The Law of Jante is a social concept created by Danish-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose in his 1933 book “A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks.” You may be familiar with a similar concept used in other parts of the world called “tall poppy syndrome.” In Janteloven, individual success is discouraged and, in many cases, considered inappropriate. Instead, society encourages the good of the collective over any one individual. This has shaped Scandinavian culture over many years and helped to create the peaceful, modest, and very homogenous society of today.
The Law of Jante (Janteloven)
- You’re not to think you are anything special.
- You’re not to think you are as good as we are.
- You’re not to think you are smarter than we are.
- You’re not to imagine yourself better than we are.
- You’re not to think you know more than we do.
- You’re not to think you are more important than we are.
- You’re not to think you are good at anything.
- You’re not to laugh at us.
- You’re not to think anyone cares about you.
- You’re not to think you can teach us anything.
Failing to respect Janteloven can dramatically decrease your likelihood of success in business and hurt your relationships in Norway. However, as a foreigner, you’ll be allowed to get away with some “exotic” behavior, such as giving a stranger a compliment.
What is Janteloven?
Introduction to Janteloven
Janteloven, or the Law of Jante, is a term deeply woven into the fabric of Norwegian society, influencing the mindset and behavior of its people. Originating from a satirical piece of literature, it has evolved into a cultural phenomenon that encapsulates the ethos of modesty, equality, and communal harmony prevalent in Norwegian society.
Origin of Janteloven
The term “Janteloven” was coined by the Danish-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose in his 1933 novel “En Flyktning krysser sitt spor” (A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks). In the book, Sandemose introduces the fictional town of Jante, where the citizens strictly adhere to ten rules, collectively known as Janteloven. These laws essentially discourage individual success and achievements not shared with the community, emphasizing the collective over the individual.
Although these laws might seem harsh or restrictive, it’s important to understand that Sandemose used them to satirically critique the small-town mentality that stifled individual expression and success.
Janteloven in Norwegian Society
Despite its satirical origin, Janteloven has permeated Norwegian society, influencing social norms and behaviors. It reflects a deeply rooted belief in equality and collective responsibility among Norwegians. While some argue that it discourages individual achievement, others believe it promotes social harmony by discouraging arrogance and fostering mutual respect.
The Law of Jante is seen as a cornerstone of the Nordic model, contributing to the region’s high standards of living, excellent education, and strong social security systems. It fosters a sense of collective responsibility, creating societies where people are encouraged to look out for each other. This mentality contributes to the well-functioning welfare states seen in Norway and other Nordic countries.
Criticism and Contemporary Views
While Janteloven has had a profound influence on Norway’s societal fabric, it’s not without its critics. Some argue that the Law of Jante discourages individualism, ambition, and personal success, potentially stifling innovation and economic progress. It’s also seen as a hindrance to open dialogue as it discourages individuals from standing out or expressing different views.
However, many contemporary Norwegians have a more nuanced interpretation of Janteloven. They see it not as a rulebook but as a guide to maintain humility and respect for others, emphasizing the importance of community and equality while still allowing for individual achievement.
Janteloven is a fascinating aspect of Norwegian culture, offering a glimpse into the societal values that have shaped one of the world’s most prosperous and equitable societies. It encourages humility, respect for others, and a strong sense of community, all while balancing the need for individual growth and expression. Whether seen as a restrictive set of laws or a guide to communal living, Janteloven continues to play a significant role in Norwegian society.
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