Cultural Differences – Baltic States

What the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania all have in common is a period of Russian occupation after the Second World War when they were under socialist rule for around 40 years. Today, however, the three Baltic republics deliberately distance themselves from each other and want to be perceived each in their own right.

Estonians are somewhat taciturn

Many visitors tend to perceive Estonians as being somewhat taciturn and reserved. When international business people enter into negotiations with Estonians, they should refrain from immediately filling pauses in conversations by talking and try not to interrupt Estonians who tend to speak slowly and deliberately. Such behavior will just lead to Estonians feeling that their visitors from abroad are impolite and will quickly classify them as impatient. It would be better if international mangers learned to “endure” the many silent moments that occur during conversations and ensure that they run smoothly. Too much small talk, frequent questions or a very extroverted body language are perceived as unpleasant in Estonia.

Furthermore, the Estonian business culture is focused on politeness and respect. The outward appearance of a new business partner, which they study just as intensively as the project plans or contracts they bring with them, is also important. For their part, Estonians will approach their guests with sophisticated understatement and offer their own know-how rather modestly. Business cards with high-sounding titles or overly elaborately designed presentations are quickly perceived as boastful. Instead, Estonians value a disciplined approach, sound argumentation and clear presentation. Reliability, integrity and punctuality are also expected.

Proud Latvians

Latvians have a similar mentality to Germans. They will, however, always emphasize their Scandinavian roots. Some expats report that they always find old-fashioned, conservative behavior in their dealings with Latvians and that national pride is on the rise as well. Their metropolis Riga also makes the Latvians see themselves as being the center of the Baltic States. Foreign business partners are therefore well advised to treat their Latvian hosts respectfully and on an equal footing and to show real, comprehensive interest in the Latvian culture.

Like the Scandinavians, Latvians have a strong sense of family, which is reflected in all aspects of society. In the business world, it is expected to make friends with foreign partners before embarking on a joint project. Plenty of small talk about art and culture can be helpful to help build a good personal relationship. However, the Latvians are also rather quiet people, so it is just as unwise to appear too committed and pushy as it is in Estonia. Therefore, objectivity and a solution-oriented approach should prevail in business negotiations.

A focus on Eastern Europe in Lithuania

In daily dealings with Lithuanian business partners, you will frequently notice their strong emotional ties to both Poland and Russia. In addition, the Catholic Church is important in Lithuanian life; this not only increases the distance to their Baltic neighbors, but also defines their fundamental values.

For successful business negotiations in Lithuania, the basic prerequisite is the establishment of a strong personal relationship. Close contact with business partners is often so important here that contracts count for far less than a personal handshake. Foreigners in Lithuania have repeatedly reported that Lithuanian business partners like to renegotiate things that have already been decided. A finalized contract will not stop them from reconsidering everything.

Contrary to their quiet neighbors in Estonia and Latvia, Lithuanians enjoy heated discussions. However, after a day of tough negotiating, Lithuanians will once again give priority to building a good personal relationship and will invite their business partners from abroad to eat and celebrate together. Little wonder that the Lithuanians, with their thoroughly open and cheerful way of life, like to be called the “Italians of the Baltic States”.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are increasingly becoming the hub for markets in Central and Eastern Europe. All three offer their international business partners hospitality and support in their own individual way. This is why they deserve to be recognized as individual countries each with their own characteristics.

Katrin Koll Prakoonwit

+49 (0)711 722 468 44
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