What Exactly Is Janteloven?

The janteloven attitude of Norway

Ever wondered why Norwegians are the way they are? The answer, at least in part, lies in the societal norms known as the law of jante.

Once you've lived in Norway for a while, you'll come across more and more everyday references to janteloven as a reason for Norwegian society being the way it is.

Janteloven (the law of Jante) at its simplest describes the way that all Norwegians (and in fact, other Scandinavians too) behave: putting society ahead of the individual, not boasting about individual accomplishments, and not being jealous of others.

Are Norwegians rude

Important: There's lots of confusion about the concept of janteloven, much stemming from its English translation. It is of course, not an actual law! Janteloven is more of an unspoken social code.

Conforming to societal expectations

I think it's fair to say that Norway in general is a more cohesive society than the UK or USA.

Norwegians by and large are courteous: I've rarely been brushed off when asking for help, even in English. They keep the streets tidy, recycle plastic bottles and cans (albeit encouraged by the pant deposit system), and take part in the dugnad tradition of volunteering.

They may suffer from high tax rates, but there are few complaints from the population who understand the need for income taxes and most importantly, see the results by way of infrastructure improvements and subsidies.

The diverse population of Norway

As a liberal who believes in the right of the individual to live their life as they wish, it has been quite an adjustment. I'm not saying the behaviour is right or wrong, but it does work well in this environment and in these circumstances.

The origins of janteloven

The term janteloven can be traced back to Aksel Sandemose, a Danish-turned-Norwegian author, whose works of fiction included references to these “laws” in the context of small-town Denmark (taken from an English translation on Wikipedia):

  • 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 convince yourself that you are 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

In the books of Sandemose, Jante is the small town where the main character grew up.

The resulting Janteloven is an expression of the small town’s tyrannical pressure on the individual, but the author went on to argue that Janteloven has its validity everywhere. He was seeking to capture something that already existed in society.

17th of May parade in Verdal, Norway

This suggests this way of living is deeply ingrained within Scandinavians and passed down through generations. Although not explicitly taught, these societal expectations are reflected in many children's books and songs of today.

Time for a change?

It may be surprising to those who see Scandinavia as some sort of societal utopia, but there is a growing anti-Janteloven movement in Norway.

In the entrepreneurial circles I move in with my freelance writing, I meet many Norwegians who believe the ‘anti-bragging' concept is holding the country back from achieving more success on a global scale.

The concept has also inspired an expletive-filled song from a Danish band:

Free your mind, free your mind
It’s time, it’s time
To break the chains, break the chains
Break the law, break the law
Break the Jante Law

Anti Jante law poster

Last year I spoke with Anita Krohn Traaseth, the successful businesswoman, blogger, and new CEO of Innovation Norway. What she had to say is being repeated more and more as time goes by:

“One of the biggest things preventing Norway having a startup culture is the lack of self-esteem. Saul Singer was in Oslo two weeks ago and he told us the first word he was introduced to by Norwegians was janteloven. What kind of a message is janteloven for the next generation of entrepreneurs?”

“At the same time we need to build breadth. I am for keeping that, because this is the only way we can build similar to sports, a culture across the country. We are the sum of all our parts and we need to celebrate success on a national level.”

“For example, so many Norwegians have never heard of the small startups in Sogn og Fjordane with worldwide success. We need to build a culture of being proud. We need to cheer for failures. The road to success is failure, not janteloven.”

Coworking in Stavanger Norway

I do think these social norms hold back wannabe entrepreneurs from throwing everything into their projects, and it could go some way to explaining why freelancing is more difficult here than in the UK or USA.

But they also result in a society that is for the many rather than the few, and one that is the envy of the world.

Even though it's taken me four years to write about janteloven, it's an important subject area for foreigners to understand, even if you're just visiting, as it sets the context for many of the interactions you'll have with Norwegians.

What's your opinion on the future of janteloven?

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About the Author: David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a freelance writer for technology companies in Scandinavia.

