running of an Estonian textile factory. He had bought second-hand machinery and received financial guaranties from Norway. The first problem he faced concerned the transportation of the equipment to Estonia. It proved difficult to rent containers in Scandinavia because Estonia was considered a high-risk area. When he managed to rent containers in the Netherlands at a higher cost than he had originally calculated, his initial time schedule was delayed. The factory was put in operation in 1991. The first months went by without any problems, but when the factory started to pay off financially, the problems arose. According to Frank the Estonian management was unwilling to reinvest money that was made back into the factory. Instead they wanted to increase their personal salaries. Simultaneously the factory faced problems with obtaining raw materials. They were unable to find high quality raw material in Estonia and had to import from outside Estonia. Frank was blamed for the difficulties and two years later the Estonian management was running the factory. Frank said that one of the mistakes he made was to provide the majority of the capital without securing his interests properly. He returned to Norway.
In 1995 he was asked by the management of the factory to return to Estonia as they were still experiencing difficulties. Frank, who was facing financial difficulties in Norway, decided to go back to Estonia. His main project in Estonia in 1996 was his position as the Chairman of the Board of the factory. But he was also involved in a number of other projects. He owned a beauty parlor, was a member of the board of a consulting firm, and owned another factory outside Tallinn. According to his own account, he has had problems with all of these projects except the beauty parlor (maybe because Estonian women is known for their vanity). Frank stays in Tallinn partly because he knows the town and has business contacts there by now, but also because he has no business to return to in Norway. He also said that it was interesting to observe the changing society of Estonia up close, although he was highly critical of Estonians and the Estonian system. He has once been quoted in an Estonian newspaper describing Estonians as very lazy. Even though Frank has experienced a number of problems during his stays in Tallinn, he remained in the city. It is tempting to describe Frank and business people like him as unsuccessful in business. But, like many Norwegian business people in Tallinn, he kept trying over and over again when his projects failed. He showed initiative and proved to be inventive when coming up with new business ideas.
Apart from Coca Cola and Statoil, the remaining Norwegian-Estonian companies that I studied in Tallinn, shared some significant traits (see appendix 1 for more detailed descriptions of the individual companies). One of the most common characteristics of the Norwegian business people was that they belonged to a marginal group of business people in Norway. They were not what one normally would think of as business people. There was one priest, one with a degree in philosophy, another used to be a local politician, yet another man had been a diplomat, there was a diver, and one of the business people was a designer. But there were also Norwegian business people who had graduated from business schools. An illusion often held by Estonian business people, was that these kind of business people did not exist in the West. Even though the Norwegian business people in Tallinn belonged to a marginal group, they still related to and had a Norwegian local business habitus at the same time as they wanted to be seen as «proper» business people. But the situation of marginality also influenced their business behavior. Frank and his firm was in many ways representative for the Norwegian involvement in Tallinn. He had his own small company founded by himself, had a relatively long-term engagement in Estonia, spent most of his time in Tallinn, was involved in a number of different projects at the same time and lacked a fixed plan for his business. Each of the twelve small Norwegian-Estonian firms, was established by one or two Norwegian business people. They would sometimes cooperate with an Estonian colleague in the initial phase, but the initiative always came from the Norwegian party. The companies were small, often consisting of 3-4 people on the management level. Sometimes the management level would form the whole company. Eight firms were involved in more than one project simultaneously, four provided consultancy services, seven produced goods in Estonia for sale in Western Europe, three sold Western goods on the Estonian market, one was a travel agency and one company ran a printing press. Some of the Norwegian business people had previously traveled and done business outside Norway prior to coming to Estonia. Two of my informants had done business in Africa, one on Iceland, four had been to Russia and some were doing business in Latvia or Lithuania in addition to Estonia. A number of the business people had throughout their careers been involved in many different sectors of business.
The main bulk of the firms I studied in Tallinn in the spring of 1996 were established in 1992-1993. When I returned to Tallinn, in November 1996, three out of the twelve firms had been terminated or suffered bankruptcy. Six months later two additional firms left the country.
The Norwegian business people in Tallinn can be seen as adventurous and profit-seeking because they chose to do business in Eastern Europe. But each individual come for his or her own specific reason, each has his or her own story: some came because of the chance of making fast money, some because they wanted adventure, some because they have failed in Norway and wanted a fresh start, and some merely by chance. One of my first questions when I met the Norwegian business people was why they came to Estonia. They all hoped to make money in Tallinn, but very few had planned to go to Estonia in particular. The two largest Norwegian firms in Tallinn had a business plan with special emphasis on the Estonian market. The remaining ten firms were established in Tallinn more or less by chance. One man came because he went with a friend on vacation to Estonia. Another because of a bet with a friend in Norway. Some had connections outside the Estonian business environment such as one man who had connections with Estonian youth choirs, and another who was connected to the Estonian scout organization. Two of the founders of two Norwegian firms originally started out in Russia, but did not succeed, and moved on to try their luck in Estonia. At least four came to Estonia because of a lack of success in Norway.
When I asked the business people if they hoped that their specific project was significant for the development of Estonia, two quotes cover most of the answers: «One is not sentimental when it comes to money» and «That is not my task, but of course it is satisfying if you can create jobs». These attitudes, however, were only partially reflected in actual practice. A number of the Norwegian businesses were involved in idealistic projects, such as the organization of aid from Norway to Estonia and the organization of language courses for Russians. Only three of the companies had received funding from the Norwegian Action Program for Eastern Europe. Some would even criticize aid programs in general on the basis that the programs were out of touch with the actual situation for Western businesses in Tallinn. None of the business people would emphasize the insecurity or adventurous aspects of Tallinn as the main attraction for themselves. But they would often use this aspect as an explanation for other business people's presence in Tallinn. Contrary to how they described themselves, I will portray them as bold business people attracted by adventure as well as a group of people who were versatile and many-sided in their business careers.
From an Estonian point of view, Tallinn carries a historical heritage as a center for trade, a place of contrasts between people, and a society which at times has been isolated from the Western parts of Europe, all at the same time. As a nation which has experienced independence for less than ten years, Estonia is trying to create a sense of national unity and identity, often using aspects from its history. Indeed history is hard to escape when the Soviet apartment buildings are still housing thousands of people and the Hanseatic houses are inhabited by new businesses. Official politics in Estonia are liberal and directed towards Western Europe as opposed to the centrally regulated economy of the Soviet Union. But Estonian behavior is still often explained on the basis of their history. This is a place which in many ways would seem to be predisposed to welcome foreign capital and business people. International business is «being done» in a setting shaped by a historical awareness and sometimes nostalgia, a wish to become Western Europeans, and at the same time a skepticism to the changes.
Norwegians, in contrast, see Tallinn as an arena of challenges, but also of insecurity and change, where they can have a moral sense of helping while making good money on the promise of adventure. What kind of people took up the challenge of such an environment and did they find what they sought? The answers are not simple. «Business people who come to Estonia because they are seeking adventure will find or even create what they are looking for», said a Norwegian businessman in Tallinn. Both the Estonians and the Norwegians were seeking to realize a dream or a business ideal, but the ideals they sought may differ. They believed that they shared the same global ideology of business, but also experienced both frustrations and positive surprises when finding what they sought in practice. The following chapters will explore in detail the relationships between the Estonian and Norwegian business people's business ideals and their practice of «doing business» together.
As we saw in Chapter One, the global discourse on how to «do business» generates a set of ideological expectations among business people everywhere about how the new business ventures they plan will turn out in practice. These expectations are in important respects shared by all business people, regardless of their nationality or cultural background. Thus, my Norwegian and Estonian informants are participants in an imagined global business community (Anderson 1983), and share a commitment to a common identity as business people. They have learned that there exists an ideal business habitus, and that «good business» will result from conforming to this ideal. This sense of inhabiting the same, already well-known, world, and of interacting with people of the same «kind» as oneself, may lead business people in cross-cultural settings to assume that business is the same everywhere. But business is always done by people with a given cultural background, and in given local settings. Before one becomes a business person, one becomes a person, in a specific, local sense. Thus the universal idea of a shared ideal business habitus confronts the local realities of habitus that have been learned through socialization into specific life-worlds. On an ideological level, Norwegians and Estonians may thus interact as «business people», but on the level of practice they must still meet as «Norwegians» and «Estonians». Scandinavian practices of «doing business» have been described by Richard Hill in his book EuroManagers & Martians (Hill 1994). He notes that Norwegian management often reflects the egalitarian social system of Norway and functions in what he terms a «democratic» way, involving consultation of the employees in business matters. Estonian business people on the other hand, have often described Estonian leaders as distanced and formal. According to such descriptions, Estonian bosses create distance between themselves and their employees through physical boundaries such as closed office doors and through a focus on formal positions by clearly distinguishing between the role of the employer and the employees. The question is how these local business practices interact with the global ideal of business practice, and how the global ideas of business are articulated through the practice of «doing business» in the Norwegian-Estonian setting in Tallinn. Some of the variations among Norwegian and Estonian business people resulted from different degrees of commitment to global business ideology, to the locality and to their image of self.
The Norwegian and Estonian business people's expectations were, thus, not only based on their commitment to the global idea of business. Chapter Two dealt with some of the factors which shaped the expectations directly linked to the specific translocal cooperation situation between Western and Eastern European business people. The focus in the West on the financial growth of the countries in Eastern Europe, their need for Western know-how, and their adventurous business environments, were factors which influenced the Norwegian business people's attitudes towards doing business in the East. The Estonians, on the other hand, were forming a national identity that committed them, among other things, to changes towards a capitalistic and liberal society. The Western business people who came to the country were initially welcomed as agents of change, who «knew how», e.g. business was done. The business people thus had concrete ideas of how Eastern and Western Europeans would «do business». The Norwegians had ideas of how the communist past had affected their Estonian business associates' way of «doing business». They believed that the Estonians lacked business initiative and that they were committed to a bureaucratic management style, as a consequence of their Soviet history. Many Estonians, on the other hand, said that they expected Western and Norwegian business people to run their businesses with a focused drive towards financial profit through the running of calculated risks. There were, however, conflicts between these expectations and the actual business habitus held by the Norwegian and Estonian business people. Contrary to Estonian belief, Norwegian business people valued social justice and equality in the running of a business and were often unsuccessful in initiating progressive business plans. This made the Norwegians look somewhat naive in the eyes of Estonian business people. The Estonians surprised the Norwegian business people with their competitive business drive rather than being restricted in «doing business» because of a Communist past. Some of the expectations were also confirmed through practice. The Estonians' formal and distanced attitude could be interpreted as a result of life under authoritarian rule, while in fact it is possible that the behavior was meant as politeness. The Norwegians' «democratic» running of their businesses could be viewed, by the Estonians, as a consequence of living in a free and democratic country. But it could also very well be a result of not knowing how to behave in a dynamic and new business setting. In this sense both parties could confirm their expectations without knowing that they were misunderstanding each other.
Business as a global discursive object describes and prescribes certain ideals of habitus. The model of business, as presented in Chapter One, seeks to give a description of some common aspects of the discursive object business. These general traits influence the expectations business people everywhere have towards ideal business practice, and give them a sense of belonging to an «imagined business community». Profit, risk, entrepreneurial activity, responsibility and networking are the five general traits which constitute my (incomplete) model of business. The ideal of constant maximization of profit, is the superior aim of any business activity. Profit thus constitutes the primary hallmark of business as a global discursive object. Risk, entrepreneurial activity, responsibility and networking can be seen as ideal means towards the generation of profit. But since business people everywhere are committed to global ideas of business, in the sense that these ideas form part of their business identity, the model of business must constantly be reinterpreted to fit local circumstances. This can for example be seen through the way Estonian and Norwegian business people commented on their own professional reality. The importance of profit, risk, entrepreneurial activity, responsibility and networking in business was constantly emphasized and debated. By exploring how the local business people actually took risks, initiated new projects, took on responsibilities and created networks, we will be able to learn something about the interplay between the global ideal expectations of business habitus and the local practices of «doing business». We shall see that Estonian and Norwegian business people often had different expectations towards how business should be done and different practices of «doing business». Nevertheless, even though local Norwegian and Estonian business practices clearly influenced the way the business people «did business», both Estonians and Norwegians had a sense of doing the same thing. The business activity and the discussions of how business should be done, which took place in the Norwegian-Estonian business setting, were at the same time results of the global ideals of business, and parts of and contributions to the ongoing global discourse on business.
Truly becoming a business person is a practical task, and in order to investigate how the Norwegian and Estonian business people articulated the global ideas of business, one has to study the local practice of «doing business». The following two chapters will present four cases from the Estonian-Norwegian cooperation situation. The cases have been entitled «Risk», «Entrepreneurship», «Management Styles and Responsibility», and «Networking», and deal directly with how the Estonian and Norwegian business people acted on and related to the ideal aspects of business described in my model of business. Profit has not been isolated as a separate case as it is a prerequisite for all business and consequently every case deals with profit directly or indirectly. The divisions between the four other categories are also analytical, every case will therefore contain elements of all the factors. The «Risk» and «Entrepreneurship» cases, which will be presented in this chapter, present two situations where cooperation was unsuccessful (but not altogether so), i.e. characterized by problems and misunderstandings. The cases dealing with responsibility and networking will be presented in Chapter Four, and focus on (mainly) successful aspects of Norwegian-Estonian business cooperation. In the course of this presentation we shall see that it is not accidental that Norwegian and Estonian business people have problems cooperating in situations involving risk and entrepreneurial activity, while management and networking are far less problematic. Norwegian and Estonian business habitus differ in certain crucial respects, and tend to «fit» each other better (to be more easily «orchestrated», to use Bourdieu's term (Bourdieu 1971:81)) in some types of settings than in others. The following two chapters will explore the reasons why some aspects of the Estonian-Norwegian business cooperation are successful and others not. The cases will also show that, when confronted with the real practice instead of the imagined practice of business ideology, the business people not only acquired and related to new skills of «doing business» but also produced new business identities based on their new experiences.
The empirical examples used in the following are based on actual episodes with which I became familiar during my fieldwork. Most of the examples are based on events which I myself have observed directly, or on stories I was told by my informants. As the Norwegian business environment was small and transparent, I have tried to keep the identity of actors and firms anonymous. I have put together bits and pieces from different firms, people and situations, and the companies presented in the cases below are consequently not real companies. Each case is constructed to illustrate situations that were typical of all the smaller Norwegian firms in Tallinn at the time of my fieldwork. The cases thus have a more or less fictitious composition at the same time as I have tried to make them resemble what could be real firms and episodes as much as possible. As previously mentioned, Coca Cola and Statoil are excluded from this survey, and examples involving these companies are based on statements made by business people connected to the small Norwegian-Estonian firms.
I have above identified risk as one of the common denominators of global business ideology. To take risks in business is one way of achieving financial profit, at the same time as it involves a chance of injury or loss. Risk will always be an important part of «doing business» everywhere and a business person is expected to take risks. Nevertheless, the degree and type of uncertainty involved in taking risks depends on the business setting and the business person. The running of risks demands a certain degree of predictability in the surroundings. In cases where this is lacking, the actors may be concerned with trying to reduce factors of risk. Clifford Geertz has thus shown in his presentation of the «bazaar economy» in the Indonesian town Modjokuto, that the very small-scale traders operating in the marketplace were very reluctant to run substantial risks (Geertz 1963), and tried to spread their investments as thinly as possible. This clearly also reduced the profitability of their investments, and as a result, Geertz points out, it proved nearly impossible to get the «profit spiral» going and the market remained unpredictable and fragmented. These traders are not business people, in the sense here discussed. Since their environment is too risky, they are unwilling to take risk. Compared to Modjokuto, Tallinn is a comparatively low risk environment, and in this sense, it is far easier to «do business» here. Nevertheless, compared to typical Norwegian business settings, Tallinn is a high-risk locality, and taking a risk in Tallinn is thus very different from taking a risk in Oslo. Norwegian business people arriving in Tallinn were prepared for risk in theory, but had little experience of what it entailed in practice.
I shall in the following focus on Estonian and Norwegian styles of risk-taking. A specific form of risk that was typically taken by Norwegian business people in Tallinn may be termed the business stunt. It may be surprising that Norwegian business people, who are «doing business» in an unfamiliar setting, who are used to a secure Norwegian business environment, and who hold a business habitus previously described as «democratic» rather than risk-willing, indulge in business «stunts». The reasons lie partly in the Norwegian business habitus and partly in the Estonian setting. Business stunts will be compared and contrasted to the calculated risks, that are characteristic of the Estonian business people. Again, the explanations of why the Estonians take risks of this kind can be found through looking at the Estonian local business habitus, and its relationship to the local Estonian setting.
