Met Norwegian Girls, Janteloven

Day 25 of Year 26

I met some Norwegian girls on the pub crawl Friday night.

I try and ask people what it is like to be from where they are from. I find it fascinating to hear how people view their own countries, and also what I can learn from them.

So, to the Norwegian girls I asked just that question, and here was my fascinating take away.

Janteloven, law of Jante

What Janteloven was described to me as was the way Norwegians were expected to live their lives, within the tennants of modesty and group behaviour. It is the idea everyone should aim to be the same, that nobody should be above anyone else. It puts emphasis on working together as a collective, and frowns upon individual successes. Bragging, showing accomplishments, or displaying self-interested behaviour are regarded as inappropriate and distasteful.

Janteloven was first identified as a concept in Scandinavian culture by Aksel Sandemaose in 1933.

In his book, he identified ten rules to the law of Jante:

  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 convince yourself that you are 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.

Interesting rules to live by.

On the surface, I see both benefits and draw backs. I believe humbleness can be a good thing, but I also think it is important to have a strong, confident self-image.

While putting a strong emphasis on togetherness, does it negate entrepreneurism? If people are focused on not standing out or rocking the boat, how can crazy breakthroughs happen? Or, if they do happen, who takes responsibility for them?

There would not be many rags-to-riches stories.

Also, they told me if someone were to buy a luxurious car and park it on the driveway, people would question them and their worthiness to deserve such a car. They would be met with hostility and social ridicule. This is in direct comparison to my impression of Canadian culture, where we would walk out onto the laneway, admire the car, ask a couple questions, and ultimately think, damn that is expensive good on ya’.


However, I think of Scandinavian people as being friendly, kind, helpful, and understanding. So, the law on some level creates a culture designed to ensure the group’s survival. I think that is also important.

However, when I look back at North American culture, it is comical how opposite of Janteloven we are. Keeping up with the Joneses is how we are raised:

We share every accomplishment
We think of ourselves first
We brag
We want to have the nicest stuff
We work hard to be number 1
We admire people, idolize celebrities
We compare ourselves to eachother
Size matters, (house, horsepower, etc.)

So, while some people would say Janteloven is a negative concept that could be holding back innovation, can we say we are much better?

After learning about Janteloven, I had to consider who I was. Personally, I think I am a significantly more humble than when I was in Canada. I was in a culture designed to stress the importance of being the best. To try and be the best, take pride in it, and stand out as an individual success. Very me-me-me.

Also, I was focused on buying stuff. It was like fight club’s one liner, ‘buying things you don’t need to impress people you don’t like’. Thats more of a stab at consumerism, but I think it is part of maintaining the image you want to be portrayed as (and standing out) – so it is fitting to compare with Janteloven.

But it did not make me happy – It stressed me. Always comparing myself with others and trying to be the best. Eventually, I realized I did not want to be my shoe collection, or ranked based on what part of town I lived in – they did not make me who I was. I stopped worrying about what other people were doing, because that was wasting my time and added no value to my idea of life.

Janteloven would have had a field day with my former self.

Personally, I think I am now somewhere in-between both concepts, Janteloven and the North American way of life.

However In the end, I think the Canadian way is better because it does make innovation, individual success, and wanting more in life safe concepts for people to pursue.

What do you think is the better concept, Janteloven, or the North American way to life?

It should be noted that Norway was ranked the best country to live in for 2017. So, perhaps the law of Jante is doing something right. Also, as the new generations come in, they suggest moving away from the old school thinking of Janteloven.

More pub crawl chronicles to come.


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