60 Comments

  1. Hmmm? Janteloven? I can understand the feeling of “janteloven” for people living in a small village where it is frowned upon to be a braggart, express feelings of pride, self-esteem and generally express yourself as feeling better than your neighbor. It then becomes a small village culture of democratic equality. The general feeling of the community becomes one of “we’re all just as good as the other person, no one’s better than I am, no one knows more than I do, and God forbid I should stick out and draw attention to myself.”
    This is a society with a two edged sword over their heads. Who then dares to lead? To invent something or a way that draws attention to the innovator? Who then dares to be different?
    Obviously, a thoughtful community will think this Janteloven idea through to its conclusion and discover that the idea suffocates free thinking. It stifles the creative spirit. Hans Christian Anderson would remain an “ugly duckling”. He would have to retreat to a place that would not frown on him for sticking out. Same for Grieg and Ibsen, etc, etc, etc.
    Why not keep the positive qualities of janteloven (modesty, comfort of belonging in the community, equality with your neighbors) but encourage pride in the courage of reaching for the stars, of containing your pride of doing your best while resisting an outward show of pride, feeling self-esteem even if it means you are acknowledging that in some ways and some things you ARE BETTER than your lesser achieving neighbors. Some people have a greater talent (at music, art, conversation, athletics, etc.). Can we not admire them for this and still keep the best qualities of janteloven?
    Why not infuse some qualities of janteloven with the old Viking spirit of vigorous adventure
    and the feeling that outside my own little community “the World is my oyster”? Why not reach out and joyfully embrace all that the world has to offer without fearing that my neighbors may be watching and disapprove? Let’s add a dose of confidence to the spirit of janteloven.

    1. I have known about Janteloven for less than 24 hour hours but I do so like the ‘we’ are better than ‘me’. Is it possible that it is also to be found in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Is it possible that there is a discernible difference on dimensions such as community spirit, caring for neighbours, giving to charity etc, across the very apparent northeast / southwest line that separates that part of the UK historically occupied from Scandinavia and that historically occupied by the Saxons.

      But as an ‘I’, is there an opinion held by ‘me’ that is important. As an ‘I’ I applaud the compromise notion of adding ‘a dose of confidence to the spirit of janteloven’. As an ‘I’ that is part of the ‘we’ we should be very careful not to lose the essential jantloven in an attempt to become like Donald Trump.

      1. Talking noncense, there is no clear ethnic dividing line in the UK, you must know that Vikings Danes etc, settled in the eastern parts of UK, including east midlands and Yorkshire.

      2. I think you have something here. 1,000 years ago the UK along with Norway and Denmark was ruled by King Kanute for twenty years and called the ‘Northern Empire’. I wish we still were still a part of Scandanavia and had their ‘We’ mindset and Janteloven rather than the ‘I’ of capitalism/cannibalism. My hope is that in these times the awareness of Janteloven and it’s positive benefits for all spreads out around the world. Personally, I dispair of any other future. Janteloven gives me hope and a blueprint for a better world, something I did not have until I discovered it and it’s beautiful influence on the Scandanavian countries.

    2. I think to say that Norway has not shown creativity, progress or confidence is quite untrue. Just looking at how it moved from barbarism in the Viking age to a country that upholds the Nobel Peace Prize is a stark example. It took people (individuals and communities) to get through all it has had to face to get to the level of success it now plays globally. I think it is wise to continue janteloven, if for no other reason, for the value of goodness it has fostered–especially in light of the violence, greed, pride, darkness and corruption that is so prevalent in other cultures, and growing throughout the world. What a great lesson in humility, compassion and peace Norway has become. I’ll take that janteloven for my community any day!

      1. As for the Nobel Peace Prize, Nobel (a Swede) thought it better to have the Norwegians handle that prize. Ostensibly so that it would not be unduly influenced by politics. (At the time, Sweden and Norway were a united Kingdom – one item that came out of the Congress of Vienna after the defeat of Napoleon, but I digress.) If I were a Swede I would re-visit Nobel’s will to see if Sweden should take over selecting the Peace winners. I see instances where politics indeed influenced the Norwegians.

        1. There I nothing like a brainwashed , blinkered trumpet blower to prove the point that Norway is engrained with this mentality.

    3. Some of the statements here are just NASTY! I can understand the concept of some of this, but some of these statements are similar to what abusers say to their victims!

      You’re not to think you are anything special – (but you MAY be very special an have amazing talents!)

      You’re not to think you are as good as we are – (but that tells you that you don’t deserve a place in society.)

      You’re not to think you know more than we do – (you may have a lot of knowledge in a subject that none of your friends and neighbors have.)

      You’re not to think you are good at anything – (that’s just awful! Most of us are good at many things.)