Business stunts can be characterized as dangerous, daring, original and flamboyant actions which are often performed on the spur of the moment. They offer chances of considerable profit as the stakes are high and the projects normally require minimal planning. Stunts may therefore be tempting for small and marginal businesses such as the Norwegian-Estonian companies. These firms have limited financial resources and limited human capital to plan their projects (as opposed to Statoil and Coca Cola, which do not perform business stunts). A stunt, however, does not need planning and, if successful, gives profit. Business activity in Norway can be described as predictable and routine rather than dangerous and daring. Tallinn can apparently offer more excitement within business than for example Oslo, and the prospect of a place suitable for business stunts may be one factor that attracts a certain category of Norwegian business people to Tallinn. Webster's Dictionary also describes a stunt as an action which is often meant to attract attention (Webster's 1989:1411). If a stunt is sufficiently original it may pay off financially and because of the high profile of many stunts, the success will be duly noted. A failure will be similarly visible. All of these characteristics give stunts a flare of adventure rather than rational business projects. A business adventure may open for a form of idealism on behalf of the actors. This was precisely the case for many of the Norwegian business people, who often tried to add aspects of aid and transfer of know-how to their business (ad)ventures.
The examples below will describe a Norwegian company in its initial face of establishment in Tallinn, and how the Estonian and Norwegian actors within the company articulated the global ideology of running risks in business through the practice of «doing business» in a local setting.
A small Norwegian firm, which had a franchise agreement with a Norwegian chain of stores, established their business in Estonia in 1995 in order to introduce the stores in Estonia. Their main priority area was Tallinn. The 'store company' came to Tallinn more or less by accident. One of the owners was challenged by a friend, who dared him to do business in the former Soviet Union. The company established an office in Tallinn in order to organize the running and establishment of the stores in Estonia. The office was run by an Estonian administration, which consisted of a Project Manager and a Financial Manager, and one representative of the Norwegian owners. One Norwegian man was also hired to assist directly in the organization of the individual stores. There was regular contact between the Tallinn office and its Norwegian owners. Initially, the Norwegian owners assumed that the stores in Estonia would multiply at an even higher rate than they had in Norway. They assumed that within the first years they would have established around 20-30 stores in Estonia. But after one year they had only managed to set up five stores.
During the six first months of the venture the goods for the Estonian stores were ordered by one of the Norwegian owners who was unfamiliar with the wants and needs of Estonian consumers. As a result the stores were unable to offer some goods which were viewed as essential for that kind of store in Estonia. One example is that in Russian parts of Tallinn there is a demand for tea sold in bulk weight instead of tea bags and for darker bread than in the Estonian areas. The Estonian partners in the administration of the Estonian branch of the 'store company' were surprised that the routines for ordering goods were changed only after a number of months and not immediately. According to them this proved that the Norwegians needed more information prior to coming to Estonia. The Estonian Project Manager said that:
"Everything is different here. You notice that already at the airport when you have problems finding a baggage cart(14). Our bosses had too little information about Estonia before they came".
This project can clearly be termed a stunt. The planning beforehand was minimal and the Norwegian business people had very little knowledge of the particular business situation in Tallinn. They were seeking profit, but they had not analyzed the market prior to establishing themselves in Tallinn, looked for suitable partners in Estonia or tried to hire Norwegians with knowledge of Estonia. The fact that the company had not even tried to obtain any knowledge of Estonia, seems surprising. The Norwegian representative of the owners expressed this explicitly by saying:
«The only thing that matters is that you know your job as for example an economist and that you are qualified to this job. It is hard to know how to prepare.»
The lack of information about Estonia was a common characteristic of the Norwegian companies in Tallinn. One explanation for this was that many of the business people did not have time to plan their projects prior to their arrival in Tallinn, as they decided on how and where to «do business» in the nick of time. Another reason may be that the Norwegian business people felt secure that they would know how to «do business» in Tallinn. Indeed, if, as the global ideology of business claims, business is the «same» everywhere, then it is sufficient to «know one's job», as the representative of the owners of the above case claimed. Such beliefs cannot be attributed to mere ignorance on the Norwegians' part. After all, Estonia was changing towards a capitalistic society and Estonians' experience of commercial business was limited. Some of the Norwegian business people may thus have arrived in Tallinn believing that their knowledge as Westerners would pull them through.
If the company had run a market analysis ahead of their arrival they might have learned that there are important differences between the Estonian and the Norwegian markets. Estonia does not have a large wealthy middle class, as Norway or the rest of Western Europe and the most important factor for the Estonian consumer is in most cases still the price, as an Estonian businessman put it. As mentioned above the Estonian consumers also have specific demands which are not necessarily obvious to Norwegians. Apart from darker bread and tea in bulk weight in Russian areas, another example is the preference for salted pickles in Estonia rather than the pickles sold in Norway which often contain sugar. Competition is also stiffer in Estonia. The market places from the Soviet period are now filled with cheap and relatively high-standard goods. Ever since Soviet times there have existed small basement stores which sell groceries. These stores have very reasonable leases and can thus often offer cheaper goods than the supermarkets.
The 'store company' also faced problems in the running of the individual stores. The Norwegian company hired Estonians as managers of the local branches. There were misunderstandings concerning routines, cooperation, marketing, planning and the organization of the goods in the stores. The Norwegian man working as an assistant during the establishment of new stores gave me an example of an incident he had found frustrating. He asked the staff to place a stock of children's shoes in visible places in the store. He pointed out the exact places to the staff. The shoes were on sale that week and the Norwegian wanted them to be especially noticeable to the customers. His orders had not been followed when he returned to the store the next day. He consequently had to arrange the shoes himself. According to him this situation illustrated how the Estonian staff was unable to understand how to market and sell goods efficiently.
Here we see another and somewhat subtler example of how poorly the Norwegians understood the Estonian situation they were «doing business» in. The Norwegian supervisor had expected that his knowledge about marketing from the West would apply in Tallinn. He was genuinely surprised when the Estonian workers did not understand the importance of his suggestions. But the Estonians may well have been aware of the importance of marketing, but had a different attitude towards how marketing should be done. One incident which was retold to me by one representative from the Estonian administration of the company in question may serve as an example of this. He said that he had seen one of the Norwegians offering free coffee to the public as a PR stunt. He described the Norwegian, when he was doing this, as acting «pushy» towards the customers in a positive sense of the word. He said that he could not imagine any Estonian offering free tastings in the same manner. He used this as an example of how differently Norwegians and Estonians view and react to marketing.
The Norwegians' lack of planning seemed to surprise the Estonian partners in the company, and many Estonians working for other Norwegian firms in Tallinn would voice complaints similar to those of the Project Manager of the 'store company'. One example was an Estonian woman hired as a Project Manager in another Norwegian firm, who said that her boss wrongly assumed that things worked the same way in Tallinn as in Norway. She claimed that he failed to realize that competition is stiffer in a capital city like Tallinn which is also undergoing major changes and is the object of substantial international business interests, than in a small town in Norway, like the place her boss came from. She said that it is vital to asses the situation thoroughly before doing business in Tallinn, as it is a demanding place to «do business», particularly for a Norwegian business person.
The Estonian Project Manager of the 'store company' went on to say that since Estonia is an unstable society you need to know what sorts of risks you take. Estonians, he said, take risks in a different manner than Norwegians:
«We calculate our actions. After a thorough evaluation of the situation we act, and then we may run seemingly bigger risks than the Westerners».
He gave me an example from his own experience to exemplify this statement: «Normally, goods ordered by our company are paid for after delivery, and especially if they come from Russia. One of our regular suppliers in Russia was having difficulties paying salary to their workers and needed money to be able to transport the goods to Estonia. They promised us a considerable discount on the delivery if we were willing to pay up-front. I contacted the Norwegian owners, who were doubtful at first. They were persuaded only after I agreed to vouch for the money personally. I was certain that we would receive the goods, as I trusted the company and knew that they were dependent on maintaining a good relationship with our company in order to stay comfortably in business». I asked the Estonian Project Manager if he managed to sleep at night, knowing that he was personally responsible for a big amount of money. «If you borrow ten thousand dollars in a bank, you don't sleep at night. If the bank lends you one million dollars, they don't sleep at night», was his answer. The goods were, as the Project Manager had predicted, delivered to Estonia right after the money was transferred to the Russian company.
The above situation may seem like a dangerous risk for the Estonian Project Manager to take, and we might be tempted to call it a stunt, as we did in the Norwegian case. The Estonian seemed to be risking his reputation as a trustworthy business person as well as money. Closer investigation reveals that there are important differences between the risks taken by the Norwegians and the Estonians. The Estonian businessman claimed that he knew what he was doing, that he had knowledge about his partners, and could trust their relationship to his company because his experience with their business partners had taught him to trust them. His actions may seem risky, but they were thoroughly calculated. At the same time as he stressed the fact that his action was a risk, he also added that he knew what he was doing. He wanted to describe himself as a brave business person who took risks at the same time as he had an overview of his business situation. His actions were consequently not risky to him, but similar behavior would have been to other business people, such as the Norwegians, who did not know the setting they were operating within. The description the Estonian businessman gave of himself, corresponded to the global ideology of business, consisting of responsible, but risky, business actions. The description was meant to make me see him in a certain way. He exercised impression management (Goffman 1959) to guide my impressions of him, so that I, as a result, would consider him a successful businessman operating according to the global business habitus.
The distinction this Estonian businessman made between how Norwegians and Estonians took risks in business was repeated by many Estonian business people. One Estonian businessman said that Estonians will check and then double-check before they dare take a risk. Another man said that he had to slow his Norwegian partner down. His partner had too many unrealistic ideas which the Estonian had to prevent him from realizing. The analogy of a game of poker seems appropriate of the Estonian ways of taking risks. It is of crucial importance to conceal whether your hand of cards is good or bad. Similarly one might want to keep one's intentions a secret in business. The next move in poker always needs to be carefully planned by deducing the cards and moves of the opponents. I once observed an Estonian businessman talking to a Russian businessman who was making him an offer, which I knew he found very interesting. The Estonian never unveiled his real interest and the result of his calculating attitude, or «poker face», was a favorable deal with the Russian businessman. Calculated risks, like stunts, involve gambling. The Norwegian business people in Tallinn, being a marginal group (both at home, in Norway, and in the Estonian context), may have been more inclined to perform business stunts than the Estonians who were much more committed to the locality in which they were «doing business», as Tallinn was their «home port». The Norwegian business people did not risk, for example, their reputation through unsuccessful business deals to the same extent as an Estonian businessman in Tallinn. Another explanation may be that the Norwegians expect a predictable and safe world, whereas the Estonians believe that the world is fundamentally unpredictable. As mentioned earlier, Norway is a secure and stable society with safety nets such as the state or local communities. This makes it difficult to take a truly hazardous risk and the Norwegians are thus not trained in calculating their actions. In Estonia, a changing society, and before the changes, a society governed by capricious authorities, people are used to assuming that people and situations cannot be trusted, and therefore need to calculate their actions.
An example of the Norwegian behavior patterns (habitus) I am here describing might be the rather surprising tendency of the Norwegian firms to be involved in numerous and often odd projects:
The 'store company' was also involved in a number of other projects besides the establishing of stores. They arranged Estonian language courses for their Russian employees, arranged a trade fair for Norwegian producers and were involved in sending an Estonian choir to Norway. Apart from the language courses which cannot be termed a business venture, as they were non-profit, all of these projects failed. At one point the Norwegian representative in Tallinn suggested to his secretary that she should make an archive of unsuccessful projects. For the trade fair they invited Norwegian producers to one of the main hotels in Tallinn. They presented their goods to prospective customers in Estonia. The idea was that the company would function as a mediator between the Estonian customers and the Norwegian producers and sellers. Very few deals were struck as a result of the fair. One of the few deals that was made was between a Norwegian company based in Tallinn and a Norwegian exporter. The parties met at the trade fair, but the deal was made independently of the organizers of the fair. The Norwegian representative was very bitter because of this. He said that he felt that the Norwegian company based in Tallinn should have gone through him since he had created the contact by arranging the fair.
The company also tried to organize a concert in Norway for an Estonian choir during a large cultural event in Norway. The Norwegian company took the financial responsibility for the concert. They rented a large concert hall and advertised the event in Norway, organized the housing of the choir during their stay in Norway and solicited financing from sponsors both in Norway and Estonia. The main Estonian sponsor was the City of Tallinn. This project received a lot of public attention in Tallinn. The Estonian choir also took great care in their preparations for the trip. They even translated parts of their repertoire into Norwegian. Then, the project was canceled by the Norwegian company only three weeks before the planned concert. The official reason was a hotel strike in Norway. The Norwegian company claimed that very few people would come to the concert as a result of the hotel strike, since the festival relied on out-of-town visitors. The strike was called off one week later. The Norwegian representative also told me that they had sold very few tickets to the concert. The Estonian Project Manager of the company, on the other hand, thought that the real reason was «bad planning». They had only started to plan the concert one and a half months in advance. He thought that this was too little time. This is how he described the Norwegian owners of the company:
"They moved too fast and made decisions too quickly. They are too optimistic. I miss a plan for the choir project, but also for their whole business venture here in Estonia."
As we saw initially, this company started its career in Tallinn by taking a rather dramatic and unnecessary risk. The story I have told indicates that the company did not learn from this experience. The fictitious company I have here described is in this sense typical of the actual companies I studied. The Norwegians kept taking risks, which their Estonian partners frowned upon. As mentioned earlier, the Norwegian and Estonian business people were committed to Tallinn in different ways. For the Norwegians, Tallinn was often considered a temporary place for their business. The Estonians, on the other hand, saw business as a serious matter as it was part of their Estonian national project. In this sense they are not only representatives of different local business habitus, but different kinds of global actors. The Estonians relate to a global ideology in their own country, whereas the Norwegians articulate global business ideology in a place they can never be as committed to as the native Estonians. In this sense the Norwegians have far less to risk than the Estonians. As a result of their lack of knowledge of the locality, their local habitus and their low obligation to Tallinn, their risks in business come out as stunts. In their search for profit the company was involved in many projects simultaneously as were many other Norwegian companies in Tallinn. They hoped that at least one of the projects would pay off. But as Geertz' example from Modjokuto showed, the spreading of business involvement may make it difficult to attain profit. The Indonesian small traders found that involvement in many projects would lessen their risks, but it also made it harder to make profit. The spreading of involvement, may similarly have functioned as a «life insurance» for the Norwegian business people. Instead of risking all one's assets on one business project the risk was spread on many smaller projects.
Both the Estonian and the Norwegian business people acknowledged that risk was an important factor of «doing business». The examples above have illustrated that although they agreed on the importance of risk, they articulated the global ideology of risk in different local ways. The Norwegians' stunts may be a result of their lack of knowledge of the situation. But what was striking was not so much the lack of knowledge in itself, but the fact that the Norwegians did not try to improve their knowledge of the Estonian context. This is indeed paradoxical. For on the one hand, the Norwegians seemed to assume that their experience of «doing business» in Norway would be sufficient background for «doing business» successfully in Tallinn. But on the other hand, as we saw in Chapter Two, one of the main reasons why they were attracted to Estonia in the first place was the Western image of Eastern Europe as a place that was very different from Norway, because it was a more risky place to «do business». The fact that these Norwegian business people sought a business setting which was different from Norway, implied that they desired changes. They wanted a fresh start and something new, but did not want business in itself to change. In practice, however, they seemed convinced that business is the same everywhere and that they knew how to «do business». The Norwegians were marginally committed in Tallinn, in the sense that if they took a risk, they mostly risked their own reputation and their own personal profit. If they failed they had a chance to move on or return to Norway where almost no one would be familiar with their mistakes.
The Estonians held another agenda. They had to be more careful as they might risk their reputation in the city where they were going to keep «doing business» maybe for the rest of their lives. They knew the Estonian situation better than the Norwegians and had a more intimate knowledge of the local setting. They were therefore able to avoid needless risks far better, as the example of the Estonian «doing business» with Russians seems to show. More fundamentally still, they were strongly committed to building a local national identity at the same time as they were «doing business» and thus the results of their actions mattered in the society as a whole. As mentioned earlier Estonia's national policy favored a liberal democratic system of government. The emphasis on free trade, the improvement of business conditions, and in general, the achievement of economic growth in a classical, liberalistic sense, are tightly linked with Estonian national identity. Estonians are committed to their business because they need to uphold a reputation in Tallinn as good business people. But they are also strongly committed to the building of the Estonian nation in which commercial business plays an important role. The Norwegians on the other hand, normally spend a limited time in Tallinn and their agendas for doing business are mostly personal, although they were influenced by the general Western attitudes towards Eastern Europe. In a way they were more global in their orientation as Tallinn was just another place to «do business» in the global world of business. These differences in commitments resulted in different ways of «doing business». It was important for the Estonians to calculate their risks, so that they did not fail, whereas the Norwegian business people could afford to take risks without considering the consequences to the same degree as the Estonians.
