From an Egyptian-Swedish perspective

Aug 8, 2018 by

Have you ever thought of money and ethics? Can we apply ethics to money transactions? An interesting philosophical discussion about how money is perceived in different cultural contexts took place in Alternative Economics and Monetary Systems (AEMS) summer school at BOKU university in Vienna. This discussion motivated us to think of how money and ethics are context bound. But, before we go into more details, we have to first define what we mean by money and ethics.

Ethics draw the line between right and wrong, Dos and Don’ts. Ethics are based on what we believe. But, when it comes to money there is no consensus about it. We may agree on how it is created and used in society. Money shapes our conduct and implies power. It requires trust and works as a transcultural force within ecosystems. However, you still have to be cautious whenever you are involved in money transactions in different cultural contexts, when it occurs on the individual. Let us compare between the Swedish and Egyptian contexts.

In Sweden the expectation of having something in return is very high. If you, for example, buy your friend a cup of coffee or lend her/him a small amount of money, you expect something in return. It is a kind of an unspoken rule since you would not explicitly demand it. Trust is always the key: you trust your friend to give back the money or offer you something in return. In Egypt, it is not really the same. You meet a friend buy her/him a cup of coffee or even lend him small amount of money without expecting anything in return. It is for the sake of friendship and love. Of course, your friend may pay you back, or offer you something in return. It is up to her/him, rather than an unspoken rule. Here, trust may be a neutral thing: it is not positive or negative; it is just irrelevant. You do not do it because you trust your friend to pay you back. You just do it to show caring and love.

Such differences may cause tension and/or discomfort. Think of a situation in which an Egyptian person has to borrow money from his Swedish friend to get a bus ticket because he lost his wallet. The Egyptian would never think of returning the money back, whereas the Swedish would expect it. This might cause an unintended tension, about which they are not likely to talk. And if we twisted the situation around so that Swedish will be the one to borrow the money. The Egyptian will refuse to take the money back. This would likely cause a feeling of discomfort on part of the Swedish.

It is important to state that this example is by no means an attempt for making a general statement about the Egyptian and Swedish cultures. Instead, it serves as a single illustration for how complicated it is to define money and its ethics on a broader level.

All cultures share a common understanding of humanity, reciprocity and justice, as suggested by professor Bernd Villhauer from Weltethos Institute at the Universität Tübingen. However, it seems that cultural differences still exist. Such cultural differences often shape our understanding of and expectations from money transactions. Therefore, we need to be cautious whenever we do inter-cultural money transactions on the individual level.


Written by: Radwa Mabrook and Kajsa Emilsson

Based on the lecture by: Bernd Villhauer (“Money and moral”)