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!