Estonians also seemed to view themselves in general as more calculating than the Norwegians, and often described themselves as a «calculating» people. They seemed secretive in their business activity and unwilling to reveal their intentions until it was necessary. One way in which this was often expressed was that Estonians were used to planning and thinking ahead, since their society had been through such dramatic and unpredictable changes in latter years. The Estonian description of their own risks in business as calculating matched the Estonian construction of national identity. Chapter Two described parts of the Estonian collective ideology as individualistic. This idea of themselves seemed to contradict the complaints about the lack of collective solidarity and the loss of the feeling of safety after independence from the USSR. This may again be connected to the dual influence consisting of both a communist past and a Western orientation.
As I mentioned above, when Norwegian business people described other Norwegian business people in Tallinn they often portrayed them as insufficiently prepared for the Estonian business situation. Frequently repeated descriptions were adventure seekers, ignorant towards the Estonian situation and badly prepared. Such statements show that the Norwegians were aware of the high rate of badly planned and very risky Norwegian business projects in Tallinn. They would however never describe themselves in this manner. The reluctance to see themselves as badly prepared for the Estonian business setting shows on the one hand, that they are aware that according to global business ideology, a business person should plan his or her business ventures. On the other hand, «adventure seekers» is not necessarily a completely negative description. Taking a risk means being bold and thus adventurous. The more one risks the more one stands to gain.
This case has shown different articulations of risk in business among Estonian and Norwegian business people. The two parties had different business habitus and different motivations for «doing business» in Tallinn. Estonian business people calculated their risks and wanted to work with well planned projects. One way of putting it is that they wanted to do «proper» business. One reason for this was their specific business habitus, but also their inexperience in commercial business activity and consequently a need for plans. The Estonian society is also unstable and the Estonians were used to high-risk everyday life. Finally, the business activity was part of their nation building and it was thus important to succeed in business. Norwegian business people were not used to relating to a high-risk business setting in Norway. Consequently they were not sufficiently prepared for handling the factors of risk in Tallinn. They believed in a fair system and felt disappointed when they were treated unjustly. The Norwegian businessman who arranged the trade fair, and became bitter when he discovered that a deal was struck without his knowledge, can serve as an example of this. Coming to Tallinn might have given the Norwegian business people a chance to finally operate within a high-risk business environment, and since they were not used to this type of setting their business risks became flamboyant stunts.
Tallinn in 1996 could offer many unused business niches, and the importance of being the first to utilize a new niche was constantly emphasized, by both the Norwegian and Estonian business people. The existence of many new niches and poorly established business structures attracted small-scale, globalized actors from Norway and other countries, and was probably the main contribution to the «bonanza» feature of the business environment in Tallinn. At the same time, Tallinn was a high risk economy and the exploitation of new niches was often connected to risk. Paradoxically, the Norwegian business people often experienced fear and enthusiasm at the same time, when «doing business». The abundance of possibilities coupled with risk led to, as we have seen, a strong tendency among Norwegian business people to be involved in many projects, often at the same time. In this sense the Norwegians can be compared to Geertz' bazaar traders. The Norwegian business people often approached their new business initiatives with both arrogance and hesitance. They were arrogant in the sense that they became reckless as they were unaware of what they were doing. They were hesitant because they had failed before or heard stories about Western business failures. These factors led to a reluctance to stake a lot on one project and consequently the Norwegian business initiatives often seemed reckless and irresponsible and insufficiently committed.
Estonians had a completely different attitude towards entrepreneurial activity. When they are exploiting new business niches they are at the same time reconstructing national identity and spreading progress and «Western civilization» to new parts of their nation. The Estonians are thus much more committed to their business activity than the Norwegians, at the same time as they have a better understanding of the limitations and possibilities of business done in Tallinn. But Estonian business people, maybe as a result of their high degree of commitment, tend to be too conservative in their business initiatives. The Norwegians, who enjoy the luxury of seeing the situation from a distance, may contribute with new and creative business ideas. The Estonians hold the local knowledge required to evaluate the validity of the new projects. They can among other things, estimate how time consuming planning in Estonia may be or inform the Norwegians of the importance of networks and contacts (as will be shown in Chapter Four). One of the aspects of the situation which the Norwegians do not fully realize is the stiff competition in Tallinn. They see the possibilities, but fail to acknowledge the struggle needed in order to attain profit.
The first case presented the way a Norwegian company ran their business as a whole, with a special focus on stunts. We saw how a number of different actors related to certain situations and how the business venture developed during the firm's initial stages. The following case will analyze a business meeting in order to illustrate a particular sequence in the process of «doing business» where a Norwegian firm tries to force itself into a new niche. The company and its Norwegian President is however denied access to the new niche for reasons unintelligible to the Norwegian. The previous case showed some cooperation situations which will be similar to the one about to be described, and we shall see that the Norwegians' tendencies towards irresponsible and half-hearted business commitments are unsuitable for entry into new business niches.
The Norwegian President (in his mid-forties) of a consulting firm and his Estonian Project Manager (in her early twenties) went to a bank meeting for a loan application and I was allowed to be present. The Norwegian President said that it would be nice for a change to have someone there who was familiar with the «Norwegian way of thinking». The Norwegian firm and the owners of an old apartment building in the Old Town of Tallinn had drawn up a rental agreement. The Norwegian firm had formulated a business plan and taken the initiative for a project involving many of the other Norwegian business people in Tallinn. The plan was to rent the building and convert it into a "Scandinavian Center". The building would house a Danish store, a workroom for visiting Scandinavian artists, office space for Scandinavian businesses in Tallinn, and offer penthouse flats for rent. The apartment building was in need of renovation and the "Scandinavian Center " project was willing to undertake this task. The capital stock alone did not cover the full costs of the rent and the renovation, and the loan was supposed to finance the remaining expenses. The other participants in the meeting were an Estonian bank employee in his mid-twenties and an Estonian representative of the owners of the apartment building (in his late forties).
This case introduces us to a middle-aged Norwegian businessman and two generations of Estonian business people: the young, male banker and the female Project Manager, on the one hand, and the middle-aged representative of the owners of the building on the other. All three Estonians had different views on how to «do business» and thus related differently to the project proposed by the Norwegian. We shall see that the different assumptions of the actors can cause communication break down.
This business initiative was an example of ambitious entrepreneurship in several ways. It involved extensive cooperation between the Norwegian business actors in Tallinn, which was unusual. It planned to introduce a «Scandinavian Center» in Estonia, which presupposed an interest for Scandinavia in the Estonian public. It was initiated by a small Norwegian firm with limited means, and by foreigners in Tallinn. The Norwegian President had started the project by himself. He designed the business plan, contacted the other Norwegian firms, and persuaded them to invest in the project. The idea was new and might potentially turn out to be a big success, as no one had ever before tried to organize an extensive cooperation between the Norwegian business actors in Tallinn.
The bank we were going to was one of the new and successful Estonian banks(15). Its logo looks almost like a Japanese character and the furnishing is stylish and modern in shades of gray and black. We were received by a bank employee who was very polite and correct. He shook hands with the men and bowed to the women (myself and the Project Manager), while wearing a polite and professional expression. We were led into the room where the meeting was to be held and seated around an oval table. Then we had to wait ten minutes for the representative of the owners of the building to come before the meeting could start. The Project Manager was supposed to function as an interpreter for the Norwegian President if this was needed. She started by addressing the banker in Estonian, in spite of the fact that the Norwegian President did not speak Estonian. This repeated itself a number of times during the meeting. We later realized that the banker spoke good English, but when he was addressed in Estonian he answered in Estonian. The Project Manager translated the Estonian sections of the conversation into English in the beginning, but after approximately ten minutes she started having long conversations with the banker, which she failed to translate. She also took private notes. Her boss was unable to follow the discussion and began to look confused and uncomfortable. I was surprised, and it felt very frustrating not to be able to pick up the official Estonian.
After a while the banker wanted to check the credentials of the Norwegian man's company and the new joint-stock company which had been formed by several of the Norwegian business people in Tallinn. He especially asked questions about the financial reliability of the individual companies which formed the new joint-stock company. This clearly annoyed the Norwegian businessman who replied shortly that all of the companies were stable and trustworthy. He added that the Norwegian Prime Minister was visiting Estonia soon and it would look good if this project was up and running by then. The banker just shrugged his shoulders.
Business meetings are maybe the most common events in the process of «doing business», and the «rules» of behavior at such meetings are well known to any business person. They are an established part of business as a global discursive object. These «rules» are in part very general (politeness, formality etc.), in part focused specifically on the business meeting as such. Examples of the latter category range from formal procedures for drawing up contracts, to standards of what constitutes a valid and trustworthy argument. The existence of such generally accepted rules, makes the misunderstandings and divergent behavior among the participants in the business meeting described above seem particularly surprising, both to the onlooker and to the actors themselves. It is surprising that the Project Manager excluded her boss from the conversation. The only thing she seemingly stood to gain from this was to undermine the authority of her boss and the company she worked for. It also seems strange that the banker immediately accepted her behavior, since he did not know the Norwegian President, and had no a priori reason to distrust him. After all, he was a man, had a Western background, and represented an ambitious and innovative business venture. He also represented a Western business culture that Estonian business people admire. And finally, it is very surprising that the Norwegian President did not intervene in the situation and force his employee to interpret the Estonian conversations, as they had agreed.
The Estonian banker probably observed this latter behavior and wondered at it. The fact that the Norwegian did not manage to control his employee must have been disquieting. The banker probably interpreted this lack of control as unprofessional, and indicating lack of commitment to the project. Such a man cannot be trusted off hand. Even though the Project Manager was a woman, and even though she was not exactly acting «professional» herself, he may have chosen to trust her as a fellow Estonian, whose commitment to Estonian business he could at least take for granted. The banker would be strengthened in his conclusions by the knowledge that many Estonian business people have had negative experiences with Western business adventurers. And after all, as the previous case showed, Estonians tend to calculate their risks.
When the President mentioned that the Norwegian Prime Minister would be coming to Estonia, the banker may have interpreted this as yet another sign of unprofessional weakness. The Norwegian seemed to be clinging to his last straw. But it is also very possible that the banker interpreted it as an aggressive move. The President was trying to force his way into this new niche, by threatening the banker with «the authorities». But the Estonians have had extensive experience with the dangerous and unpredictable Soviet «authorities», and are good judges of whether or not a threat is real. The Norwegian's threat was not very convincing. He was claiming that he could convince the highest Norwegian authority to back his venture, when he could not even make his Project Manager behave correctly! All of this made it quite easy for the banker to dismiss the Norwegian as a «bad business man», measured by the yardstick of global business ideology.
From the Norwegian's point of view, things probably looked quite different. We have previously mentioned that Norwegian business practice tends to be «democratic» and consensus-oriented, and we shall return to this below. At present it is sufficient to observe that it is unlikely that the Norwegian was explicitly challenging the banker in this way. The Norwegian President was trying to give a good impression, of himself, his firm, and the new joint-stock company, in order to be granted a loan. And just like the Estonian, he measured his own performance by the standards of global business ideology. He was claiming that he represented a Western, capitalist nation and therefore «knew how» to «do business» (he mastered global business ideology), and that the project mattered to Estonia as a nation and the banker was an obstruction to «development».
This last claim has a peculiar duality to it. The Norwegian is making a Norwegian «democratic» gesture. In Norwegian politics it is always a good argument that «it matters» to the (local) collective. At the same time, the Norwegian has spent enough time in Estonia to recognize the strong commitment Estonians feel to their nation, and he is making an explicit appeal to it. But perhaps he does not recognize that Estonians do not commit themselves to the same kind of collective as Norwegians.
As we shall see below, the «collectivist» aspect of Norwegian business habitus may under certain circumstances be well received by the Estonian party, and may contribute to business success. In the present situation, however, the Norwegian entrepreneur is attempting to «open doors» into a new niche. Here Norwegian business habitus appears to be counterproductive. It is neither able to convince others to open doors, nor to force them to open on its own. This became increasingly clear as the meeting progressed:
The banker then wanted to know if the Norwegian firm could receive a loan in Scandinavia and then refinance it in their bank. This led to a relatively heated discussion. Projects in Estonia are not always considered credit worthy in Scandinavian banks because Estonia is viewed as a high-risk country. The interest rates are very high in Estonian banks and therefore not favorable for the lender. This makes it hard for a foreign business to start new projects without having sufficient capital beforehand. The Estonian banker wanted the Norwegian firm to take up a loan in a Scandinavian bank and then refinance it. This would provide the Estonian bank with security, as to whether they could trust the Norwegian loan applicant or not, but would make the investment almost impossible for the Norwegian firm. The Norwegian party would probably prefer it the other way around and take up a loan in an Estonian bank and then refinance it in a Scandinavian bank with lower interest rates. The high interest rates in Estonian banks were often criticized among Norwegian and other Western business people.
The banker was together with the Estonian Project Manager a representative of the young and new generation of Estonian business people and had a very formal approach to his job. When the Norwegian man became annoyed because of his wish to check the validity of his firm and the firms which formed the new joint-stock company, the banker failed to see why the Norwegian President reacted the way he did. The banker's wish was reasonable, but it was also a retaliation against the Norwegian's «threat». When the banker also wanted the President to lend money in a Scandinavian bank, the Norwegian man thought he was being unreasonable. Projects in Eastern Europe are, as mentioned above, seldom viewed as creditworthy in the West and an Estonian banker would know this. The Norwegian man may have felt that he should have been given some goodwill, at least from the Estonian financial sources, since he wanted to start an idealistic, new project in Estonia. The Estonian banker, on the other hand, had to ensure the bank's interests. Many Western companies have failed to carry out their business plans in Estonia and let down both financial sources and people who believed in them and made an effort for them. The issue of whether or not a Western business can be trusted has grown to be a very important factor for potential Estonian cooperation partners.
The representative of the owners of the building was very quiet during the meeting. When the amount of the loan was discussed he only commented that if there was a will to do things they could be done regardless of the money. The Norwegian President told me afterwards that this had annoyed him. The prospective deal between the owners of the building and the Norwegian firm was viewed, by all the parties, as lucrative for the owners. The Norwegian President felt that it would be in the owner's interest if the Norwegian firm received a favorable loan in order to carry out the project according to their plans. The representative of the owners was asked, by the banker and the Norwegian President, to give an account of the present terms between the owners and the tenants now living in the building. Both the banker and the Norwegian President seemed to think that he would be able to answer at once, or if not, to get the information. He claimed, however, that the information was sensitive and hence unavailable for the loan applicants. But this would make it impossible for the new lessors to plan the redecoration and the new rent prices. As the income from the renovated flats would contribute to repay the loan, the facts about the leases were crucial information for the Norwegian firm in order to plan the project and for the banker to assess the validity of the plans. The representative of the owners later said that he would try to get the information. He left the meeting early.
After the representative of the owners had left, the meeting went nowhere. No agreement was reached among the parties. The project was later abandoned mainly because of the lack of financial support.
The representative of the owners of the building belonged to a generation who has lived and worked most of their lives in the Soviet Union. A meeting with a Western partner in a commercial Estonian bank would have been unthinkable only six years ago. For the middle-aged man, the «business meeting» and its «rules» are largely new and unfamiliar. Instead of focusing on the importance of the loan he concentrated on signaling his good will: redecorating and restoring the house could be done independently of the amount of money. It is likely that he simply failed to understand that the project never would be implemented unless the company could borrow money, and that no one would show any interest in the project unless it had financial backing. The other people present at the meeting seemed surprised by his approach. His knowledge was out-of-date and his skills vastly inferior to those of the young and progressive banker. (At the time of my fieldwork Estonian business people were mostly very young and when advertising vacant positions it was common to have an upper age limit often as low as thirty years). In this context it was very hard for the representative of the owners to exercise any authority in a business meeting with a young banker, as his expertise was irrelevant and unwanted. To the banker, seeing this man in a business setting must have seemed almost pathetic and he may have deliberately chosen to disregard what he said. The Norwegian apparently failed to understand this situation. If he had, he would have obtained the information on the leases beforehand. He would also have known that the middle-aged Estonian would be unacquainted with the rules of a business meeting. Yet again, the banker lost confidence in the President when he realized that the he had not checked with the Estonian man beforehand.
When we walked back to the office, the Project Manager walked in front of us in silence. The Norwegian President and I spoke in Norwegian. I asked him how he felt about the meeting. He said he was confused, but that he was used to this. He added that he did not feel that he should have to take this sort of treatment. He should not have to accept anything here that he would not have to accept in Norway. He went on to say that his Project Manager had resigned. She had asked for a raise and he had refused. This was, according to him, the reason why she was leaving the office and he claimed to be happy about her leaving. She was not accommodating enough towards his business associates and her behavior during the meeting was inexcusable. He could not accept that she was excluding him by having long conversations in Estonian.
