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Janteloven Posted by on Feb 9, 2009 in Culture, Politics

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):

  1. Don’t think that you are special.
  2. Don’t think that you are of the same standing as us.
  3. Don’t think that you are smarter than us.
  4. Don’t fancy yourself as being better than us.
  5. Don’t think that you know more than us.
  6. Don’t think that you are more important than us.
  7. Don’t think that you are good at anything.
  8. Don’t laugh at us.
  9. Don’t think that anyone cares about you.
  10. Don’t think that you can teach us anything.

In Norwegian they translate to:

  1. Du skal ikke tro at du er noe.
  2. Du skal ikke tro at du er like så meget som oss.
  3. Du skal ikke tro du er klokere enn oss.
  4. Du skal ikke innbille deg du er bedre enn oss.
  5. Du skal ikke tro du vet mere enn oss.
  6. Du skal ikke tro du er mere enn oss.
  7. Du skal ikke tro at du duger til noe.
  8. Du skal ikke le av oss.
  9. Du skal ikke tro at noen bryr seg om deg.
  10. 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.

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About the Author:kari

I attended St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, where I majored in Norwegian and History. During college, I spent almost a year living in Oslo, Norway, where I attended the University of Oslo and completed an internship at the United States Embassy. I have worked for Concordia Language Villages as a pre-K Norwegian teacher and have taught an adult Norwegian language class. Right now, I keep up by writing this Norwegian blog for Transparent Language. Please read and share your thoughts! I will be continuing this blog from my future residence in the Norwegian arctic!


Comments:

  1. Greta:

    As you say, interpretation of Janteloven is contested. I think you put too much emphasis on the gossiping as a problem conected to smaller places. Espen Arnakke in the novel tells a story from his childhood, when his mother went to her husband’s employer to complain about her husband’s low wages and to ask for a grant to buy something the household needed desperately. The rich and wealthy factory owner appeared gentle and kind and gave her the money she asked for. The following months her husband’s wages were reduced untill the “gift” was payed back…. The way I read the novel – and I am not alone although I can’t produce any reference to “authorities” here and now – Espen and his family learns a lesson: Keep your head down because it is the rich who rule and you will only make a fool of yourself if you believe that this will ever change. Like Espen’s mother made a fool of herself and her husband and the whole family. The society of Jante was totally dependent on this one big factory. What I believe that Sandemose is saying is that the factory owner had nothing to worry about because, under these conditions of dependency, the workers – the people of Jante – took care of their own opression by using the Jante Law against each others.The novel is more a story of opressing social conditions in the beginning of the 20th century than a story of the mentality of a people.
    It is true that Janteloven still works, although the days of the allmighty factory owners are gone. But we Norwegians are not a bunch of restricted and significantly opressed people, are we? Not in the winter olympics at least.

  2. Vic:

    Janteloven is unfortunately still alive and kicking here in Norway. I believe it’s responsible for Norway being such a mediocre country. Of course, it is possible for the odd person to achieve something, but it’s incredibly hard. Also, Norwegian society is really passive agressive and this coupled with janteloven makes it a very hard place to make a life for oneself. At least it sounds amusing in English – The Jante Law : )

  3. Hilde:

    I’m norwegian, and I remember back at school we used to have about 2 school hours each week that was called anti janteloven.

    and learned the following:

    1. Du er enestående
    2. Du er mere verdt enn noen kan måle.
    3. Du kan noe som er spesielt for deg.
    4. Du har noe å gi andre.
    5. Du har gjort noe du kan være stolt av.
    6. Du har store ubrukte ressurser.
    7. Du duger til noe.
    8. Du kan godta andre.
    9. Du har evner til å forstå og lære av andre.
    10. Det er noen som er glad i deg.

    kinda weird that Janteloven have such a grasp on the community that we need to learn at school at a young age that; YES! you can do this! believe in yourself etc. hehe

  4. Linda Ainsworth:

    This article has explained so much about my upbringing that it is amazing. My dad was Norwegian and these laws were part of life. They have had serious reprecusions for myself and my siblings that we had no idea about. Thanks for this.

  5. Kari:

    Linda: Wow. How did these “laws” affect you growing up? Can you share a little about what they meant to you in your past and what they mean now?

    I’m curious as to how your dad acted or how Janteloven influenced his character and his decisions?

  6. jan dehn:

    hi
    does anyone know where I can find an english version of “a fugitive crosses his tracks”? i suspect it is out of print years ago, so may have to go to rare books dealer….thought please send to my email.
    cheers
    jan

  7. Fern Nordmo:

    No livnar de i lundar

    You wrote our daughter Crystal that it means
    Now it lives in the woods

    I would say it means No (which should be Na )with the little circle over it=

    Now it is lively in the grove or woods.

