Focusing on Europe, this article aims to disentangle the patterns of cultural clustering and to throw more light on concepts such as ‘civilizations’ and ‘cultural zones.’ Cross-cultural analyses unanimously find that various historical background and socioeconomic indicators are strongly correlated to societal values, however, a systematic investigation on what makes societal cultures similar and different hasn’t been conducted. The author first outlines the factors and mechanisms that may explain value similarities, then the author tests their importance using dyadic data on 40 countries from the wvs. Multiple factors are associated to the cultural similarities: the historical background – i.e. countries’ political-institutional traditions, religion, language, and imperial legacies – and also socio-economic development, geographical distance, European integration, and climatic differences. The substantial overlap among them, however, diminishes the absolute importance of any of the explanatory factors. The multiple determinants of value differences speak against a classification of national cultures into cultural zones based on single formative factors.