I later spoke to the Project Manager about the disagreements between her and the President. She told me that she was dissatisfied with her working conditions because she was not given the information which she felt she needed in order to do her job as a Project Manager. She said that she had worked for Estonian firms which operated much more professionally than this Norwegian firm. She had expected more experience from a Western businessman. She said her boss lacked good business plans and that he had dreams for his business and sometimes even good ideas, but no idea of how to realize them. According to her, this was a common trait of the Norwegian and Western business people she had met:
«The Western businessmen decide to do something one week and then do it the next week. That's how business works. They come up with a good idea and just do it. They don't have much knowledge beforehand, and some of them learn as they go, but not my boss».
She also explained that her boss never told her what really went on in the office: "He never tells me anything. Important issues are discussed in Norwegian in private meetings or on the phone". He speaks Norwegian on the phone as well as with his Norwegian business partners. This made it hard for her to get an understanding of how the business was run and thus to perform satisfactorily for the company. The secretary of the company told me that the Project manager and the President communicated through her. She delivered their messages to each other. The Project manager would call her and ask her to tell the President so and so and vice versa.
Both the Project Manager and the President were frustrated after the bank meeting and dissatisfied with their working relationship. She used the Estonian language to exclude her boss, just like she felt he did when he spoke Norwegian on the phone. But her boss failed to see why she was disappointed and interpreted this as an example of her inadequate ability to «do business correctly» according to global business ideology. He had been disappointed with her for a long time, but had not fired her, nor had he discussed the problems with her, to try to get her to sympathize with his situation. He was dependent on her, but unable to exercise any authority over or towards her. As with the banker, it was the level of professionality in the firm which disappointed and surprised the Project Manager. Through the formulation of her expectations she revealed one idea of how business «should be done» which was repeated by many Estonian business people working with Western partners, namely the wish for professionality and «correct» running of businesses. The Norwegian was not an experienced or professional businessman in the Estonian setting. He was an entrepreneur who was feeling his way into the Estonian market and unaware of local expectations of a Western businessperson. The Project Manager, on the other hand belonged to the first generation of market oriented Estonian business people, trained in modern Western-style business schools. Although Estonia is an unstable market, it is possible that her training has focused on business procedures in established firms and not in insecure settings like this Norwegian firm. But her Norwegian boss had not taken the time to explain how he wanted to conduct his affairs, in part, because he was unaware of her frustrations and in part, because he was convinced that he knew how to «do business». Both parties were thus committed to the global business ideology. The Norwegian was «certain that he knew how» and the Estonian was «willing to learn», but not if the learning contradicted certain aspects of her local habitus.
3.2.1 «Idealistic» Entrepreneurs and «Professional» Estonians
The 'Scandinavian Center' project is an example of an attempted entrepreneurial stunt which failed. My data show that this case is not a-typical. A considerable number of the business ideas that the Norwegians tried to carry through did in fact fail. Many of the failed projects were similar to that of the 'Scandinavian Center'. They were initiated by small firms which lacked the necessary expertise, were one of many grandiose projects, and were insufficiently planned. Another factor that many of the projects had in common was the moral or idealistic aspect. This was especially true for projects which were initiated after the business people had been in Tallinn for a while. They had by then built up a certain commitment to the place and learned to understand parts of the Estonian local business habitus, at the same time as they firmly believed that they knew-how «business was really done». The 'Scandinavian Center' aimed at bringing parts of Scandinavian culture to Estonia and attempted to integrate and emphasize the Scandinavian presence in Tallinn. Other projects, such as the choir project planned by the 'store company', had similar idealisti c aspects. Sending the choir to Norway would promote Estonian culture in Norway and form stronger ties between the nations. There are other examples such as a course in feminism directed towards Estonian women, held by a Norwegian business person. This project was a failure and the turnout was very low because matters of sexism and equal rights were unpopular in Estonia and often considered irrelevant to the Estonian context.
Tord Larsen has argued that Norwegians have a tendency to place any new idea within an already established context (Larsen 1993:28). He claims that Norwegians also find it difficult to remove anything out of its familiar context, be it music or specific categories of people. Following Larsen' s argument it is not surprising that Norwegian business people engaged in entrepreneurial activity in Tallinn often represented their business stunts in familiar contexts such as helping the natives (language courses for Russian citizens in Estonia, course on feminism) or improving communication between East and West (choir project, Scandinavian Center, Scandinavian trade fare in Tallinn).
If Larsen's hypothesis is correct, it is perhaps not surprising if many Norwegian business people function less satisfactorily as entrepreneurs. Fredrik Barth (1981) has claimed that entrepreneurial activity is most fundamentally concerned with utilizing value differentials between economic spheres. He described an example of an entrepreneur in Darfur who transferred collective labor services to an economical sphere. Labor services were normally used in collective work projects. Barth's entrepreneur utilized these services for the growing of tomatoes. Tomatoes were sold at the local market, and labor services had thus been used to acquire monetary gain. Merely moving something from the sphere of culture to the sphere of business will not automatically lead to financial gain. The conversion of activities from a sphere outside the traditional business sphere into the business context, demanded more than good intentions, initiative and willingness to take risks. One had to think through how the specific conversion could be successfully brought about and ask why it is a good idea to convert for example culture into money.
As we have seen, the young Estonian banker and the Project Manager related to the 'Scandinavian Center' project differently than the Norwegians. The banker was very correct. He showed that he was committed to his ideal of business through the way he took his position seriously. He probably interpreted the Norwegian President's lack of control as naiveté or maybe even as a challenge. He concluded that the President was an unstable business partner. The Project Manager wanted formality and professionality from the company she worked for. Estonians seemed to expect «professional business» to be coupled with a formality of style. Part of this «professionality» was, as mentioned in 3.2, that projects be well prepared. The Project Manager in the present case, specifically expressed that she missed plans. But Estonian «formality» goes further than this. An example was an incident described to me by an Estonian businesswoman. She had attended a formal speech together with approximately twenty other Estonians. She described the Estonian participants as well dressed and the atmosphere as quiet and formal. When the speaker arrived this changed. He was an American wearing a T-shirt, and kept a joking and informal style. She said that the Estonians laughed politely, but added that she had been very surprised by the American's behavior, and felt very uncomfortable. Another place where this subtle, secretive, and somewhat formal aspect of Estonian business habitus can be seen is in marketing and commercials. Once I visited Tallinn right before Christmas, and was struck by the style of the Christmas decorations. In the show window of an Estonian (not Western) shopping center a small fairy-tale castle had been set up. The details were impressive and the display was obviously put together thoroughly and with care. A princess, maybe Cinderella, was standing in front of the castle, dressed in a beautiful evening gown, nicely shaped by a crinoline. Neither the princess nor the castle were for sale, they were there in order to create a Christmas mood and say something about the style of the shopping center. The impression was one style, beauty and formality and the decoration was much less glaring than for example Norwegian Christmas decorations.
The previous cases showed, among other things, how Norwegian business people failed to exercise authority and power, in for example a bank meeting. Their inability to gain control in business settings might lead us to believe that Norwegian business people were unsuccessful leaders of their Estonian-Norwegian companies. To a certain degree this was true, and the Estonian employees complained, as we have seen, about the lack of planning and the insecure and unprofessional atmosphere in the companies. It may therefore seem surprising that the Estonians frequently expressed satisfaction with the Norwegian style of management.
The two previous cases have focused on how Norwegian and Estonian business people took risks differently and how Estonians reacted to the Norwegians' entrepreneurial activity. These are areas of business where the element of uncertainty cannot be eliminated completely. The running of a risk can never be completely predictable and entrepreneurial activity will more often than not involve high-risk initiatives. As noted in Chapter One, a sense of stability and predictability is also important in the process of «doing business» and responsibility is an important aspect of global business ideology. If business partners can trust one another and colleagues, for example on the management level within a firm, form relationships of trust, the factors of risk may be significantly reduced. The head of a business has a primary responsibility to create predictability and make the employees feel responsible towards the firm. But there are two types of responsibility within a firm, that of the leader and that of the employees (Sørhaug 1996). The Norwegian and the Estonian business people who cooperated in Tallinn agreed that responsibility was an important part of «doing business» and that the need for people to take responsibility at work had increased after Estonia had entered into capitalistic society. However, both parties would accuse the other of irresponsible actions. As we have seen, Estonians criticized Norwegian managers for acting irresponsibly when they took dangerous risks. The Norwegians on the other hand claimed that their Estonian employees only knew how to follow orders and were afraid of taking individual responsibility.
The following case will focus on responsibility within a firm and especially the importance of responsible authority and leadership in the relationships between Norwegian leaders and Estonian employees.
A Norwegian man in his late forties was President of his own company in Tallinn, which he established in 1991. Before he started doing business in Tallinn he ran a consulting firm and served as a local government politician in Norway. (He was thus the same kind of «marginal» business person as many of the other Norwegians). His Estonian firm also provided general consultancy services, but their main task was the production of containers for the Western European market. Around thirty men worked in production, but the administration level of the company was relatively small. Two Estonians worked closely with the President to administer the company: one Estonian woman in her late thirties was hired as Vice President and an Estonian man in his early thirties worked as Personnel Manager. They have both worked together with their boss since 1991.
The Norwegian companies in Tallinn were, as mentioned earlier, mainly very small. The Norwegian leaders were in most instances the same persons who had started the businesses and had determined the firms' objectives or lack of objectives. The leader's personal style of authority was therefore more far-reaching and influential than one would expect in a larger business. The President of this firm had established his company on his own, from scratch, and was heavily involved in every part of the running of his business. Still, his Estonian employees felt that they were parts of the firm and that they were asked for advice:
When I asked the Estonian Personnel Manager to describe the Norwegian President as a boss he chose to tell me about his job interview with him. The Personnel Manager went for a job interview with the company in 1991. The company did not have any office space at the time and the President lived in and ran his business from a room at a hotel situated close to the city gate of the Old Town. The hotel was built during the Soviet period, but is now owned by Finns. Its guests are mainly so-called «Vodka tourists» from Finland who have come to Tallinn by boat from Helsinki, but it also houses business people. Apart from its ordinary guests the hotel has been known to attract both prostitutes and pickpockets. The job interview was conducted by the President and took place in his hotel room. The Estonian man told me that he was nervous prior to the interview because his previous job interviews with Estonian companies had been very formal. He also felt unsure about how to make a good impression on a Western boss. He was pleasantly surprised to discover that the atmosphere during the interview was much more relaxed and informal than he had expected. The Norwegian President joked with him and the Personnel Manager described him as friendly during the interview. The type of subjects that were brought up also surprised him. At one point he was told that it would take him a while to learn the job and if he had any questions at all he should not hesitate to ask. His future boss told him that he himself did not know every aspect of the job well enough yet. This was surprising to the Estonian. It was not the fact that the boss was not familiar with every aspect of the job that came as a surprise, but that he actually admitted that this was the case. The Personnel Manager said that Estonian bosses never admit their shortcomings. They are seemingly open-minded and interested in the opinion of the employees, but this is only on the surface. He described them as hierarchical. He told me that it took some time before he dared to ask his boss questions at all because he was afraid that his boss might find him stupid. His feelings after having worked for the company for five years was that his Norwegian boss listened to the employees:
"We discuss issues concerning the company together. He wants our point of view. I often tell him that he focuses on too many projects at the same time. But even though we cooperate he is still the one who has most of the good ideas."
The case shows that the Norwegian had many of the same problems as mentioned in the previous examples, but in this case he manages to turn problems into assets. The role of the ideal leader is to create a system of predictability and order within the firm. He or she must also make the firm seem responsible and trustworthy to its surroundings. In order to succeed in this, the boss must behave with just the right amount and kind of authority towards his or her employees and partners. This is what the Personnel Manager expected of his boss and it is what the boss wanted to do. But the way the Norwegian boss performed as a leader, surprised the Estonian Personnel Manager. We might say that the Norwegian was exercising authority through a personal approach and trying to reduce the sense of difference in rank between himself and the applicant. The Estonian, on the other hand, was used to a more anonymous style of authority where the difference in rank was stressed, as we saw in the bank meeting presented in Chapter Three.
One of the issues the Personnel Manager and his boss had different views on was posing questions. The Personnel Manager was surprised when it became clear that he was expected to ask for help whenever he needed it, as he was used to solving problems independently of his boss. From my data it seems that this was common among Estonian employees. There even appeared to be resentment towards discussing problems with their employers. Both a Norwegian and an Estonian told me on different occasions that Estonians feel that it is better to be quiet instead of saying something and risking making a fool of oneself. The Personnel Manager did not want to bother his boss with his problems. This behavior may have been an expression of the competitive and calculating aspects of Estonian mentality, that we have previously mentioned. It might also indicate a reluctance to attract the attention of your superiors, since power is viewed as fundamentally unpredictable. The Estonians might believe that if you revealed your problems, or weaknesses to your superiors, they might use it against you. In this sense people with power cannot be trusted, as they potentially can use what they know about you to strengthen their own position. The conscious awareness of how power can be abused, made the Estonians reluctant to communicate with their superiors, but it also made them better prepared for power struggles than Norwegians, as the previous case showed. The Norwegians tended to be surprised when they discovered that business partners concealed information and even lied in order to reach their goals.
Even though the meeting took place in a hotel room, which in itself does not give off an impression of reliability, the Norwegian President must have convinced the Personnel Manager that he was trustworthy, as he accepted the job. The Norwegian bosses in Tallinn were generally described in a positive way as leaders, by their Estonian employees. There were, however, exceptions such as the Norwegian President of the ' consulting firm' mentioned in Chapter Three. The Project Manager of that firm could not accept the, to her, irresponsible lack of planning and thus was not satisfied with her boss. Initially many of the Estonians reacted with surprise to the relaxed and personal style of authority of the Norwegian bosses and mistrusted their intentions. But once the Estonians adapted to the Norwegian style of management, they more often than not, said that their Norwegian bosses were doing a better job than Estonian bosses would.
The Personnel Manager concluded his story by telling me about his problems with alcohol and how he used to be drunk at work. During the Soviet times when he worked as a teacher, his drinking would be sanctioned socially at the workplace, but he never risked losing his job. The Norwegian President on the other hand at one point gave him one week to sober up or else threatened to fire him. The Personnel Manager took one week off and after that he has never shown up drunk at work. He was very proud of himself. He felt that he was part of the business and had to stay sober in order to do a good job. He used this as an example of how things had changed at workplaces after independence. Many Estonians would tell me about how the approach to drinking during working hours had changed. Some of them would quote this as an example of the increasing insecurity in their society. Now you simply lose your job if you are caught drinking whereas during the Soviet times you would keep the job and your colleagues might care for you. But the Personnel Manager was thankful for the ultimatum that was presented to him.
The drinking incident illustrates one of the ways responsibility has changed after independence. During the Soviet period the workers might feel responsible towards one another, but since jobs were not scarce and the task of the organization was often decided centrally, the sense of personal responsibility towards the running of the organization was weak. Vladimir Bukovsky (Bukovsky 1979) describes how one of the workers in a Soviet bus factory (in Russia during the Soviet Times) tried to put in a full day's work, but was hindered by his colleagues. They disliked him for raising the production targets and tried to damage his tools whenever they got a chance. This does not mean that there existed no sense of responsibility at Soviet workplaces. Soviet managers were, however, under constant pressure from central authorities whose decisions might often seem arbitrary and predictable. This created a pervasive atmosphere of insecurity at workplaces. In contrast, when working for a Western firm the employees were hired because of their specific qualifications and failing to perform as expected would jeopardize their position. Many Estonians I talked to during fieldwork, felt that they were now given more freedom in their jobs, and that this increased the amount of responsibility expected of them. The Personnel Manager definitively was committed to his job in a way that he had not been before. Part of the reason for this was that he was consulted in business matters and was given to understand that it was his responsibility not to show up drunk at work. But partly also his commitment was a result of the fact that his Norwegian boss handled the drinking episode in perfect conformity with global business ideology. As a manger, he was strict, committed and rational. This made his actions appear logical and predictable to his employee and created an atmosphere of trust in the business.
The Vice President of the company started her description of the Norwegian President by telling me that he had the same horoscope as her former Estonian employer. The two men were born on the same day, but they were completely different. Her former boss drank too much and drove expensive cars, but failed to pay salaries. Not every Estonian boss was like him, but from her experience Estonian and Norwegian styles of management were very different. Estonian bosses would demand things from their employees and get angry if their orders were not followed. She has never seen her Norwegian boss angry. He never yelled and spoke in a softer tone than her former Estonian superiors. She added that this approach worked better:
"I really feel that the three of us work together as a team. If there is a problem we discuss it. We do everything together. The daily cooperation is more informal than I am used to."
The Vice Director was originally hired as a secretary and she had only recently been promoted. Her new task, besides still being a secretary, was among other things to create a network for the company and get in touch with relevant contacts. She said that it felt like too much responsibility for her, but was happy for the opportunity.
