Jantelagen: a cross in Scandinavian culture
After writing about being a writer or not…
I began to wonder if perhaps not the “crook in this drama” (boven i dramat) or the place where the “shoe squeezes” (var skon klämmer) is the Swedish Jantelagen.
(Aren’t idiomatic expressions and local sayings funny by the way? How does our Swedish “sjunde himlen” become the English “cloud nine” for example and an “återställare”, “hair of the dog”?)
Anyway, if you are reading this and you are not Scandinavian, you probably wonder what Jantelagen is.
Jantelagen comes from the Danish Janteloven and has its source in the writings of Aksel Sandemose’s 1933 novel ‘En flygtning krydser sit spor’ (A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks) which is set in a fictional Danish town called Jante.
In the imaginary small town of Jante there is an informal, oppressive law that forbids anyone from standing out from the crowd.
Of course, I had to Google this information, but this “unwritten law”, the ten principles that start with “Du skall inte tro att du är något/ Thou shalt not believe thou art something” are present in our culture, even today.
Colin Moon, Scandinavian-English business communication nails it:
“You should not think you are anybody just because you are somebody. Somebody who is somebody pretends to be nobody because anybody can be nobody. And nobody would really want to be as somebody in the eyes of anybody”.
He also explains the fundamental Swedish social norm, definitely influenced by Jantelagen:
“Every Swede should aspire to be normal and average. There is no greater compliment than to be called an ordinary kind of person. To be as people usually are is a fine way to describe yourself and you’ll instantly earn others’ respect. Successful people are just normal people who have had a spot of luck, that won’t last of course”
I am proud of our equality.
But Jantelagen is a cross we bear, that should be burnt to ashes.