      You’re not to think anyone cares about you – (how sad! This seems absolutely out of place in a good society.)

      You’re not to think you can teach us anything – (um … what if you are a teacher?)

      1. The message from my folks was to be humble. There is strength in hummility, but everything with balance is important.

    4. Informative. “Envy of the world is the United States of America. Our land universities and hospitals. I could go on and on. Thats why we have so many immigrants. Legal and illegal.

  2. One of the most annoying aspects of Norwegian culture and society as a whole.
    In short, the Jante-rules are the biggest load of rubbish i have ever heard and one which the young people hate as it is mostly negative.
    …. from a business point of view they are even more absurd..

  3. “Janteloven” is seldom meant to be looked upon as something positive, but rather a negative trait in society. Janteloven was also written down by a Norwegian-Danish writer Aksel Sandemose in the book named “En flyktning krysser sitt spor”. Here is a description of the meaning taken from STORE NORSKE LEKSIKON (norwegian lexicon);

    Jante is the small town where the main character grew up, and Janteloven is an expression of the small town’s tyrannical pressure on the individual. Sandemose argued however that Janteloven has its validity everywhere.

  4. I have lived in Norway my whole life and I have never come across this so-called “janteloven”. My mother came to Oslo from countryside in southern Norway to study when she was 22. She has told me that the mentality is very different in the ‘big city’ Oslo and where she grew up. She also told me that it was a great relief to finally come to Oslo where no-one (or at least very few) judge you because you want to achieve something in life. I think that the existence of the jantelov is much about where you are in Norway and that this ‘law’ is very famish because it originates from the time we all were farmers.

    I might be lucky or maybe just naïve not to detect the jantelov before in my life, but I genuinely believe that the 21st century Norway janteloven is only to be seen out on the countryside.

  5. I think people mostly exaggerates the meaning of Janteloven. In its simplest form, and as a modern day interpretation it largely promotes compassion and solidarity. I don’t see the Norwegian society as a place where people are afraid to stand out and speak out, and to be different. Why do Norway have the highest standard of living, and one of the most egalitarian societies in the world if nobody stood out and wanted to promote progression. If one compares it with an extremity like the Hollywood culture, I could see that the Norwegian society stands back from the idea of boldness. As a Norwegian living in San Francisco I have certainly seen both sides, not only speaking about the Hollywood culture, but more so the general experience of the American culture. Surely, all cultures can learn from each other, and the American mentality of confidence in oneself is positive, but I think it’s more of an individual attribute and a myth of the American society, than the actual reality. Again, the law suggests that boasting your success is negative. It doesn’t say not to be proud of your achievements and your success, but rather make it something people want to affiliate you with. After a while, people get fed up by people who only talk about themselves and their endeavors.

    1. I personally felt a bit different when I moved out of Norway 11 years ago, and probably had mostly bad things to say about the Jante Law. However, after travelling in nearly a 100 countries, doing business with societies that are highly affected by everybody’s desire to show off, or dealing with plenty of individualists that only look after themselves, I have realized more and more that there are positive sides of the Jante Law as well. The worst elements of the Jante Law is already dead, particularly in bigger cities like i.e. Oslo, as globalization has made an impact on the Norwegian culture. A more modest version still sits deep in the people, and I think this strongly contributes to the Norwegians ability to be humble and down to earth. Generally, people are not bragging in comparison to many other cultures, and people are allowed to be successful and stand out. Confidence is appreciated and entrepreneurial thinking mostly encouraged. Competition is acceptable. It is mainly snobbishness, arrogance and selfishness which is still not accepted. It is not ok to think that just because you have been successful, or is particularly good at something, you have the right to compare and openly look down on others. Just keep it to yourselves, and you will be fine. We look after each other, and we still keep the harmony of the community higher worth than the individual.

      Of course, there are selfish, arrogant, bragging people in Norway too, and there are those who want to show off their success excessively. I am talking about the overall picture.

      If anything, I guess Norwegians these days are a bit over-proud, more on a nationalistic level. We believe, and in some cases we are right, that our country and ways are the best. Again, many exceptions exist, as we got a good level of diversity by now.