When the Norwegian boss first started to work together with his Estonian employees they would stand up when he entered the office. He said that he had been totally unprepared for this sort of behavior and that it felt very uncomfortable. On his insistence, it stopped after a few days and now he always kept the door to his office open unless there was an important meeting. He said that he tried to keep everything informal, joke with his employees and visit the production hall once a day to talk to the workers. But he still felt that they sometimes had too much respect for him and had problems relating to him. One example was when he confronted them both with a problem he had earlier been informed about by the Personnel Manager. The President asked if anything could be done to correct the problem. The two employees, including the Personnel Manager who had pointed out the problem, denied that they had any difficulties. The President's explanation of this behavior was that his employees wanted to avoid conflicts and that they respected his authority to the extent that they did not wish to complain in front of him. He said that his employees felt that there were certain things a boss was not supposed to do. One time when they saw him sweep the floor they wanted to take over. The Personnel Manager said that a boss never does things like that. "He does now", was his answer. Another possible reason for why the Estonians preferred not to discuss their problems might be that the Estonians doubted his ability to change the situation or thought they ought to deal with the problem themselves and regretted having informed him in the first place. My data indicate that Estonians were likely to address problems less directly than the Norwegian President was used to.
The Estonians were showing respect for their boss by standing up whenever he entered the office. The Norwegian was not used to this, and I am sure that the Estonians must have felt similarly insecure and uncomfortable when they understood that this was not the kind of behavior that was expected of them. Having worked as a secretary in Norway I know that Norwegian leaders may expect you to make coffee, empty their garbage and order tables at restaurants for themselves and their family. But it is not unheard of that a boss would make his own coffee or sweep the floor. As we have seen, Norwegian business habitus tends to be «democratic» and «consensus-oriented». In management situations of the kind we are here discussing, these attitudes contribute to creating predictability and trust at the workplace. Thus, the very same qualities that discredited the Norwegians as risk-taking entrepreneurs, made them appear as responsible and committed managers. In both cases, the same local habitus is measured against the standards of the same global business ideology. It is the setting; the type of business being «done», that differs, and that makes the Norwegians' performance seem completely inadequate in the first case, and perfectly appropriate in the other.
Problem-solving is an important part of any job situation and especially in a cross-cultural situation where the actors' points of departure differ significantly. Estonian and Norwegian business associates had different ways of addressing and solving problematical issues. Norwegian leaders in Estonia tended to handle problems by trying to address them directly. The Norwegians would sit down with their employees with the intention of resolving the differences and if necessary to make up. Quite often the Estonian part would agree when asked if everything was OK even if it was not. The Norwegians would conclude that the problem was solved, since they had talked about it and everybody had said that it was OK. Many Estonians told me that it took a long time for Estonians to trust someone both personally and in a business context. This behavior is reminiscent of the «secretive» poker-face analogy presented in Chapter Three. In the present case, the Norwegians' avoidance of hierarchical organization and focus on openness and cooperation instead of distance, helped the communication within the firms. But it is not difficult to see that the situation could have turned out differently. As Tian Sørhaug notes, the Norwegian «democratic» business habitus can limit communication within a firm (Sørhaug 1996:90). He writes that open correction of mistakes and discussion of problems can seem degrading, threatening and as a breach of confidence. This threat can seem especially real for the «formal» Estonians who «take time to trust people».
The Norwegian President said that lack of responsibility and initiative was the main problem he had faced while working in Tallinn. At times the employees only did what he asked them to do and nothing else. He wanted them to take responsibility and make decisions by themselves:
"The lack of responsibility runs through the entire Estonian society. They do not know how to plan for the future. Mortgage and student loans are unknown and unthinkable to them. During the Soviet times they filled out forms and handed them over to someone else. Now they have to take responsibility and make decisions. I try to teach this to my employees, but it takes time."
The President used the drinking problem of his Personnel Manager as an example of how he had taught one of his employees to take responsibility. He now described him as a very good Personnel Manager and an excellent translator. He went on to say that it had taken a long time before his secretary was promoted to Vice Director. In the beginning she was unwilling to make decisions on her own. Now she was involved in literally every aspect of the business and ready to start her own business, according to the President.
In this case, we see that the Estonians' job situation fulfilled the expectations they had towards working in a Western, capitalistic firm. Both the Estonians and the Norwegian boss agreed that the President was the one who knew how to manage the business. The Estonians, however, seemed more aware of the discrepancies between Norwegian and Estonian styles of management. The President was convinced that his way of running the company was «right» and never doubted his ideas on how to manage his company. Of course, he had reason to be satisfied with himself, but his confidence seems strange when we consider that Estonian and Norwegian business people were used to very different styles of management and authority. As in the case above, the Norwegian sees himself as an advocate for global business ideology and thus «knows» that his style of management is correct, although the Norwegian style of management is different from for example American or French management.
In the Soviet Union the relationship to people with power and authority was characterized by limited communication and formality. This tendency has survived the Soviet system and Estonian bosses were as we have seen described as formal and interested in securing their own positions. Like the Personnel Manager, many Estonians were therefore surprised at the Norwegian management style. They had expected differences in style, but not the informal and personal style of the Norwegians. Still the Norwegian way of management seemed to harmonize with their ideal view of a responsible business person with power, and the Estonians adapted easily to the new style of authority. They felt that they were granted responsibility and that their roles within the companies were important. When the relationship between the boss and the employees worked out, as in this case, the dissatisfaction with other factors of the running of the business also received far less emphasis. Thus, the Personnel Manager complained that the boss was involved in too many projects, but he was still satisfied with his job. This shows that although the President of this firm in many ways ran his business along the same lines as the two Norwegian firms presented in Chapter Three, he managed to have satisfied employees.
The Norwegian boss never doubted the legitimacy of his management ideals, and that his success was a product of his ability to «do business», in conformity with global business ideology. It may be claimed, however, that his business success was a product of his local background, as a Norwegian, rather than his competence as an ideal global business person. The ideals of equality and democracy are often mentioned, in Norway, as distinctive stamps of Norwegians. Hierarchical organizations are commonly frowned upon and Norwegians are suspicious of anyone who openly shows or admits to have money or fame - especially if they refuse to admit that this has not changed their lifestyle in any way. Norway has experienced considerable economical growth since the seventies, and today, media and politicians increasingly focus on the pressing social problem of how to deal with the millionaires. Equally important as equality, is the ideal of democracy. Ideally every interest group in Norway should have a say in the organizing of the country (one of the side effects is an overwhelming bureaucratic system), and the decisions should be taken by consensus rather than competitive bargaining. Estonians, in contrast, describe themselves as calculating, competitive, and used to relating to differences in authority and position. Many Estonians focused on trust as important in their business relations, at the same time as they said that it took time before they trusted anyone. In the case above, we have seen these two local habitus meet and interact, while the parties judge each other's performance by the standards of global business ideology. The Norwegian President ran his business with an emphasis on openness, equality, direct approaches and a democratic decision-making process. As Sørhaug points out, these practices can be clumsy ways of dealing with delicate matters (Sørhaug 1996). Thus the Norwegian failed to understand why his employees refused to discuss a problematic matter, that he knew existed, in plenary. It may be difficult to trust a boss with your problems, if you cannot be sure when he will debate them in front of the colleagues. We saw a similar interaction in the previous case, where the Norwegian President of the 'consulting firm' failed to understand the real reason why the Project Manager resigned. She had not spoken to him about her problems and the Norwegian therefore assumed that everything had to be OK. But as the present case shows, the Norwegian style of management was often successful, and it is easy to take this as an indication that the Norwegians are conforming to the global business ideology. But the reasons for the successful management in fact deviate from the global business ideology. This ideology favors competition, whereas the Norwegian ideology originates from a set of ideals which oppose individual competition and stress democratic equality.
As we saw in Chapter One, networking has always played a prominent role in business practice, and in modern business discourse the importance of networking is explicitly acknowledged. This is seen in both formal and informal business contexts. Thus, during the high-profile «business day» held in Tallinn in 1996, in connection with the Norwegian Prime Minister's official visit, the coffee breaks were called «network breaks». The idea was that participants could meet in a more relaxed atmosphere during the breaks and lay the groundwork for future cooperation and deals. In less formal contexts, the importance of having good networks was constantly emphasized by my informants.
A network is a «reservoir of social relations through which [an actor] recruits support to counter his rivals and mobilizes support to attain his goals» (Boissevain 1974:25). Networks in business can make it easier to make deals, they can function as sources of information, places to get favors, as safety nets, and minimize risk. Business networks can also function as instruments for preventing competitors from getting favorable deals, through for example spreading negative rumors about a person or a firm and can open or close access to niches. Responsibility and trust are important in the formation of and maintaining of business networks. One of the reasons for building good networks is to get in touch with responsible key figures in the business environment. If this is accomplished one can get access to useful information about the market and relevant actors through the network. In order to maintain one's relationship to contacts within networks, one has to come across as trustworthy and be able to offer favors, thus showing in practice that one is reliable. Networks are often informal and much of what goes on in them is not meant for public consumption. The aspect of trust is thus also important in this respect.
The Norwegian business people in Tallinn related to at least three different types of networks. The network of Norwegian business people in Tallinn served as both a place to seek comfort and share gossip, and as a useful source of business contacts and a place to get concrete help in business matters. The wider network among Western business people in Tallinn provided for similar needs, but was in addition larger and consisted of a more diverse group of people. The arenas for these two networks were the pub and restaurant scene in Tallinn as well as more formal business settings. The Norwegian and Western business networks in Tallinn could, apart from social gatherings, provide informal loans, job offers, information on reasonable apartments, women, and money laundering. But the Western network could not offer certain local knowledge and did not have access to many of the local resources such as local bureaucracy. The third, and probably the most important network, was the network of local Estonian contacts. The importance of local contacts was constantly emphasized by both Norwegian and Estonian business people. Local contacts also seem to be of crucial importance when «doing business» in Eastern Europe in general. According to a Norwegian consulting firm operating in North-West Russia, good contacts with key persons in local firms and authorities were essential in order to succeed in Russia and many of the problems experienced by Western firms in Russia, are attributable to lack of such contacts (Storvik 1997:49). In some cases, like the one presented below, good Estonian contacts could be the sole key to success. But for a Norwegian business person it is harder to get access to and maintain contact with the Estonian business networks, than to Western or Norwegian networks. One of the reasons is that Estonians are used to making the most of networks and that they do not trust Western business people easily. It can also be difficult for Norwegian business people to judge if Estonian contacts can be trusted off hand.
Two Norwegian businessmen gave me an example of how business contacts could be established in Tallinn. «Geir» (the names are fictional) was a Norwegian businessman who had produced furniture in Tallinn for almost three years. He told me how he three years ago was invited to «Hallvard's» house one night. Geir described Hallvard as a successful businessman and a "clever Dick" when it came to doing business in Eastern Europe. Hallvard had formerly been involved in business deals in Russia, but eventually settled in Tallinn, where he had made quite a name for himself in the business environment as an expert at pulling off seemingly doomed deals. One example was when he visited a museum somewhere in Russia. After he had seen the exhibitions, he by accident came across a container filled with broken china. He noticed that the china was decorated with real gold and asked the management whether he could buy the container and its contents. The container was very cheap as they were happy to get rid of it. Hallvard shipped the china to the Netherlands and managed to extract the gold and make a small profit. Hallvard himself later verified this story. Geir (and many other Norwegian business people) also believed that Hallvard had contacts within the Mafia. Hallvard came to Tallinn in 1989 and was living and successfully running his own business in the city. He had bought and renovated an apartment close to the Old Town, which was where Geir met him. The setting was informal and he served cheese, crackers and wine.
The cheese and cracker event is a typical example of one way Norwegian business people utilized Norwegian networks in Tallinn. At the meeting Hallvard and Geir shared experiences of life in Tallinn, maybe gave each other some tips on how to do business or how to cope with Tallinn in general, and most definitely discussed the shortcomings of Estonians. Gossip is a common characteristic of Norwegian business networks in Tallinn. The Norwegian business environment in Tallinn was a small, transparent and closely knit social network, where the business people mostly knew each other or at least knew about each other via the gossip that ran through the network. The Norwegian businesses in Tallinn can be described as what Edward T. Hall calls a «high context society»(16)
(Hall 1987). People in a 'high context society' have extensive knowledge about each other beforehand and communicate on a different basis than in more specialized 'low context' societies. If two Norwegian business people in Tallinn meet to negotiate a deal, part of the information will be made explicit. But the outcome of the negotiations will to a great extent be dependent on the unsaid information which the actors have acquired through other channels, such as gossip. Whether the business partners are personal friends or whether they have dealt with each other previously are factors which contain important information which, though not made explicit, influence the negotiations. Hall portrays members of a 'high context' society as follows:
«...it is their nature to keep themselves informed about everything having to do with the people who are important in their lives» (1987:8).
A popular story which almost all of my informants knew a version of was about the establishment of the first branch of Statoil in Tallinn and how they bought their first building plot. Almost every Norwegian business person in Tallinn took credit for pulling through the deal. Apparently the General Manager of Statoil had nothing to do with it. The stories which were told about this man were incredible. He supposedly had his personal supply of drinking water shipped from Sweden, he was patronizing towards the Estonians and made enemies with the mayor of Tallinn so the company was initially denied a building plot. All the stories about his womanizing cannot be retold in this context. The factual basis of these stories was probably very weak. The point is rather that this and other stories were frequently mentioned and commented on among both Estonian and Norwegian business people. When I returned to Tallinn three months after the end of my fieldwork I was immediately informed by both Norwegians and Estonians of the current gossip.
Hans Henrik Philipsen has noted that gossip can provide order in an insecure business situation (Engdal, Enger, Hambro 1996:12). Similarly, gossip among Norwegians in Tallinn had an organizing effect. It answered questions such as who had contacts with the Mafia, who did irresponsible business, who was going bankrupt, who could be trusted etc. Gossip was an informal discourse, in which discursive objects such as «the Mafia», «Statoil», «Estonians», and «good» or «bad business people» were formed. Even though the stories that were told and retold were often unreliable, their very existence supported the actuality of the discursive objects; if everybody talks about crime, crime has to exist and similarly if everybody thinks Estonians do not know how to do business, there must be some truth to it etc. This local Norwegian discourse in Tallinn was partly related to and partly independent of the global discourse on business. Statements such as «Estonians cannot be trusted» or «He does business with the Mafia» are part of an ongoing negotiation of how the global ideology of business should be interpreted in this local setting. In this sense the gossip mirrored and shaped the Norwegian business people' s articulation of global business ideology in local business practice.
But business people need factual information, and gossip can be an unreliable source of information for people who are uncertain of how to interpret the truthfulness of the stories. A good network can provide access to significant people who know who and which rumors to trust. Boissevain puts it this way:
«Network specialists, provide important links in networks viewed as a series of communication channels. They transmit, direct, filter, receive, code, decode, and interpret messages», (quoted in Whitten and Wolfe 1973:732).
The Norwegian and the Western networks can in some instances offer this, and «Hallvard» is one such person, but contacts within local Estonian business networks can be of even greater importance in order to attain sound information and useful favors, indeed, the reliability of Hallvard's information was probably a result of the good contacts he had established in the Estonian milieu. Estonians have a long tradition in building and using networks. This tradition characterizes the way they form relationships even today, as we shall see in the following example:
An Estonian businessman told me a story about how he had once visited his Norwegian business partner and friend in Norway together with some of his Estonian friends. The Norwegian was painting his house when they arrived. They offered to paint the house for him for free. The Norwegian refused the offer because he said that the neighbors might think that he was abusing their friendship by getting free labor. The Estonians did not understand this. The Estonian man said that Estonians always offered favors to their friends. This functioned as a give and take relationship.
"When you do a favor for someone he owes you something in return. In a way this means that we take advantage of our friends. But at least we know that if he is our friend he will return the favor."
This example illustrates different Estonian and Norwegian ways of viewing friendship. Eric R. Wolf 's contrasting of emotional and instrumental friendship is similar to the differences between Norwegian and Estonian attitudes towards friendship (Wolf 1966). Emotional friendships are characterized by affection in personal relationships between two friends and is similar to the Norwegian way of regarding friendship. Instrumental friendships, in contrast, are described as relationships which in effect reach further than the dyad and connects the actors to other people: «Each participant is a sponsor for the other» (Wolf 1966:12). In the example above the Estonian found it natural to give and receive favors from his friends. The Norwegian, on the other hand, viewed friendships first and foremost as a personal relation and not as a relation that could be used to obtain services. He was afraid that other people and his friend would believe that he abused their friendship by letting him paint his house, and involving the Estonian's friends would be even more questionable. But instrumental friendships have a long tradition in Estonia and the former Soviet Union. Informal contact and extensive networks were important in order to obtain goods and information during the Soviet period. These networks ranged from friendly turns, to organized crime, to «corruption» in the bureaucratic system, and there was a continuity between the different levels; a family member or your neighbor could know someone in the local government or be a local politician himself and thus put you in touch with the people who could help you get a visa to travel or whatever it was you needed (see e.g. Mars and Altman 1983 and Nielsen 1996). The extended and developed networks from the Soviet period still exist today and can be of use. Potentially, everything can be done if networks are utilized properly. The middle-aged Estonian man in Chapter Three reflected this attitude when he said that the 'Scandinavian Center' could be organized independently of financial backing. Another aspect of the networks during the Soviet period was that they often were illegal. Estonians therefore had learned to keep information about what was going on within the networks secret and this made it even more difficult for Norwegians to get access to Estonian networks.
