The Law of Jante

Sweden as a culture is not really about selling yourself. Swedes are terrible about using words like ‘excellent’ or ‘ourstanding’ on their resumés.  People generally don’t want to stand out or give the impression that they think they are something. Body language is minimal and colours tend to be neutral. Scandi minimalism applies to both design and colour.  Jantelagen (the Law of Jante) permeates everything. People say it does not apply anymore and in a way that is true. It’s less evident among younger people because they are part of the designer label/TikTok generation where you need to stand out, but it is still there.

I would say international equivalents are tall poppy syndrome and crab bucket syndrome.

From Wikipedia: The Law of Jante is a code of conduct created in fiction by the Danish-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose and has been assumed by some to explain the egalitarian nature of Nordic countries.

It is used generally in colloquial speech in the Nordic countries as a sociological term to denote a social attitude of disapproval towards expressions of individuality and personal success.

There are ten rules in the law as defined by Sandemose, all expressive of variations on a single theme and usually referred to as a homogeneous unit: You are not to think you’re anyone special, or that you’re better than us.

The ten rules state:

  1. You’re not to think you are anything special.
  2. You’re not to think you are as good as we are.
  3. You’re not to think you are smarter than we are.
  4. You’re not to imagine yourself better than we are.
  5. You’re not to think you know more than we do.
  6. You’re not to think you are more important than we are.
  7. You’re not to think you are good at anything.
  8. You’re not to laugh at us.
  9. You’re not to think anyone cares about you.
  10. You’re not to think you can teach us anything.

One way I generally suggest people get around this way of thought and expression is removing the words only, just, and I think from their vocabularies.

  • it’s only me
  • it’s just a suggestion
  • I think this is an excellent article

Author: Janet Carr

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

6 thoughts

  1. This is so interesting! I am French and Spanish and I grew up in the South of France, so I’m really from the South of Europe. I now live in the North of Germany and culture is so different. What you wrote about Sweden is something I have also seen mentioned for Finland. I have the feeling that the South of Europe is diametrically opposed in terms of culture to the North of Europe. It’s truly fascinating! You come from even further away than I do. How does South African culture differ from Swedish culture? How did you get used to it, if it was very different?

    1. I think Finland is similar, though they do wear more colour (Marimekko is a prime example). South Africa is completely different. People are friendly, louder, and more outgoing with lots of body language and bright colours. Swedes are very very reserved and can unfairly be perceived as unfriendly. You just need to get to know them to know they are lovely. Things like small talk and chatting on the bus is not done. Having said that, I come from a small town and now live in a large capital city. I think a lot of what I perceive as cultural differences could be a city vs town thing.

      1. I had to google what marimekko was and it’s really lovely! I think that the difference between city and countryside. I live in a smallish town in the countryside (Germany) and people just don’t talk. Even saying hello to someone you see everyday, is just taboo… In Spain, people are a lot more chatty and tactile as well. They barely got to know your name and you immediately start walking arm in arm together!… I guess South Africa is probably very similar to Spain. France is in the middle. There are lots of unwritten rules to know and to respect. Germany (especially the North) is very direct and very blunt. A few years back, I wanted to buy a red bike and the shop keeper who was from Southern Germany told me that in Northern Germany, people are not so frivolous with bike colours and I had the choice between black, navy blue and grey… So I ordered a bright red bike online!!! Things have slightly changed over the years and people are slightly more open but not so much…

      2. I had quite a few diamonds in my wedding rings from my previous marriage and a jeweller told me that it was ‘too much’ for Swedes.

      3. Oh no!… What a comment to make… I’m sure your rings were really beautiful!…

      4. They were a bit too much in a country that celebrates minimalism and muted colours. Things have changed now so there is more flashiness out there, though I have grown to really love the more sparse decor. I grew up with ornaments everywhere, lots of floral patterns, bright colours and dark dark wood with lots of carving and I love less clutter nowadays.

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