One of the things that is deeply and firmly entrenched in Sweden is Jantelagen. Even if people don’t realise it, it affects them in many ways, particularly in the workplace. The best definition I have found is:

Generally used negatively describe an attitude towards individuality and success common in Scandinavia, the term refers to a mentality which refuses to acknowledge individual effort and places all emphasis on the collective, while punishing those who stand out as achievers.

Here are some interesting articles.

The first one is titled ‘Jantelagen holds Swedish brands back’

The second one is the entry from Wikipedia on the’ Jante Law’


and it describes Jantelagen in English as

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

The related terms in Wikipedia included ‘lagom’


What I found most interesting was that these attitudes are so influential that they have English language entries on Wikipedia and other online encyclopaediae. Scandinavia is certainly not alone in having these attitudes, just that they are so deeply entrenched.

Other terms related to Jante and Lagom were Tall Poppy Syndrome  and my favourite, Crab Bucket Syndrome which is described as

a way of thinking best described by the phrase “if I can’t have it, neither can you.” The metaphor refers to a pot of crabs. Individually, the crabs could easily escape from the pot, but instead, they grab at each other in a useless competition which prevents any from escaping and ensures their collective demise. The analogy in human behavior is that of a group that will attempt to “pull down” any member who achieves success beyond the others, out of envy, conspiracy or competitive feelings.

Tall Poppy Syndrome is a term found in Anglo Saxon countries and its entry is here


Other Swedish people have described ‘Luther on their shoulder’ which is probably another piece in the puzzle. If anyone would like to discuss this in class, in writing or in comments, please feel free!

Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

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