During the cheese and cracker evening it became clear that «Geir» had problems with his business associates in Estonia. The cooperation had failed because of what he termed «cooperation problems» and the production of furniture was terminated. He now needed a new producer for his products and asked «Hallvard» whether he knew someone reliable who would be able to help him. Hallvard thought for a moment and recommended an Estonian man he knew and offered to call him next morning. He kept his promise and the two men got in touch the next week.
The Estonian business associate Geir was put in contact with used to work for a factory producing furniture in Tallinn and was familiar with the «furniture» market in Estonia. The two men met and discussed the Norwegian's problems. They liked each other and decided to take a chance, and started to discuss the possibility of buying a factory together a short while later. The Norwegian went back to Norway, but he called his new associate almost every day. The Estonian asked him to be patient. He explained that the bureaucratic system in Estonia was slow and difficult to understand for an outsider. He told me that he did not want to expose his Norwegian counterpart to this. He was used to handling the Estonian system. He eventually found a suitable factory in Tallinn which they bought together. In the meantime the Estonian and his family had visited the Norwegian in Norway and they had gotten to know each other. Although the two men said that their business cooperation was based on trust they owned forty-eight percent of the shares each. The remaining four percent were owned by the workers at the factory. They made this deal in case they were to disagree significantly over an important issue concerning the business. If this happened the workers could settle the dispute.
As mentioned above, the business networks in Tallinn can provide local as well as Norwegian or other Western contacts, but the recommendation among both Norwegian and Estonian business people in Tallinn was to get a sound local contact. Business conditions in Tallinn and Estonia differ from the West in many ways and this makes local knowledge very important. The Estonians working with Norwegian business people described Norwegians in Tallinn as very naive and said that they trusted people too easily. Part of the reason for this was that the Norwegians lacked local expertise. Partly also, as we have seen above, their problems stemmed from their commitment to global business ideology as non-locals, which made them assume like the Norwegian man in the first case in Chapter Three, that they «knew how» to «do business» and did not need information. One example of this naiveté was when a woman called a Norwegian businessman in his hotel room. She wanted to meet him at 10 o'clock that evening and asked if this was fine with him, and he agreed. Two of his Estonian friends were with him while the lady called and asked if he really was going to meet her, since it was obvious to them that she was a prostitute offering her services. This had never even crossed the Norwegian's mind. One of the Norwegian companies that recognized the importance of local knowledge went to great lengths to not fire one of their Estonian employees who, in their judgment, was doing a very bad job. His only qualification was that he had a lot of friends in the Estonian government and in the city administration and was thus considered invaluable by his Western colleagues.
The Estonian and the Norwegian had worked together for three years when I met them, and they were both satisfied with their factory in Tallinn. When I asked them for an interview I was invited to the Estonian's home. The Norwegian's family was visiting. The mother of the Estonian was ill and the Norwegian family and the daughter of the Estonian had just returned from the hospital where they had been to see her. I asked the two men how they would describe each other as business people. The Estonian portrayed his Norwegian counterpart as follows:
"I trusted him almost immediately. We work well together, but he sometimes moves too fast. He has a lot of ideas that I find too optimistic so I have to hold him back. I feel that I have to protect him sometimes. [...] Norwegians trust people too easily. It is enough if someone smiles nicely. I think Estonians are more skeptical. It is important for Norwegians to establish a contact in Estonia in order to succeed. This can help them to move with the Estonian system instead of against it."
The Norwegian agreed that it was essential to have a good contact in Tallinn like he had - someone who knew the local system and knew how to handle for example Russian business partners. The Norwegian elaborated on the importance of trust in their business relationship:
"We know each other very well. His daughter is like a daughter to me and my wife. Our families visit each other and his daughter has even lived with us in Norway for six months. We often see things differently, but we never cease to trust one another. Our company's equity is not very high. Our success is mainly due to our good business contacts and the good cooperation between the two of us."
The relationship between the Norwegian and the Estonian is an example of a successful business relationship built on instrumental friendship, which is accepted by both the Norwegian and the Estonian, at the same time as they view their relationship differently. The Norwegian shows a deep and personal commitment to his Estonian partner and his family. By saying that the Estonian's daughter is «..like a daughter to me...», he expresses something similar to extended kinship. He implies that he trusts his partner as his own family, at the same time as he sees him as a business partner. The Estonian, on the other hand, feels that he should «protect» his partner. Whereas the Norwegian views their relationship in an egalitarian way the Estonian describes himself almost as a father figure or «sponsor» of the Norwegian. His understanding of their friendship as instrumental is illustrated through his articulation of the Norwegian's need to have someone who can help him «...move with the Estonian system».
As networking and contacts played such an important role in the process of «doing business» in Tallinn, trust was an important issue. The contacts within the Norwegian and Western networks that were nourished in, for example, restaurants, and were parts of a discourse on the local way of «doing business», did not form or demand strong relationships of trust because the participants were global actors with limited local commitment. What they sought in their relationship to each other was mainly support (e.g. through gossip), and relations thus had a fundamental «emotional» character. These business people knew that local contacts were important, and this was even part of their discourse on business, but they were often unable to form the right contacts. In this sense they failed to really «do business» in Tallinn. The Norwegian and Western environment was in many ways part of a translocal network, rather than a truly local network, and existed independently of the Estonian business environment. To the participants in this network, successful business people like Hallvard became dangerous, and threatened their business identity, as he represented someone who did business differently than themselves. Hallvard had managed to penetrate the local Estonian networks, which were based on «instrumental» relationship, and was «doing successful business» based on local as well as Western contacts. In the Norwegian business environment, it was rumored that Hallvard's Estonian contacts belonged to the Mafia. These rumors contributed to create a discursive order that explained why the other Norwegians were unable to succeed in Tallinn. They described themselves as victims of their («emotional») honesty and Hallvard as successful but scrupulous (i.e. «instrumental»). The Norwegian/Western networks had also created «the Estonian» as a discursive object, involving among other things, the Mafia. The Estonian's secretiveness, or ability to close their networks to outsiders contributed to the creation of a discursive object «local contact» as something effective, but mystical and illegal. Westerners who were involved with local business people could therefore not -by definition- be acting according to global business ideology, when in fact, it can be argued that they were following the global ideology by utilizing business networks.
Hallvard's business cooperation within local Estonian networks committed him to Tallinn in a different way than the other Norwegians. He was dependent on Estonian business partners and was obliged to uphold his local connections through relationships built on mutual trust. Geir was a Norwegian businessman who used his Norwegian contact, Hallvard, in order to be able to «do business» in cooperation with Estonian contacts and managed to combine his Norwegian network with the forming of local contacts. Once Geir had established a business relationship with an Estonian partner, he nourished the relationship through friendly turns and personal commitments. But, as we have seen, Norwegians and Estonians often view favors among friends differently. Geir is however, about to accept the instrumental aspects of friendship in practice, although he emically emphasizes the emotional aspects of their friendship. By practicing instrumental friendship, Geir is adapting to local business habitus. Geir and Hallvard are examples of the fact that we have often observed, that business cannot be «done» on a global level only. In order to truly «do business» one has to articulate a global ideology of business in a local business setting. Geir and Frank were committed to their local setting through cooperation with Estonian business contacts and to global business ideology through an awareness that they were involved in Western business activity and not e.g. bazaar trade. Thus, they were, each in his own way, gradually developing a new cross-cultural business identity.
In his article «Soviet Chess/American Checkers: Gaming the Dialectics» Robert Bathurst, describes differences in the way ex-Soviets, mainly Russians, and Americans carried out negotiations (Bathurst n.d.). In the period between 1984 and 1986 Bathurst and his colleagues gathered groups of six Americans and six Soviet émigrés (in both cases the groups consisted of highly educated professionals) to participate in a series of cross-cultural experiments, designed by American psychologists, in order to demonstrate dynamics of Soviet/American cultural interaction. One of the first tasks the groups were given was to transform themselves into a governing body, elect an «ambassador» as their leader and provide him with authority. The Soviets always quickly picked the most charismatic man in the group as their leader, whereas the Americans used a long time campaigning and holding elections. Later, when it came to negotiation between the groups, they made use of completely different strategies. The Americans approached the Soviet group by being honest about their intentions and often revealing their plans and strategies immediately. The Soviets never trusted or responded to these initial approaches and never offered any information until strictly necessary. The Americans were quickly frustrated by this lack of response and, had problems keeping their group together under pressure. The Soviets, in contrast, were true to the hierarchy which had been established within their group, they addressed each other according to rank (as opposed to the American tendency to connect position and personal opinions), and acted with efficiency and coordination. Another difference between the groups was the different approaches to honesty. The Soviets were surprised that the Americans always expected them to tell the truth as the Soviets tended to think that the truth was important only in personal relations, not in the public sphere. This allowed them to keep their real intentions secret, and to fool the Americans in various ways. A final characteristic that I will mention here, was the American tendency to assume that their culture and strategies had universal validity.
These staged experiments of course differ significantly from the real cross-cultural cooperation between Estonian and Norwegian business people. But they illustrate convincingly how groups of people with similar cultural backgrounds behave according to similar sets of practices or habitus at the same time as the experiments reveal parts of the actual contents of the habitus of these groups. As Bourdieu puts it: «It is because subjects do not, strictly speaking, know what they are doing that what they do has more meaning than they know» (Bourdieu 1977:79). And, indeed, one of the American participants who was considered an expert on Soviet affairs and bargaining behaviors, could not free himself from acting according to traditional American negotiating strategies during the experiments. Similarly, Norwegian and Estonian business people could be aware of their different business practices and know that they were not appropriate in specific business settings, but still be unable not to act according to their local Norwegian and Estonian business habitus.
One of the most commonly repeated claims among the Norwegian and Estonian business people in Tallinn was that Norwegians were more «naive» than the «calculating» Estonian business people. In chapters Three and Four we have seen that these claims have empirical basis, but that Norwegian and Estonian business practices also differed in many other ways. Like the ex-Soviets in Bathurst's experiment, the Estonians were good strategists, who took «calculated» risks and withheld information by being «secretive». They frowned on the «naive» Norwegian tendency to act on the spur of the moment and without sufficient knowledge of the situation. Estonians also wanted a more professional and formal style in their business than their Norwegian counterparts. Like the ex-Soviets in Bathurst's experiment, they tended to emphasize the importance of rank and authority. They expected formal and correct behavior from persons in leading positions, and acted with deference and respect toward them. The Norwegians, on the other hand, expected and acted according to a «democratic» and informal management style, and believed that their Estonian counterparts should be included in the decision-making process of the companies. Both Estonians and Norwegians acknowledged the importance of cultivating networks and relationships between business partners. But Estonians practiced instrumental, extended friendships to a much greater degree than the Norwegians, who tried to keep business contacts separate from emotional and personal relationships. These different business practices often caused misunderstandings but at times also led to successful cooperation and adaptation to the other party's business habitus, such as the Estonian acceptance of Norwegian management styles and the Norwegian adaptation to instrumental friendship.
The often striking similarities between my own account and Bathurts's (which I only read fairly late in the process of writing this thesis), might lead the reader to conclude that the Estonian-Norwegian cooperation situation is just another example of the kind of East-West dichotomy which is often described in the media as well as in scholarly articles. And of course, there are obvious reasons why former citizens of the former Soviet Union should share certain attitudes (e.g. towards leadership and authority) that differ from similar attitudes in «the West». The democratic policies, liberal economics, individual-centered socialization and critical media that are common throughout «the West», serve to cultivate attitudes in Norwegians and Americans that are different from attitudes that are common among people who have grown up with a single-party political system and a command economy, who have experienced collective-oriented education and state-controlled media. Nevertheless, the schematic opposition of «East» and «West» tends to blind us to the specificity of local life-worlds, such as Estonia or Norway. Norway and Estonia are in many ways marginal societies within the Western and Eastern parts of the world. We have seen how Estonia was a special society with the Soviet Union, which viewed itself and was viewed throughout the Soviet community as more «liberal» and Western-oriented than the rest of the Union. Similarly, we have seen how Norway, with its less metropolitan and more rural-oriented attitudes, differs from many «Western» countries. Norwegians, in spite of their «democratic» orientation, do not share the competitive and individualistic ideology of Americans, but tend to be more collective and consensus-oriented (cf. Larsen 1993). Estonians have similarly been described as committed to building a national identity, based on a sense of elegance and style that differs substantially from what one would expect e.g. of Russians (cf. Nielsen 1996).
In my study, I have attempted to avoid the schematizations inherent in the East-West dichotomization by focusing on the relationship between global ideology and local habitus. Instead of letting «Estonia» and «Norway» serve as a convenient short-hand for «East» and «West», I have sought to describe them as specific, local settings that relate to the same, deterritorialized global ideology in different ways. This ideology, though it has its historical roots in Western Europe, cannot today be said to be localized in any specific place. When Norwegians meet Estonians, they see themselves as representatives and emissaries of the «West» and of global business ideology as a specifically «Western» phenomenon. But in fact Norwegians no less than Estonians are local actors. It is true that the Norwegians are more «deterritorialized» than the Estonians, in the sense that they are to a greater extent excluded from crucial local social networks in Tallinn. Nevertheless, they remain local actors, with a local, Norwegian habitus, and they can only learn to perform adequately as business people in their new local setting by committing themselves to it, «becoming locals» there.
The existence of a global ideal of business and the fact that business people related to its general characteristics (such as profit, risk, entrepreneurship, responsibility and networking), created an expectation among the Norwegian and Estonian business people that business should be the same everywhere. It also made them commit themselves and try to live up to what they defined as the right way of «doing business». When they experienced that business does not mean the same in every setting, because of different local circumstances and differences between Norwegian and Estonian habitus, the actors sometimes became frustrated. Erving Goffman describes how actors can feel threatened if an expected rule of conduct (in this case the expected rules of global business ideology) is broken:
«When an individual becomes involved in the maintenance of the rule, he tends also to become committed to a particular image of self. In this case of his obligations, he becomes to himself and others the sort of person who follows this particular rule, the sort of person who would naturally be expected to do so. In the case of his expectations, he becomes dependent upon the assumption that others will properly perform such of their obligations as affect him, for their treatment of him will express a conception of him. In establishing himself as the sort of person who treats others in a particular way and is treated by them in a particular way, he must make sure that it will be possible for him to act and be this kind of person. ... In general then, when a rule of conduct is broken we find that two individuals run the risk of becoming discredited: one with an obligation, who should have governed himself by the rule; the other with an expectation, who should have been treated in a particular way because of this governance. Both actor and recipient are threatened» (Goffman 1972:50-51).
The bank meeting, presented in Chapter Three, serves as an example of how Norwegian and Estonian business people could feel threatened and discredited when their cooperation failed to function according to their expectations of ideal business habitus. The Estonian banker expected the Norwegian President to act with authority and formality. The Norwegian wanted more than anything to reach a consensus and was unaware of the Estonian's emphasis on rank. When the Estonian felt that the Norwegian failed to act with sufficient authority according to his rank, he started to doubt his business project. The Norwegian tried to convince the Estonian banker that his project would serve the good of the collective and that he should feel obliged to support it. He added, as a mild threat, that the Norwegian Prime Minister would probably appreciate the project. This was indeed interpreted by the Estonian as a threat, and he ended the negotiations by suggesting that the Norwegian applied for a loan in Scandinavia.
Both the Norwegian and the Estonian were committed to a global ideology of business. The Estonian wanted to perform according to what he saw as the ideal of a business person and expected the same from the Norwegian businessman. The Norwegian had similar intentions, and felt that he knew how to «do business». But both men failed to live up to the expectations of the other and during the meeting it became clear that they disagreed on how business should be done. The Estonian's distrust of the Norwegian threatened the Norwegian's definition of himself as a business person and similarly the Norwegian's failure to act according to the Estonian's expectations threatened the Estonian's understanding of business. The meeting thus became a negotiation of which of the two definitions of business should apply. In this case the Estonian was able to discredit the Norwegian completely and prevent his entrepreneurial initiative, because he had the power to deny him financial support. But to the Norwegian businessman the meeting also served as yet another example of how Estonians do not know how to «do business», as the banker failed to recognize his plans as a sound business project.
