Have you ever heard of Jante Law before? If not, you’re far from alone.
Jante Law, put simply, is a set of rules underpinning (certain parts of) Scandinavian society. It’s named after the fictional Danish town of Jante in Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose’s novel, A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks. Jante Law is all about equality, humility, collective success and quashing feelings of superiority and individualism. I’ll be honest – at first glance, the rules look pretty harsh, but I think that there is actually quite a lot of value in the list. Take a look for yourself:
- 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.
When I first read this list, I was a bit taken aback (especially at #7 and #9!). I don’t think it’s so crazy to believe that there are things you’re good at or to expect that people should care about you… but yet.
One of the main criticisms of hygge is that it’s somewhat elitist – that it is aimed at the middle classes who can afford all of the expensive blankets and candles marketed as being essential to hygge, or that it is only for those who have the spare time to organise elaborate dinner parties or to go for cake and coffee every day. For me (remember, as a non-Scandi), I’ve never seen it that way – as far as I can see, it’s perfectly normal for everyone to hygge in Scandinavia, whether they’re rich or poor, and it needn’t cost a penny. So what does this have to do with Jante Law?
Well, in a sense, Jante Law should play very nicely with hygge. If we want to see hygge as less of a middle-class luxury and more of the integral part of the Scandinavian way of living that I believe it is, then surely encouraging everyone to live equally and humbly should go some way to achieving this? This isn’t about keeping up with the Joneses and trying to show off with better furniture or clothes or food than your neighbours. In fact, it almost feels to me like keeping down with the Joneses – Jante Law is all about blending in, not seeing yourself as being better than anyone else and striving to show that through your actions.
Now, I definitely have some issues with Jante Law too. While I’m all for the idea of an egalitarian society and not showing off… doesn’t it discourage individuality? Can personal success be communicated under Jante Law, or is it seen as boasting? Does it eradicate people’s sense of self worth to be told ‘you’re not special, you’re not good at anything, you’re not as good as us’? Is it so wrong to believe you have talents and skills and traits to offer the world as an individual? Is blending in all the time the best way to live? Can’t we celebrate each other’s successes and achievements? These are just my questions as a total non-expert – Scandi readers, please feel free to chime in here!
So, hygge and Jante Law. What’s the link? My take on it is that as well as Jante Law tying in nicely with hygge being for everyone regardless of social status or wealth, it’s also a good reminder about the importance of community in hygge. Hygge isn’t about material objects or flashing the cash or flaunting your status – it’s about togetherness, comfort, cosiness, shared experiences and, in a way, ‘social wealth’. There are plenty of people who would do well to remember that they are not better than others, and Jante Law should, in theory, make us humble enough to listen to others, learn from them and recognise the value of the people around us. I think that it’s easy for us to get a bit introspective and self-absorbed, so it’s a good reminder that we are all only as important as each other.
What do you think of Jante Law? Do you think it’s too harsh or do you see the value in humility and equality? I’m still figuring out my thoughts, so please feel free to share yours with me!
9 Comments Add yours
As you say, humility and equality comes with its price tag, too. It is a small-society thing, the village mentality. You should not stick too much out. That’s why Norwegians don’t like showing off, don’t like the word “elite”, in any compound, are against elite schools and likes. It seems that society is working to put everyone in the middle – but what about excellence and ambitions? Well, I wouldn’t say, these are Scandinavian values, and those who tend to have those, often travel to other places. This is my take on Jante Law. It is felt through the fabric of the society here, and yes, hygge is connected to it.
Thank you for this, this is really interesting! It feels, to me, almost like the opposite of a great swathe of US society, where children are told from a young age that they’re all special and unique and that they should shout about their achievements. I really appreciate your insight 🙂
Yeah, US society sounds just quiet the opposite :)) There are no “worse” or “better”. We all could wish for a golden middle way – but what the point, where does it exist?))
I chose personally for me to mix all those elements as much as I can. Equality is nice, but not at the price of the ambition and excellence.
It seems to resonate with Amish who see standing out as pride. But I like to be unique so would struggle to live by these it seems to pull everyone down rather than building everyone up
Yes, I agree – I live in a city where individualism is highly valued, and I can’t imagine everyone ‘flattening’ themselves out!
I think it’s a question of balance… I’m all for equity and equality, but I also value individualism and authenticity. I think there are ways to treat everyone equally and still value individualism and everyone’s different strengths and qualities. But again, I come from a place where equity is valued in society and we see everyone as deserving the same opportunities. The rules themselves sound harsh but I’d be curious to hear a Scandi’s person take on them!
As a non Scandi person, I love the idea of hygge as it relates to togetherness, being cozy, and equality. I do not see it as no one will care in a negative sense..I see it as we all make mistakes, blunders, and we are all what we are. At our core, we are all made of the same things and nobody is better than you, but you are no better than anyone else either. The Greeks, I think, had their own ancient form of hygge and it is simply Know Thyself. When you know who you are and where you fit into the universe, you are more content as a person. Hygge and Jante Law, I think, come with age and wisdom. Just my own humble opinion..