      What we see in US is the polar opposite, but frequently at unhealthy levels. Everybody are taught to look after themselves, and individualism is extremely strong. If you fail, it was your fault. If you succeed, good on you, it was never luck or because you had opportunities others did not have. Narcissism is more widely accepted, as reflected by a presidential candidate who has a level of narcissism which everywhere else would be considered sick. In some places in Latin America, Asia and ever more so, Middle East, it is often acceptable to show off with all that you have and behave as if you are more of a worthy person than others just because you are successful or rich – again regardless of whether it was inherited or luck.

      Similarly, I had a discussion about this with my British colleague. We discussed how parts of Northern England has a bit of the same cultural elements, particularly in the lower middle class. Settle with something that is ok, dont think you will succeed by trying something you are not good enough to handle. This is to the contrary of the upper class elite in London for instance, where it is all about being ambitious, always look to achieve and be better than others, and where snobbishness still is a big issue.

      In case there is any doubt – I do not accept the part of the Jante Law, which discourage the longing for success, not allowing you to buy a nice car if you can afford, have big ambitions, etc.

    2. As a New Zealander – we have a similar national condition known as ‘tall poppy syndrome’ – basically hating on someone who achieves success. I envy Americans for their confidence, I want to start a national day of boasting!!

    3. Your response are the best of all the replies written here. I think having lived in the culture and then moved away you definitely get a clear picture. Personally I completely agree with you, humility and being proud without boasting and bragging is key to success 🙏🏼

  6. As a person of Scandinavian heritage living in America, I can tell you: it is doing more than simply holding you back, it is also holding you together. To speak the truth against tradition is laudable; but braggartry is a step too far, not something to be proud of, but something to be ashamed of. The reason America is on the verge of electing a Donald Trump as President is *precisely* because of this (…my) nation’s complete inability to tell the difference between arrogance and leadership.

    Scandinavian-American society is a snapshot of what happens when people steeped in Jante Law move to a society as steeped with arrogance as America. Thus, Scandinavia has something to learn from how we (we who once were you) have changed. Some of us embraced the arrogance, others became iconoclastic, and a precious few walked a fine line, balancing egalitarian relationships on the one hand with intolerance for unkindness on the other. Our reward was a renewed focus on realism; an insistence on self-evaluation that has kept us humble enough to avoid speaking what we do not truly know, but confident enough to speak the truth when we know we can be helpful.

    Walking that line leads to incredible entrepreneurial capacity, but it does not always lead to success in the American workplace; because entrepreneurial spirit is *not* (not always) the dominant force in the American workplace: often, cutthroat self-promotion and theft of effort takes its place. *That* is something Scandinavia should strive hard to avoid.

    So. If what you are saying about Scandinavia is true, and your Janteloven is holding you back, you should feel free to revisit your cultural attitudes, to tell new stories. But if my perspective from the outside holds any merit at all, then let me say this: you really should strive also, as you change your ways, to remember the reasons why your grandparents told you the stories they did. My experience is that people who reject humility completely, open themselves up to use and abuse by the Donald Trump’s of this world.

    1. Well said Jacob!

      Janteloven is just peasantish small-mindedness. To people like that, nothing should ever be done for the first time.

      I grew up in Minnesota USA, which has more than a few Scandinavian threads in the cultural weave (how many US cities celebrate Syttende Mai and Svenskarnas Dag? Minneapolis does!)

      We were raised to be pro-social, helpful without having to be asked, modest, friendly but not pushy or demanding, and cautious. Those are very good characteristics, especially in a land where the weather can kill.

    2. Really!! Not accepting and afraid of criticizing the many Muslim immigrants bringing multiple rapings and terror attacks and such different cultural values into Sweden. God forbid a Swede think he/she is above any of that behavior–which is why the new immigrants are so free to continue their anti-Scandinavian behavior with no desire to become “Swedish” but desire to have you accept their behaviors.

      As an American with 100% Swedish ancestry, I am ashamed of what has become of these compliant, nice to everyone, no criticizing of others no matter how horrible they can be and allowing themselves to be so BULLIED. Somewhere they’ve had their fighting Viking spirit knocked out of them and let’s hope it comes back before it’s too late.

      PS – name me one president (except maybe Jimmy Carter – UGH) who didn’t have a HUGE ego. Thank God for someone who is not afraid to speak up and tell the truth–as uncomfortable as it may make you feel. At least Donald Trump loves (and needs) to win.