Norwegian and Estonian commitment to their business activity was different, and their attitudes towards business were affected by this. The Norwegian business people were, in many ways, deterritorialized as they were «doing business» in a, to them, foreign business environment. Consequently, they became more dependent on commitment to the global ideology of business instead of the locality of their business activities. As the global business ideology is an abstract set of rules for business habitus, the Norwegians had to transform the ideology into concrete and specific terms. This was done by an implicit «Norwegianization» of the business ideology. They defined business according to their local Norwegian standards, and claimed these standards to be «Western» and global standards of business. The Estonians, on the other hand, were much more committed to the locality in which they were «doing business». They viewed their business activity as an important part of the rebuilding of the Estonians nation. Business was considered to represent the opposite of the Soviet system. Consequently, Estonian business people termed their local practices and interpretations of business as «Western» and global.
There were, as we have seen, also examples of Norwegian business people who became more committed to Tallinn as a locality. Chapter Four showed an example of how a Norwegian businessman adapted parts of local habitus through the forming of extended friendship ties with his Estonian business contact. Parts of the entrepreneurial activity of the Norwegian business people can also be seen as commitment to Tallinn and Estonia. Some of the projects can be characterized as ideal projects meant for example to promote Estonian culture in Norway (the choir project) or to transfer Norwegian know-how to Estonia (the Scandinavian Center project). Such projects would however not necessarily lead to an adaptation of Estonian business habitus.
In chapters Three and Four I have described and contrasted parts of the local Norwegian and Estonian business habitus. To summarize, Norwegian business people in Tallinn can be described as «personal, affective, idealistic stunt-artists» whereas the Estonian business people can be termed «instrumental, calculating, professional ritualists». Norwegian business people were committed to personal initiative and leadership, but were irresponsible and sometimes naive in their business practice. The Estonians, on the other hand, seemed committed to systematic, rational strategies at the same time as they were secretive and suspicious when «doing business». Both parties claimed that their way of «doing business» corresponded with the global ideology of business. These simplified descriptions of the different local business habitus serve to highlight some of the distinctive features of Estonian-Norwegian business cooperation. When «personal, affective, idealistic stunt-artists» encounter «instrumental, calculating, professional ritualists», it is clear that the «business» they do together will be more complex and specific than the global business ideology. In some areas as we have seen, the two habitus seem almost by necessity to conflict. Thus, the Norwegians ' tendency to act on the spur of the moment and spread their risk-taking seem unavoidably to conflict with the Estonians' methodical, long-term commitment. On the other hand, the personal Norwegian leadership styles and affective loyalty in relations, seemed to have the potential to «loosen up» the rather formal and constrained Estonian approach to interpersonal communities and to calm some of their suspicions. In the meeting between these two habitus, there is constant adaptation and learning taking place, and in the cases above we have seen several examples of how mutual accommodation may be worked out. As global business ideology is articulated in the local setting Tallinn, it forces such an «orchestration of habitus» to take place (Bourdieu 1977) under the disguise of global business ideology.
The most difficult part of writing a thesis is in many ways accounting for the methodological aspects of the project. Even though it has been two years since I returned from Tallinn, when I am writing this, the fieldwork experiences still have the power to overwhelm me. The fieldwork in itself was intense because of a tight time schedule and a large workload, but also very demanding emotionally. The sum of these factors intensified everything that happened during my stay in Tallinn. It is thus difficult to distance myself from the six months the fieldwork lasted and try to retell the story as it really was.
It is hard to be completely honest about personal experiences in a thesis, and it feels personal to present events which I was unable to share with anyone during fieldwork itself. Doing fieldwork was often a lonely and somewhat egocentric process (not necessarily in a negative sense), where you had few chances to share things that were happening. As a fieldworker one naturally finds oneself listening to everybody else, and not the opposite. I have received feedback on my analyses of the data, but no one but myself has ever read what I base my analyses on, namely my field diaries and the notes from the interviews. Yet another thing which makes it difficult to write about fieldwork experiences, is the fact that in many ways I changed into a different person during my stay in Tallinn. One example is that I became much more outgoing than I normally am. I had no social networks to lean on and had to establish new networks from scratch. At the same time as I became more outgoing, I disregarded parts of my personality in order to fit in with new settings and during the process of writing this epilogue, I often had a feeling that I was telling somebody else's story. The last difficulty I will mention is how hard it is to present this in a structured and organized way. The fieldwork was a complex experience, where data appeared in a confused order that never would fit the format of a thesis. But, on the other hand, I adapted my daily routines, and it is almost equally hard to be coherent about the obvious.
I met my first informant on the plane from Oslo to Tallinn. This was a Norwegian businessman who was on his way to Tallinn in order to inspect his Estonian printing press. From that time on, I had very few indifferent conversations just to kill time, at least from my perspective. I focused my concentration in order to absorb every word the businessman uttered. The fieldwork had started and everything was dependent on my ability or disability to attain data. I believed that if I managed to get the right data (and, more importantly enough data), I would acquire a thorough understanding. This was when I first noticed the intensity of doing fieldwork. Everything I saw or experienced became important and was transformed into data. I later realized that I sometimes lost the ability to see things in perspective and I am sure that it is important to be more relaxed than I was, and just let things happen without trying to analyze everything immediately. After a few months I slowed down, but a field break was out of the question. I tried going on a break by taking the ferry from Tallinn to Helsinki and spend the weekend in Helsinki with friends. But the boat was filled with Estonians and Finns, and I was unable to read one word of my book out of fear of missing anything of what was happening around me. Even the stay in Helsinki was hectic. I was suddenly in the West and tried to understand how everything could be so different from Tallinn, after a ferry ride of just three or four hours.
The official language in Estonia is Estonian which is a Finno-Ugric language and has twelve cases, and is closely related to Finnish. Even though I studied Estonian on my own before I came to Estonia, took private lessons in Estonian in Tallinn, and tagged every item in my very sparsely furnished room with its Estonian name, I never really learned to speak Estonian. My limited language skills were, however, never my main concern after arriving in Tallinn. The business language among the Norwegian and Estonian parties was English or Norwegian, if the Norwegians had hired some of the numerous Estonians who actually spoke Norwegian. Estonians came across as extremely skilled in languages, especially those who were oriented towards the Western influences in Estonia, and this was the case for most of the people I socialized with. It was not uncommon for young Estonians to speak four foreign languages fluently; Finnish, English, Russian and either French, German, Norwegian, or Swedish. Most people did, however, not have many chances to practice their foreign language skills and I was never allowed to stutter in Estonian if Estonians knew that they could practice their English on me.
One of the first things I noticed when I arrived in Tallinn was the new smells. It feels disrespectful to mention the smell of Tallinn, but my room, apart from the lack of comfort, smelled terrible and I spent the first days scrubbing the ceiling and walls. Every morning a Russian cleaning lady came to clean the halls outside my room, and I had trouble eating in her presence because of the strong stench of sweat from her armpits. The corridors at The University, where I enjoyed the luxury of an office, were packed with tall teenagers who gave off a strong odor of cheap after-shave, perfume, and sweat. One time when I was riding a crowded troll (electric buss) to the city center the smells from the other people on the bus became too much for me and I got sick and had to leave the bus. But Tallinn also offered sweet smells from the numerous bakeries and cafés in the Old Town. These stories about my reactions to different smells might seem meaningless, but after two months I received a visitor from Norway. When my friend complained about the smells in Tallinn I had no idea what he was talking about. By then I had adjusted to the smells, something I did not believe possible during the first months of my stay. It was surprising to realize that I had become used to aspects of Tallinn without even noticing it myself. I no longer questioned some of the things which I reacted strongly to in the beginning.
Apart from having some difficulties with smells, everyday things such as buying bus tickets, finding a place to do my laundry, and shopping, seemed like crucial tasks during the first weeks. It felt like a personal victory every time I understood and managed something new, however insignificant. Even though many things appeared to be different and foreign in Estonia, I was surprised by the similarities to what I was used to from Norway. I started viewing my surroundings as a puzzle where I had the role as a detective who tried to fit all the pieces together into a coherent picture. Everyday tasks became important pieces of the puzzle. The fact that I made new discoveries and break-throughs every day made the stay exciting.
One example of how my knowledge developed was my view of the Estonians. At first I thought they seemed open-minded and happy. Even though the people I observed in the streets did not smile much, I assumed that they were generally satisfied with their situation. But as time passed, and I became closer to people and they started to trust me, my initial impressions were altered. I realized that Estonians often behaved differently in the presence of people from the West. They cracked jokes, greeted people loudly and seemed happy and optimistic. However, if there were only Estonians in a room the atmosphere changed and people talked and smiled less. At first I interpreted this as a Nordic temperament similar to how Norwegians will not utter a word to each other on a bus. Then I stumbled on a well-known Estonian proverb (see Chapter Two): «The favorite food of an Estonian is another Estonian». I started to view Tallinn as a competitive society. In many ways the «Estonian national philosophy» seemed to fit capitalistic ideologies much better than the Norwegian Jante Law(17)according to which you should never believe that you are better than your neighbor. Estonians described themselves as jealous of each other. An Estonian friend told me that «There are no satisfied Estonians, we always want more». He explained that if your neighbor owns a Mercedes and you only have an Audi, you will try to make more money in order to buy a better car than your neighbor. In more than one way it can be said that solidarity was lacking among Estonians. Estonia and especially Tallinn was a very insecure place when it came to both crime and future possibilities, even though the first impression was a post-communist society which had experienced an economic and social miracle in only a few years. The Estonian youth who seemed ambitious and successful often had to provide for their parents who made less than their children. Young people in their mid-twenties often worked full time and studied part time. At TTÜ, the university where I had an office, many classes were held in the evenings after the students had finished their jobs. It was not uncommon to meet students in the corridors with mobile phones and suits which often indicated that they were involved in commercial business, commonly their own. One example was a nineteen year old friend of mine who just had struck a profitable deal and now owned his own company and drove a brand new Mercedes. He had earned enough to pay for his own business education in the West and provide for his parents. Even teachers needed an extra job because of low salaries at the universities. This could result in situations where students and teachers were involved in business relationships with each other. Taking an exam on your business card, was a familiar expression among students at TTÜ. It meant that if a student was representing a firm that the teacher's company wanted to strike a deal with, it would not hurt your grades to show your teacher your business card while handing in the exam.
Towards the end of my stay in Tallinn I was asked in an interview with the school paper at TTÜ if I missed anything in Tallinn. I answered without hesitation that I missed smiles in the streets and satisfied and secure people. The Estonian interviewer agreed. In contrast to the smells, which I noticed immediately and forgot soon, it took longer to see Tallinn as a place where smiles were few and the daily grind was difficult to cope with for many people, because the surface seemed without problems.
As mentioned above, I became much more outgoing during my fieldwork. My greatest fears were of not becoming friends with any Estonians or of being unable to get in touch with the business environment. I was lucky and made friends quickly and in the beginning I was thrilled with the situation. Prior to my fieldwork I had thought about and discussed with my fellow anthropology students how I would treat friends during my stay in Tallinn. I was determined not only to be the one who received help and information, but to give something in return as well. I was used to viewing anthropologists as strategists who took advantage of their informants in order to attain valuable information for their academic work. It had never occurred to me that I would be the one who would be giving without receiving. My English skills made me popular. Apart from the discussion classes I organized together with a visiting American professor at the university, there were several Estonians who spent time with me just to practice their English (the missionaries in Tallinn used this demand for foreign language practice, by announcing services in English instead of in Estonian). Some people also saw me as their ticket out of Estonia. An Estonian friend invited me home for dinner. Over dessert she had told me that her daughter was very interested in studying dance abroad and that she wanted me to check the possibilities in Norway. Another friend frequently borrowed money. She never asked for large amounts, but it happened repeatedly and she rarely paid me back. After I left Tallinn, I received an inquiry about selling containers of Estonian fish to the Norwegian market from a woman I considered my close friend during fieldwork. The incidents where I did people favors, did not bother me the most. The worst part was when I needed someone to confide in and turned to someone I had previously listened to, and they merely responded that I was from Norway where everything was fine so what could possibly be troubling me (Estonians even have a proverb «Korras nagu norras», which means «good as in Norway»). Comments like this always shut me up. But I needed someone to talk to at times, as the intensity of the fieldwork experience, often lead to hypersensitivity. My feelings resembled a roller coaster (maybe it was a good thing that I did not share them with too many people). My day was perfect if I managed to get a new contact with someone within the business milieu or figured out details about how to buy buss passes. The day was ruined if the commandant (the female janitor at the dormitory) failed to greet me in the morning. I would spend the entire morning wondering where I had gone wrong for her not to greet me. Concerning my contacts with the business environment, I was the one who felt pushy and demanding. In most cases I nursed the contacts and at times it became tiring to be the one who constantly took initiatives. I did, however, also make friends within the business world in Tallinn.
Since my friends and informants belonged to different groups, I had to switch between different social networks. One of these was the group of Estonians with minimal contact with Western parts of Tallinn. The most extreme example was a girl who had only been in a car twice before when I met her. I took her to a café and to McDonald's for the first time in her life. I behaved differently among people such as her, than in a more Western oriented social setting. I must admit that I used the Western spaces in Tallinn, which also included Estonians, as get-away-places from the former environments, but it also worked the other way around. I also made a few Russian friends, a fact which I often concealed from my Estonian friends and especially from Western-oriented Estonians. Estonians with less contact with the Western parts of Tallinn seemed to be more friendly towards Russians. My switching between different groups of people was similar to what Estonians experienced. They had to relate to Russians, to people from the West, and to an increasing variation of categories of Estonians. There were parts of the Estonian population who knew very little about each other. A friend of mine commented that she had to read glossy magazines or newspapers in order to know how some Estonians lived. The same friend was unfamiliar with the routines in a bank when I first met her. The internal differences among Estonians were increasing and this was particularly noticeable, since social differentiation used to be invisible before 1991.
As I have mentioned, I often visited the Western parts of Tallinn in order to take a break from my Estonian friends. What I often felt a need to get away from, was the Estonian skepticism, and sometimes even hate, towards people who were not just like them (one would think I was used to this from Norway!). Estonians did not like Russians (at least the ones who lived in Estonia), or Finns, they only approved of certain categories of Western Europeans (Finns were not even seen as Europeans and were nicknamed «reindeer» (põdrat) or «EU moose» after they joined the EU, due to their allegedly uncultured behavior), only a few Americans were accepted, and returning children of Estonians who had emigrated to America, were called Mickey Mouse because they were seen as advocates for Americanization. There were also many groups to dislike internally among the Estonians; the noveaux rich were stupid, a residential area with luxurious villas was called «idiot town», the elderly were lagging behind etc. One explanation of this apparent dislike might have been that Estonia is a young nation, which has not concluded the formation of a national identity and thus feels threatened by anything that seems «different».
The rules of behavior in business environments were initially unknown to me and I had to learn some of them in order to acquire information from business people. As a student of social anthropology I knew almost nothing about business. I could hardly understand accounts and I had never seen a business plan prior to my fieldwork. Some of the first things I noticed was the business cards. When business people met, the exchange of business cards was an important ritual. I often got the feeling that I was somewhat strange because I did not have my personal business card. If I were to do fieldwork among business people again, I would definitively have my business cards printed, as phone numbers written down on a piece of paper were easily lost. Business cards, on the other hand, were organized in folders in alphabetical order or according to business type. A popular souvenir to buy in Tallinn was a handmade folder for business cards, in local design (I bought one myself).
The business people expected me to be well prepared and to know exactly what I wanted to ask about, when I came to see them. I therefore made an interview guide (see Appendix Two), which I changed a number of times during my fieldwork, and I conducted 37 formal and informal interviews. I was not sufficiently prepared, or even qualified to conduct ethnographic interviews, although I had made a rudimentary interview guide before I left Norway. I found formal interviewing very difficult. It was a part of my fieldwork which I was not prepared for, I did not even suspect that I would be conducting such interviews. I had gained the mistaken impression that anthropologists rely on data collected from participant observation alone. So I was forced to learn interview techniques in the course of my fieldwork, and I am certain that many of my initial mistakes could have been avoided if I had been familiar with a few basic techniques beforehand. The interviews themselves were often a peculiar experience, where I tried to persuade the informants to talk as much as possible, whereas they believed that I had thoroughly considered questions which they tried to answer to the best of their ability. I would ideally have avoided posing any questions at all. I sometimes felt that I was presented with answers to things I had decided were significant beforehand, and thus missed important information. One way of avoiding too much focus on the questions, was to pose descriptive questions, such as what does your job consist of? As most people enjoy talking about what they are doing, and most people generally are not interested, this would normally keep the business people busy for a while. Some of my best information came from the business people's job descriptions. A different misunderstanding was that the business people were very conscious of when the official part of our meeting was over, i.e. when I stopped taking notes. The business people did not expect me to use any of the information they provided after the interviews were finished. I, on the other hand, often viewed interviews as the beginning of a relationship with an informant. It was a way of setting up a meeting and thus establishing the initial contact. As Hall points out, everything that takes place prior to and after an interview is an important source of information (Hall 1987). I would of course treat sensitive information carefully and never use it in the thesis or share it with other people, but I felt that I had to know as much as possible in order to form a thorough understanding of the whole situation. I never concealed that I was a student of social anthropology and I tried to explain anthropological methods, but in spite of my efforts, I do not think they fully understood what I meant.
