Don’t think you are better than us or that you are special. This statement is the basis of an old Scandinavian concept that has been engrained in Scandinavian societies since before WWII. The author Aksel Sandemose, a Danish/Norwegian novelist created the concept of Janteloven in his book En flygtning krydser sit spor (A Refugee Crosses his Tracks), in which Sandemose portrays a fictional town called Jante, a small town much like his hometown where everyone knows everyone. For those of you that live a small town or perhaps come from a small town, you know how fast gossip spreads. Although hearing gossip can be interesting and spreading it can be all too easy, I think individuals who live in small towns would prefer that there wasn’t so much gossip. Life in a small town is much more comfortable when social stability is intact. Most of Norway up until the last couple of decades consisted of many small towns and villages. Even today most Norwegians live in relatively small communities where it’s difficult to remain anonymous. Aksel Sandemose’s Janteloven have long been believed to assist small communities in remaining stable.
The following are the 10 Jantelov (Jante laws):
- Don’t think that you are special.
- Don’t think that you are of the same standing as us.
- Don’t think that you are smarter than us.
- Don’t fancy yourself as being better than us.
- Don’t think that you know more than us.
- Don’t think that you are more important than us.
- Don’t think that you are good at anything.
- Don’t laugh at us.
- Don’t think that anyone cares about you.
- Don’t think that you can teach us anything.
In Norwegian they translate to:
- Du skal ikke tro at du er noe.
- Du skal ikke tro at du er like så meget som oss.
- Du skal ikke tro du er klokere enn oss.
- Du skal ikke innbille deg du er bedre enn oss.
- Du skal ikke tro du vet mere enn oss.
- Du skal ikke tro du er mere enn oss.
- Du skal ikke tro at du duger til noe.
- Du skal ikke le av oss.
- Du skal ikke tro at noen bryr seg om deg.
- Du skal ikke tro at du kan lære oss noe.
Not very encouraging, is it? It basically discourages originality and the unusual. While the interpretation of Janteloven is contested, the primary consensus believes it is meant promote social equality and fairness, two qualities for which Scandinavian societies are well known for. Perhaps hearing about these concepts over and over again really has engrained the idea into Scandinavian society. Some say Janteloven is a serious obstacle that inhibits Norwegians from high achievements and seeking to stand out. There are of course good arguments in support of and against Janteloven. Scandinavian societies are no doubt great role models in terms of gender equality and governmental support for its people, but there are many Norwegian individuals who have achieved great things and proved that just because a society is strongly based on a code beliefs, one person can stand out a make a differenence.