      1. Well Donald Trump may not be afraid to speak up but he hasn’t demonstrated the ability to tell the difference between true and false, fact and fiction. And Trump himself is a bully.
        I like Jacob’s comments. Based on what I’ve read here, I would say Jimmy Carter would represent an appropriate integration of Janteloven with ego and would be someone who could personify what Jacob is suggesting.

      2. Were you born and raised in Sweden? No? than you are not and cannot call yourself a Swede. You probably have never even been to any Scandinavian country in your life. Why is it people who know the least about something think they are the experts?

    3. Americans are funny in the sense that they would be among the first to come to your aid if being attacked or needed relief during a natural disaster , but then arrogantly come at you and tell you they know it all and we are the best at everything attitude, which makes them the most admired and/but despised people on th planet !

  7. To give an specific answer to your question. I’m against the huge opression that the Janteloven posesses. Yet at the same time. I don’t think it should’ve been that rebelled against in an arrogant or conceited way. Janteloven should’ve been dismissed in a nuanced way, yet not allowing yourself being completely hampered by it.
    I’ve experienced this law, yet I’ve still received praise for my strenghts and talents. However, despite this, I’ll claim to say that I think such oppression that Janteloven possesses exists in every nation in some sense. Especially in small plces. I think most people have experienced amounts of the law in some way or another.

  8. I am a Norwegian, and I understand what Sandemose perfectly is saying. You should not think that you are something special. Then he explains for the rest of the book that you are. Simple as that. People always try to tell you that you’re no good. Fuck’em, I’m fine, thank you very much, trou de cuille! Eller kyss meg i ræva, som vi sier på godt norsk.

    1. Norway therefore has no known scientists,artists,physicists , even Edward Grieg was studing in Germany.Leipzig.The company Norwegian Air planes have characters from Denmark and Sweden,FInland.You can be proud of this.

      1. What? Edward Munch, Jan Mossin (one of the co creators of CAPM in finance), the Mosers, Frisch, Hamsun, Kydland, Giaver, Haavelmo etc.
        And why does it matter where one studied in relation to this issue. What matters is where the person practized his craft.
        One can also mention that the guy who invented most of thec spec of GSM network was also Norwegian.

        However, due to Janteloven we could probably have done even better.

  9. Hey all! Great debate. I am not Scandinavian neither American, however my boss is Danish and already have mentioned that I should be more humble. I am pretty good, I do a lot, I work hard, I work together with my peers, I know I have some room for improvement of course, but I am proud of the work I do. How should I sell myself to stay humble but also convince him I am a very high performance employee and should be rewarded/paid accordingly? Any advice will be very much appreciated.!

  10. My mother used to tell me, “You are no better than anyone else, but they are no better than you
    are, either.” This was when I was just growing up, but I thought her words were wise, and I still believe that way today. The term “janteloven” was not used. We lived in a small town in the USA. To this day, I still do not like people who brag or put others down because they do not seem so successful as others. If someone gives a compliment a simple “thank you,” will show your appreciation. But each day is different. Everyone has successes and failures. To God be the glory. We are just part of the plan. I hope I have understood the concept of janteloven. I do not mean to offend anyone.

    1. Giselle …Janeloven is a bunch of crap ,, you are better than others in some things and vise versa…we are not all created equal and anyone who tells you otherwise is either very ignorant and or lying to you!

  11. I never heard of Janteloven until today. However, I have always believed that I am not better than anyone else, and hearing others bragging about themselves always turned me off. I believe that doing a good job is much more important than bragging about it. The concept is interesting. Do humility and lack of praise result in low self esteem? What I know is that I learned something today that gives me reason to contemplate.

  12. Is this comment section just for Scandinavians, or can people from other countries
    contribute? In my country, bragging is too often part of the conversation, but many
    people either ignore it or are disgusted by it. On the other hand, praise does seem to
    have a positive effect as long as it is sincere and deserved.

  13. Jante law is as a concept most non-Scandinavians cannot understand. Being Scandinavian, and having been to Norway, I view it as keeping it low key. Being boastful and showy is considered vulgar- low class, even in other countries. Scandinavians can have great accomplishments, but don’t have to go around with there noses in the air. Inside, you may feel pride and accomplishment, but just don’t flaunt it.