    Picture on plate is a lady in Telemarken bunad with a goat.

    Fern

    So it could be since they came it is now lively in the grove or woods.

  8. Veronika:

    VIKINGLOVEN:
    Fritt etter Aksel Sandemoses Jantelov:
    1. Se muligheter
    2. Skap vinnere
    3. Vær modig
    4. Gi ros
    5. Tenk positivt
    6. Ta ansvar
    7. Se fremover
    8. Sats på utdanning og forskning
    9. Motarbeid misunnelse og latskap
    10. Begynn i dag

  9. tove:

    Jeg tror at det norske samfunn har stort behov for
    anti JANTELOVEN à bli kjent.

    Etterhvert vil en oppdage hvor sterk pàvirke janteloven har hatt i vàrt samfunn.

    Nàr en begynner à verdsette seg selv…oppdager en hvor enkelt det er à verdsette andre.

    Skapelysten òkes og utvikles… og gleden kommer tilbake.

    Vi har store evner og muligheter ..
    Det viktigste er à ha tro pà oss selv.

    Sà la oss bringe selvtilliten tilbake!!!!

  10. Ururahy Barroso:

    Sou brasileiro e acredito que podemos pensar num mundo com base na “lei da igualdade’ de natureza.Podemos desenvolver o potencial de cada um, não para ser melhor do que o outro, mas, para ser o melhor de si mesmo.A cultura americana hoje está falida criando um grupo de ganhadores diante dos perdedores.Podemos incentivar para todos serem ganhadores.Estou empenhado em construir no Brasil uma cultura de justiça e igualdade, para que possamos gerar Felicidade para todos.Ninguém é superior a ninguém, mas também não é inferior.Somos seres espirituais, com o mesmo potencial de evolução e transformação para todos.Recomendo: http://www.academiadafelicidade.weebly.com
    Contato e-mail: ururahyfelicidade@gmail.com
    Vamos mudar o mundo?
    Feliz abraço, Ururahy Barroso

  11. Mette:

    My parents were Norwegian, first generation Americans. Thank you for putting this on the internet! It says so much and explains so much about my upbringing. This concept, jante loven, has made our lives difficult in an American culture which celebrates individuality and accomplishment. We children, raised by Norwegian parents, thought we were nothing. Our beauty and God given talents, all through centuries of Norwegian genetic inheritance-nothing. The only thing to love was Norway and anything Norwegian as long as it wasn’t us.

  12. Peter Mellom:

    I was shocked when reading these laws for the first time and that was just three days ago (from Christmas 2011). These rules seem profoundly negative, small minded, and (may I say), feminine…, as if made up by school girls (impliedly) while gossiping about a mutual friend. I believe the lesson (also implied by the very rules as a whole) is to grow beyond their effect on one’s personal experiences. Janteloven is a test (and a difficult one) of a person’s maturity.

  13. Mona Randem:

    Himmel og hav! For noe tull! Vi nordmenn har da alltid visst at vi er bedre enn alle andre. Til og med den svenske forfatteren Vilhelm Moberg skriver det i bøkene om utvandrerne at nordmenn hadde det høyt under taket og ville ikke bøye seg for noen. (I motsetning til svenskene.) Jeg vokste opp i Norge og det var ingen som sa eller gjorde noe som antydet at vi skulle adlyde disse “lovene”. Jeg er norsk; det er det beste jeg (og alle nordmenn) kan være.

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @Mona Randem Haha, Mona! 🙂

      Jeg tror jeg utelater å oversette kommentaren din… 😉

  14. Laura:

    I lived in Norway for almost 10 years and I miss it quite a lot, but the Janteloven is very present in daily life. There is often a narrow path to do things and if you go out of it you will feel a lot of pressure from the society. By the contrary, if you go into this path everything will be pretty smooth. It is not really me to follow paths if I do not like them, neither that my family have to do it, so we went.

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @Laura @Laura – Thanks for your comment. I’ve heard Janteloven is less present in Northern Norway. Can anyone confirm this?

  15. Walter:

    [10 July 2017]

    QUESTION—Are there any individuals, groups and/or NGOs, etc., in Norway, Sweden or Denmark, who are actively trying to counteract and oppose the Janteloven mentality, to reestablish and enhance Scandinavian pride in new knowledge and accomplishments? Any comments & suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    Veldig vennlig hilsen,
    Walter

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @Walter @Walter. That is a very good question! 🙂 A couple of Danish friends of mine are trying to make people more courageous (handlemod.dk). Maybe that’s a ”drop in the ocean”. Don’t know about any NGOs. Do the readers?