I interviewed both Norwegian and Estonian business people, but made more friends among the Estonians. I was surprised that so many of them opened up to me, considering that I shared nationality with their Norwegian bosses, or maybe this was the reason. They seemed grateful to be able to present their side of the story to a Norwegian. I was often embarrassed by the way some Norwegians treated their Estonian employees and partners. I was aware of too many incidents where Norwegians broke their promises or even the law, by for example failing to pay salaries. When I was asked by an Estonian friend whether or not I would recommend him to apply for a job in a particular Norwegian firm in Tallinn, my answer was no. I knew that the Norwegian manager of the company had lost his former job because he was suspected of fraud, and in my mind he was not trustworthy. The right thing to do might have been to refuse to answer the Estonian's questions about the company, but, in that case, I felt that it was more important to treat a friend right, than to protect my data and integrity as a fieldworker. Another reason for helping my friend was that I sometimes felt personal dislike for some of my Norwegian informants. Anthropologists often consider themselves as spokespersons for their informants who should defend their rights etc. This was not how it turned out in my case, especially not with the Norwegian business people. Despite this, I tried to see things from their perspective, as I consider that to be the main task of an anthropologist. One of the reasons why I disliked some of the Norwegian business people, may have been that they represented a group which possessed many resources. People who receive high salaries and have a fairly long education are not considered a threatened social group. I might have reacted differently if I had witnessed similar events among a tribe in the Amazons, whom I would not have judged by my own standards.
In the relationship between me and the Norwegian business people, I was not the only one who wanted information. The Norwegian business people sometimes tried to make me tell them things their partners had told me. One man said that he refused to answer my questions until I told him what his Estonian partner had said about the working relations within the firm. He gave up when he understood that I was not interested in the deal. If I could have provided him with the information he needed, I would have told him that they needed a weekly meeting for the administration. This was the only complaint the Estonian had made. The fact that the Norwegian boss was unaware of this simple, but important fact proved to me that my study was needed and that I was acquiring valuable information. It also made me aware that I was a person who could be used and abused by both my Estonian and Norwegian informants.
The process of doing fieldwork was one of personal satisfaction. Prior to my stay in Tallinn I had produced a project proposal and applied for financial support. The project was my idea and I established my own contacts and prepared every detail myself. During fieldwork I had a strong sense of carrying out something which I had planned, and thus of living up to my own expectations. During fieldwork, it felt as if I was learning something new every day, as both Estonia and the business environments were new and exciting. But I was unprepared for my return to Norway. It was a disappointment to learn that my fieldnotes and interviews, which had demanded such hard work, did not immediately provide the means to retell what I had experienced, to my supervisor, friends, or in a thesis. The understanding, which I believed to have acquired on the plane home from Tallinn, was soon reduced to a feeling that the only thing I could truly say about my fieldwork, was: «I don't know what it was, but something smelled funny».
This list presents actual information about the Norwegian-Estonian companies in Tallinn at the time of my fieldwork. In the main text the companies are kept anonymous. In the list the company names are omitted, except in the case of the two largest companies with Norwegian involvement, because they are easily recognizable and because I do not base my arguments on information from these companies.
A joint venture between a Norwegian and Estonian company. They mediated production of hosiery, lingerie etc. in Estonia and Lithuania for Norwegian producers. Their Tallinn office consisted of two Estonian women in their forties: the Director and the Project Manager. The Norwegian Chairman of the Board and the Managing Director of the Norwegian branch visited Tallinn and the production sites regularly and worked closely with their Estonian partners. Company 1 was established in the early 1990s. The establishing of the company in Estonia was not a coincidence. The father of the Norwegian Chairman of the Board was the first Norwegian counsel to Estonia between the two World Wars, and this created an initial interest for the country.
This company was run by a Norwegian woman who designed knitted clothes for the Norwegian market. Part of her production was produced by Estonian knitters. She came to Estonia on a holiday with a friend in 1994. She noticed the quality of the Estonian knitting sold by women in the streets. This gave her the idea to start her own production in Estonia. Twenty-five women were knitting her designs in their homes. In addition to this she was also involved in a project to start a large scale production with machine knitting. The designer had an Estonian partner who organized the business in Estonian and functioned as the contact between the Norwegian and the knitters. In July 1996 the production had terminated.
Company 3 was established in Estonia in 1993. The establishing of a Norwegian chain of grocery stores in Estonia was done by this Norwegian company through a franchise agreement. The company was also involved in the organizing of the distribution of facilities for disabled in Estonia. This project was financed through the Norwegian Action Program. Company 3 had two Norwegian representatives in Tallinn. The company had an Estonian Financial Manager and an Estonian Managing Director. The company had plans to establish stores in the rest of the Baltic states and in some parts of Russia.
A joint venture project between a Norwegian travel agency and an Estonian counterpart. Company 4 was established in 1993 by a Norwegian man who runs a travel agency in Norway. Norway and Estonia were the company's main travel destinations. The company had a Norwegian Chairman of the Board and an Estonian Managing Director who was also a member of the board. An Estonian woman worked in sales and was also the Project Manager. There were two other Estonian sales persons hired in the company. The Norwegian Chairman of the Board had contacts in Estonia through cooperation between Norwegian and Estonian choirs and scout organizations prior to starting his own business in Tallinn. Company 4 was terminated during the fall of 1996.
The company was established by its Norwegian President in 1991, who came to Tallinn in 1989. He came to Tallinn by chance as he was challenged by a friend. Company number 5 was a consulting firm which specialized on mediating business deals between Novgorod, Tallinn and Bergen. In addition, the company was involved in several other projects. An Estonian woman was hired as the Managing Director. The company' s secretary was an Estonian woman. Towards the end of my fieldwork the company took over the managing of a Tallinn based company producing containers. The secretary followed the company.
An Estonian company with a Norwegian Director. The company was established by the Norwegian Director in 1992. They broke up old ships and sold the scrap metal to Europe, but they would also engage themselves in other projects they found interesting. The company obtained a profitable agreement with the City of Tallinn to remove old ships from the ports of Tallinn and Paldiski. In return they could keep the scrap metal they treasured. An Estonian woman worked as the Vice Director and an Estonian man was the translator and the Personnel Manager of the company. The Vice Director had been working with the Norwegian Director since he first established the company in Estonia. The Norwegian Director came to Tallinn in 1989 together with one of the other Norwegian business people. The company moved to Kaliningrad after having finished their assignment in Estonia.
The company was registered in Estonia in 1992 by its Norwegian Director. The Director visited Estonia for the first time in 1991 in connection with the establishment of Junior Chambers in Estonia. Through these visits he created future business contacts. Company 7 owned 50% of the Estonian shares in a Norwegian chain store. They were also involved in the establishing of the Norwegian chain store in the Baltic states. The company's main office was in a small village outside of Tallinn, where it had been involved in the building of a shopping center where both the Norwegian chain store and another Norwegian company had stores. Company 7 also provided consulting cervices and was involved in a number of other projects like the planning of a Scandinavian hotel in Tallinn. 12 Estonians worked on the managing level of the company.
The Norwegian Chairman of the Board, came to Tallinn in 1989. He started the production of yarn in a factory outside Tallinn in 1991 in cooperation with Estonian partners. The Estonian part owned 60% of the shares. The production was terminated in 1993. Company 8 returned to the factory in 1994. The company also owned a diaper factory, a studio of sun beds, shares in a consulting firm and provided business consulting services on an individual basis. Three Estonian women were employed in the main office of company 8. Their job was to sell the knitted products. The Chairman of the Board also had a Norwegian partner who lived permanently in Tallinn.
Was the largest processor of fish in Estonia. After several difficulties the company invited a Norwegian man with experience from the Norwegian fish industry to administrate a process of restructuring in 1995. He worked closely together with the Estonian administration of the company. Some of the main new changes were the upgrading of the sales department, the restructuring of the administrative routines and an orientation towards new markets for their products. Company 9 was bought by a Norwegian company after my fieldwork period.
The Norwegian Manager of the company came to Estonia prior to Estonian independence from the Soviet Union. He used to work as the Estonian consul to Norway. Company 10 started as consultants in 1992-93. They coordinated business projects between Norway and Estonia and owned two wholesale stores in Tartu and Tallinn. They have also translated a book of economics into Estonian. Company 10 gave themselves (in 1996) one more year in Estonia. If they were unable to succeed within the year they would end their business connections with Estonia.
This was an Estonian registered company with Scandinavian owners. It was established in 1991 in order to produce containers for sale in the Western part of Europe. They hired a Norwegian Managing Director and an Estonian/ Russian Vice Director. An Estonian woman worked as translator and language teacher for the Russian workers and a Russian woman was hired as secretary. When company 11 bought the company they started a restructuring process which involved a new management structure and the firing of workers. The company got a new management in November 1996.
Number 12 ran a printing press in Tallinn. It was a joint venture project between a Norwegian and an Estonian which was established in 1993. They each owned 48% of the shares in the company. The remaining shares were divided among the workers. The Norwegian owner of the company runs his own printing press in Norway and the Estonian owner used to work for a state owned printing press in Soviet Estonia. The two men met in Norway when the Estonian owner visited Norway to see how printing presses were run in Europe. The Norwegian owner of the company had connections in Estonia as he had been involved in the shipment of humanitarian aid to Estonia. The Estonian owner bought a printing press in Tallinn and invited his Norwegian friend to join him.
Statoil was first established in Estonia on the 27th of March in 1991. It was the first company in the Soviet Union which was entirely owned by foreigners. Eesti Statoil was initially run by the Swedish branch of Statoil. It was, in 1996, under Norwegian supervision. They planned to have an Estonian management within two years. The Managing Director in 1996 was a forty year old Swede. The company had previously had two Managing Directors: the first was Swedish and the other was Estonian. The company had gas stations in all of the three Baltic states. Statoil, and Coca Cola to a lesser extent, functioned as locomotives for the smaller Norwegian firms in Tallinn. Statoil had a very good reputation in Tallinn. It was common to hear people say, like one of my Estonian friends: «I will only buy gas at Statoil, because then I know that I'll get good gas». Some of the other gas stations in Estonia have been known to sell gas meant for heating up houses as fuel for cars. Norwegian business was given a positive image through Statoil 's activities.
Coca Cola took over an old bottling plant in Tallinn in 1990. They produced soft drinks for sale in Estonia. Its main office for the Baltic States and Russia was situated in Oslo. That was one of the reasons why two Norwegian men in their late twenties were hired to assist through the initial process on the newly restructured bottling plant in Tallinn. The long term plan for Coca Cola was that the whole organization would be run by local labor and expertise. One of the Norwegian men worked as sales and marketing administrator and the other was responsible for the reorganizing of the computer systems. In the computer department two Estonians worked closely with the Norwegian. One was in his forties and used to work at the old bottling plant with computer systems, and was about to leave the company in 1996. The other Estonian was in his early thirties.
INTERVIEW GUIDE (for Norwegians)
-How will you describe your workplace/the firm and your tasks in the firm?
-In your opinion, is the firm based on Norwegian/Western European principals of organization? (a Western concept, Western working environment etc.)
-Is it necessary to adjust your organization /firm to the Estonian context?
-If so how is this done?
-In what ways -if at all- do you cooperate with Estonians/Eastern Europeans?
-How would you describe this cooperation?
-Is there any difference from employing or cooperating with Estonians (Eastern Europeans) as opposed to Norwegians/Western Europeans?
-If yes will you please describe the differences?
-If no will you please describe the similarities?
-Can you describe your Eastern European employees'/partners' relationship to their workplace/the company?
-How will you describe your own values concerning work ethics, business etc.?
-In your opinion, how do your values differ from the values of Estonians/Eastern Europeans - if they differ at all?
-Is it often necessary to guide or advice your Estonian counterparts?
-Do you have any language problems?
-When you do business with Eastern Europeans, how would you describe their negotiating strategies?
-Have you experienced any unexpected (positive or negative) situations?
-If yes will you please describe these?
-What are your motivations for doing business in Estonia?
-Why did you establish your business in Estonia?
-For how long have you been doing business in Estonia?
-In your opinion, how does the future look for your company in Estonia?
-Why do you judge the future prospects to be good or negative?
-Is it your impression that Norwegian businesses established in Estonia are stable?
-Did you have any contacts prior to your investment in the Baltic States?
-If so how and when were they established?
-What do you connect with the terms Western and Eastern?
-I have heard Tallinn described as "Europe's Chicago", what are your reactions to this description?
-Do you consider your business as part of a development process - creating progress for Estonia?
INTERVIEW GUIDE ( for Estonians)
-How will you describe your working place/the firm and your tasks in the company?
-What did you do before you started to work for this company?
-How would you describe the cooperation with Norwegians/Western Europeans?
-Is there any difference from being employed by/cooperating with Norwegians/ Western Europeans as opposed to Eastern Europeans?
-If yes will you please describe the differences?
-If no will you please describe the similarities?
-I have often had Norwegians described as naive, what are your comments?
-How will you describe your values concerning work ethics, business etc.?
-In your opinion, how do your values differ from the values of Norwegians/Western Europeans - if they differ at all?
-Can you please describe your Norwegian/Western European employers'/partners' relationship to their workplace/the firm?
-Do you experience any language problems?
-Is it different to go to work now than it was before independence - have working conditions or the expected behavior changed in any way? Please explain how?
-Have you experienced any unexpected situations (positive or negative) in working with Western Europeans?
-If yes will you please describe these?
-What do you connect with the term Western and Eastern?
-I have heard Tallinn described as "Europe's Chicago", what are your reactions to this description?
1. Some of the chief spheres of Norwegian investment in these areas were industry, energy, farming and fishery (Det Kgl. Utenriksdepartement 1994:15). The main geographical areas of interest were North-West Russia, Poland and the Baltic states.
2. The Labor Party has governed Norway continuously since the Second World War, with several brief, but unnoteworthy, interludes. A coalition government led by the Christian Democrats (Kristelig Folkeparti) came to power in 1997. The new government does not however break with the Norwegian Social-Democratic tradition of high official spendings on welfare, protection of national industries and commerce, subsidies to the farming industry etc.
3. The fact that their common language in daily communication was English - which both Norwegians and Estonians speak as foreigners - may further have strengthened this notion.
4. The word business will be used in its emic and ambiguous sense - as my informants used it. When business is referred to in its general meaning or as business ideology it will be written without quotation marks. «Business» will be written with quotation marks when it refers to the practical act of «doing business».
5. Statoil and Coca Cola are the only companies which are mentioned by name. This is done because they are easily recognizable in any case, and because I have very little first hand information on the two companies. They are important for my argument as points of reference for my main informants, which are the business people involved with the remaining smaller firms. Because of the size, image, and considerable financial resources, Coca Cola and Statoil experience different business situations than the smaller Norwegian firms.
6. Coca Cola's regional office for Eastern and Central Europe was situated in Oslo, Norway, consequently the Estonian branch of Coca Cola was administered from Oslo.
7. The interview guides I used were revised constantly during fieldwork. They functioned as guides and was never followed rigorously.
8. The Action Program was completed in 1996 and is continued through The Cooperation Program.
9. The Hanseatic League (an alliance of towns of Northern Germany and neighboring countries for the production and advance of trade and commerce) was yet to be formally defined during the first German period (1227-1238), but the association already existed. It is thus common to call the German towns of that time for Hanse (McEvedy 1961:72).
10. Reported and discussed in Soviet media since the early 1980s, and subject to constant (futile) reform efforts such as campaigns against alcoholism.
11. This account of the events taking place during the Singing Revolution is based on Pär Lindströms book Att resa i Estland. Historia, sevärdheter och restips.
12. The proverb is part of newer Estonian folklore, and probably originates from the Soviet Period.
13. This only partly reflected historical facts. There were mostly foreigners who held privileges in Estonia during these historical epochs. One example is that only foreigners were allowed to study at the University of Tartu during Swedish rule.
14. It used to be hard to find baggage carts at the airport in Tallinn.
15. Estonia experienced a major bank crisis a few years earlier. A strict reform of the bank system, involving no financial help from the state, followed the crisis and left the surviving Estonian banks in a relatively healthy situation. The economic and social crisis in Russia, fall 1998, did however lead to insecurity in Estonian banks yet again.
16. Hall uses the term 'high context society' to distinguish between cultural differences on a national level, this can easily be criticized by anthropologists. I am on the other hand using his terms on a small and local environment.
17. From the Danish/Norwegian book: En flyktning krysser sitt spor, by Aksel Sandemose. The Jante Law refers to moral laws for the fictive village Jante and is widely known in Norway and Denmark. The Law states in various ways, that a person never should believe, or at least not show, that he or she is better than anyone else.