  14. I think Janteloven is a brilliant concept and can be traced back to the tribal society where everyone was equal and the distinction between the strong with unimaginable strength were to protect the and weak with any form deficiency and also hunt for the tribe, it is definitely better than our current day ‘Selfie-society’ where the only person anybody is interested in is oneself, and damn the other. However, the twelve laws like any other man-man laws need to be amended to keep in line with a global competition and the shrinking of the world through internet. Some wise men of Norway need to sit down and reframe the ‘Janteloven’ to incorporate some entrepreneurial and competitive elements for the good of all into the laws.

  15. “To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”

    Law of Jante is reality in Nordic countries, because nobody wants to be poor or under average people in any sector of human life. Healthy self-esteem is based usually on our own experience of our goodness in specific sectors of life. We want to see average people to succeed, because most people are average people for example in intelligence level or physical condition. Real beauty is envied and true love is hated, but we can stand alone and being hated well, if we are brave enough to be as we are. Life isn’t competition, because everybody will be finished when death comes reality. Don’t waste your time to live other peoples life. In deep inside we really know how things are and what is the truth, if we aren’t yet so psychotic persons, that we believe our own lies. Love and sovereignty to stand over criticism are only way out from social environment as law of Jante or Jante’s description of hell!

  16. the laws containing “we” & “us” describe perfectly the attitude American yuppies have toward the blue collar worker.

  17. I had never heard about this saying before today and I can see that it can be misinterpreted if you miss the subtle message. The Scandinavians have achieved a society where everyone is helped to achieve a good life. I believe they are the adults of the world who have more wisdom in their attitudes to fairness then most if not all other countries.
    When I visited a couple of years ago I saw a beautiful country and a happy people. They have respect for their environment and are forward looking. We could all learn from them.

  18. Oh dear me ……….Let us get one thing straight about the bragging part and let us call it for what it is!

    There is a hell of a lot of difference between bragging and lying!

    The word got out that I was a an ex Australian golf professional. So in what was supposed to be a friendly round of golf with two guys that were social players that invited unbeknown to me their local champion to kick my butt! Before we began and at our first meeting I asked if he played regularly. The answer was, litt! It was obvious by his brand of clubs, his golf bag and his swing on the first tee that he was a pretty good player. A 2 handicapper to be exact!

    I had just been lied to by a Norwegian sports man.

    Now I am Australian through and through so I purposely lost the first hole! On the second hole I asked the Norwegian guy if he would mind a little wager on the game!
    He said that would be OK and continued with, we usually play for 50nok for the front and back nines and 50nok for the match. I said, lets make it interesting, call it 500nok for the front and back nines and 500 for the match!
    Those cold nerves of steel went to jelly and on the second hole he hit the ball on his second shot out of bounds! That was the end of him! Needless to say, in the end he lost 1,500nok.

    Call that what you want, I call that the truth, but do not lie, tell it how it is, or at least how it was!

    I have to say that it was the most gratifying money I ever earned!

    Ha det bra!.

  19. First I have heard of these laws. Its that age-old scale of order vs freedom isn’t it? Everyone has a different Utopia, they decided to emphasize the order…yes I’m aware that history is filled with examples of where that went bad quick. I like to think of my preference somewhere in the middle. But if I had to choose an extreme, I guess I would choose to keep the laws. Easy to say in hindsight of seeing these Scandinavian countries top the “happiness” charts though. So probably not entirely uninfluenced there. My Grandfather was Norwegian, but never learned much of his country, hope to learn more. Thank you for the article!

  20. Having lived in Norway for many years, I realized that their “equality” is really to a large extent suppressing critical voices and those who are tall poppies or wish to individuate or grow further. Their social mechanisms to achieve this “mediocrity” slavery are very covert and subtle, yet powerful.This is not true equality but control. Equality is NOT making people become unindividuated copies to have “peace” (see the movie the Giver – reminds me of Norway). Norway is like covert narcissists, very exemplary and angelical on the surface but lots of manipulation and control underneath.

  21. Just to make something crystal clear, in case someone else tries to google janteloven. Janteloven is not a law made about how to behave in norway, or how we want to behave in norway, or something that describes how most people behave. It is taken from a book about a man who comits a crime of killing a man, he goes on falling in love and kills again. Then the author talks about how it feels like growing up in the smaller towns, and he portrays it as janteloven. However as norway is a land with many many smaller villages and cities. A lot of people have recognized some of this to be true, through this book, and it is a creative critique on how some of us might act. Nobody in norway says that we should behave this way. You should read the book, and understand its meaning before making a whole article about Norway. The main person in this book is not a protagonist, he is a confused man, and the book tries to explain that sometimes how and where you grow up can change you. Jante is a metaphor for the town nobody wants to grow up in.

