Jantelagen – Its a Scandinavian thing!

I heard the word ‘Jantelagen’ today for the first time, it is something very Scandinavian.

Basically I was discussing a press release I had written with my colleague Nick. I had intended the piece to be upbeat but Nick explained that this style may not go down so well in the Nordic press or with the Nordic people because of ‘Jantelagen’.

I was quite bemused by this, especially as Nick struggled to come up with an English explanation. Åsa mentioned it was about being equal to your neighbours, this intrigued me so I thought I would look into it a bit more.

Jantelagen comes from the Danish Janteloven and has its source in the writings of Aksel Sandemose’s 1933 novel ‘En flygtning krydser sit spor’ (A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks) which is set in a fictional Danish town called Jante.

In the imaginary small town of Jante there is an informal, oppressive law that forbids anyone from standing out from the crowd:

The law of Jante

1. Thou shalt not believe thou art something.
2. Thou shalt not believe thou art as good as we.
3. Thou shalt not believe thou art more wise than we.
4. Thou shalt not fancy thyself better than we.
5. Thou shalt not believe thou knowest more than we.
6. Thou shalt not believe thou art greater than we.
7. Thou shalt not believe thou amountest to anything.
8. Thou shalt not laugh at us.
9. Thou shalt not believe that anyone is concerned with thee.
10. Thou shalt not believe thou canst teach us anything.

The enforcers of the law are of course the same people oppressed by it, the citizens of Jante. Sandemose said that it was in the culture to keep each other down in Scandinavia.

Very much part of the Scandinavian collectivist spirit I guess and certainly something us British struggle to understand. Certainly from my perspective I won’t exaggerate our company’s record but we have a great story to tell and some fantastic numbers to back it up.

Jantelagen certainly wouldnt apply to classist countries like the UK but maybe Sweden is different in this regard. I did read an article where it said Scandi’s had a hard time working under British management because of the ranking system. In the UK, in the main there is a chain of command whereas in Sweden it appears you are as likely to find the CEO on the factory shop floor talking with staff as well as the boardroom.

I think this could cause me to rethink some of my sales strategy approach and even my management style may need to be adapted to my new culture.

So todays Swedish Word of the Day is Jantelagen 

4 Responses

  1. Ahh, Janteloven, the bane of my (future) existence… ;o) Good luck dealing with the Scandinavians, brother!

  2. The sentiment here is quite familiar to me as a Scot, where a similar syndrome quite definitely exists in society. It is put in a concise and typicall Scottish way – “fur coat and nae knickers”. The Scots have a great suspicion of airs and graces; there is respect for education but little tolerance for intellectual grandstanding. Frequently it’s believed people need to be ‘taken down a peg or two’. It might have something to do with a particular brand of lutheran/presbyterian protestantism, or societies that emerged from clan (family) rather than feudal governance.

  3. Hi Gus

    I have worked in Scotland and whilst I see where you are coming from I think its a bit different.

    To give you an example I wanted to establish a staff recognition scheme but was told to shelve it because a Swede would feel uncomfortable recieving it.

  4. […] being terribly un-Swedish.  Well, I’m such a fan of Swedish moderation, tolerance, lagom and jantelagen that I’m considering myself the first ever ‘Logom-Jihadist’.   That involves me […]

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