  22. Well in Denmark the jantelov is used when people are behaving badly and rude. The fact that we have the freedom to speak, makes some people believe in the fact, that they can say whatever they want, without taking responsibility of their words. And that’s where the jantelov is used, to tell people, that some words are hurting and rude. But I guess most people don’t understand the real meaning of the jantelov, which was made as a liberal critic of the small villages, where people couldn’t accept the fact of more succes for ‘them’.
    It’s important to have the right to speak, but it’s also important to not hurt others on purpose.

  23. I grew up in MN in a family with many relatives of Norwegian ancestry. I was very close to my grandpa, an immigrant from Norway. Recently introduced to this term a few years ago, I got it. Good or bad, it makes sense now why many of us, including me, behave this way. Keep the positive, unlearn the rest. For the most part, I unknowingly, passed this on to my kids.

  24. First, Aksel Sandemose was deeply affected by what he was later to call the ‘law of Jante’. Most of his novels were attempts to free himself of the corollary of this ‘law’ that said, in effect, that not only must you not believe that you are anybody (that’s the social aspect of the ‘law’) but the fact that the ‘victim’ internalises this law and makes it his own, so that s/he says to her/himself, “I know I’m no better than anyone else – so I won’t even try”. And it is interesting that, throughout his literary life, Sandemose placed great emphasis on the encouragement he had received from two already-established writers, one in Denmark and one in Norway – as if he owed his gift of writing to these two external emotional facilitators. The law of Jante kills your trust in yourself (selv-tilliden); and it was this that Sandemose fought his battle against.

    Second, it may be that the notion that Denmark and Norway are caught in some kind of grip (tvang) by this law of conformity, simply isn’t true; at least I don’t think it is a national characteristic. We did have the Viking age, which was an age of entrepreneurialism, albeit often a bloodthirsty one. However, we have a much more recent example of the ‘transgression’ if you like, of the law of Jante; namely our merchant shipping fleet. Oslo, Stavanger and several other towns became ‘hubs’ where shipping became a competitive activity, with shipowners and people connected to shipping in various ways would ‘bounce off’ each other regarding ideas and emotional, even financial encouragement. These hubs were, in effect, hubs of synergy – where various factors came together geographically and formed pockets of knowhow and capital; not unlike Silicon Valley in California.

    Another example is that of Norwegian literature. In the late 1800s and well into the early 1900s we had Henrik Ibsen and Bjornstjerne Bjornson bouncing off each other in more or less friendly-competitive synergy. But Norway has always been a small country in terms of population density, and for years Oslo was one of the few places where writers, artists, and commerce would come together and create together. The same applied for Demark, but to a lesser extent. Aksel Sandemose was up against a ‘culture of isolation’; one had to get out of one’s country town or industrial town before one could become inspired and discover one’s direction. And this is not unique to Scandinavia. The other day I came across a man called Tomigata Nakamoto (1715-1746) – Shuichi Kato mentions him in volume 2 of his three-volume work, “A History of Japanese Literature”, pp. 129-35. Nakamoto lived his rather short life in relative cultural isolation in the city of Osaka. True, I was influenced by a few Japanese scholars, but this does not entirely explain Nakamoto’s extraordinary originality in the field of ideas and methodology. He was lucky in that his father was a well-off merchant; he didn’t have Sandemose’s much more humble socio-economic background. And therein surely lies another secret to influence of the law of Jante: socio-economic class must have a much greater effect when combined with geographical and more general cultural isolation.

  25. I think being anti jante is too extreme in the other direction. There are aspects of it that are good and aspects that are not. Not having ambition would not be good but the idea of bragging I could along with. Be ambitious and driven in your goals and your efforts to reach them but be modest and unbraggadocious in your speech and mannerism. Imagine someone who achieves a lot but does not feel the need to brag about it or throw it in your face. This doesn’t mean not having pride in what you have accomplished but rather your pride is internal it doesn’t need to be on explicit display for everybody.

  26. Janteloven gives me hope as do the Scandanavian countries as a whole. It is the best model for a fair and humane society. I would see Janteloven spread around the world today!

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