Exploring the Law of Jante: Of Danish Minimalism and Humility
Danes are known for many things:
From design to handball, to their level of coziness that is so high, it has its name – "hygge."
If you spend time digging even deeper into Danish culture, you'll discover that they have the reputation of being modest and reserved to the extent that it is bordering on aloofness. Just like there's a special word for feeling cozy in Danish, there is a term for the unwritten rules governing behavior in Denmark.
Like the bro code, the law of Jante – also known as Janteloven in the local parlance – is an unofficial set of rules that have found its way into the Danish and Scandinavian lifestyle.
For an unwritten set of rules which is not enforced by any government, how much water can they hold? Read on to find out how much the law of Jante holds for Danish, Norwegian, and some other Scandinavia residents – and what it means in the first place.
Is the Law of Jante Real?
That depends on how you define 'real.'
The Danish people and other countries in Scandinavia definition have been living by these rules for some time now.
As we said up there, the law of Jante is not enforced by any national, state, or local body anywhere. This contributes to the decentralized success status these rules enjoy and promises to continue to demonstrate in years to come.
The concept of the Jante law is such that Norwegian and Danish dwellers have adopted it for themselves, curating their daily lives and societal culture around it such that you instantly sense the presence of such an overarching umbrella of the same behaviors when you step into their midst.
For something that has come to not only define individuals in the society but shape the culture at large, while not being a regulation enforced by some body, Janteloven is as real as it gets.
If you don't believe us, read on to find out what the laws say, then interact with a Dane, Norwegian, or a national of any other country in the Scandinavia region if you're not one yourself. You'll instantly see how much they subconsciously embody everything here.
Does the law of Jante teach us anything?
For a proper Dane, the law of Jante addresses everything we need to know about societal living, inclusion, humility, a proper way of life, and achieving a unique state of balance without pride, greed, or jealousy.
There are ten items in the Janteloven, and the provisions are as follows (translated to English from Danish):
- Rule 1 – Do not think you are anything special
- Rule 2 – Do not think you are as good as we are
- Rule 3 – Do not think you are smarter than we are
- Rule 4 – Do not imagine yourself better than we are
- Rule 5 – Do not think you know more than we do
- Rule 6 – Do not think you are more important than we are
- Rule 7 – Do not think you are good at anything
- Rule 8 – Do not laugh at us
- Rule 9 – Do not think anyone cares about you
- Rule 10 – Do not think you can teach us anything
The Janteloven is uniquely directed at you, the individual, concerning us/ we, the society at large.
Looking closely at those rules in this way, you see that they encourage the individual to submit to the society, be a part of their society, contribute to its success and play an active role.
That is opposed to behaving like an outsider who knows it all ("imagine yourself better" and "think you can teach us anything"), is better than the society at large ("think you are smarter than we," "think anyone cares...," "think you are good at anything,") or be so proud that you believe everyone else is beneath you ("think you are smarter," "think you are anything," "laugh at us").
Surveying the law of Jante-Janteloven with a cursory glance makes it look like a drive to make Nordic countries and their residents feel less of themselves. That could not be more untrue, with Danes living in the small Danish town to the big cities always carrying an air of pride of their culture, humble achievements, and global standing around them.
Embracing the Jante law as whole leads to an individual who respects everyone else, integrates with the social norms while challenging ideas that can lead to the betterment of their circle, think on their own and live a life free of regret, unnecessary pride, hateful envy, jealousy, and such other woes.
Where did the Jante Law Janteloven Originate?
The Jante Law comes from a Danish novel from the 1930's – 'En flygtning krydser sit spor' (a refugee crosses their track/ a fugitive crosses his tracks) by Danish-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose.
In the story, the people of Jante, a town inspired by Sandemose's hometown of Nykøbing Mors, follow 10 behavioral commandments.
Are Danish people so traditional that they live by a book from the 1930s? Perhaps it is more likely that Danes always behaved like this, which inspired Sandemose to write the story.
In the Danes' defense, the rules are embedded below the surface rather than something people talk about frequently. There are no secret law of Jante meetings to decide if outsiders are behaving acceptably.
Thus, the success of this law and moral code seems to be established based on individuals being responsible enough to adopt the right way to think, feel, evaluate self, respect others, behave in the society, obey/ challenge norms as they see fit, and maintain a rich cultural background, among other things.
Is the law of Jante still relevant today?
In more ways than one.
There doesn't seem to be regulated teaching to follow the laws, but the way of life of the Danes has helped to pass it down to the newer generations even. At this rate, the rules of Jante might just become the most stable law in the history of the Danish people.
The best part is how the law cuts across all aspects of the community and cultural circles. Either in personal dealings, group engagements, or business cultural settings, the terms explained in the Jante law help build a positive environment of like-minded individuals.
For a nation that ranks so high on the happiness index almost yearly, we think and believe that the ten laws of Jante – and the positive attitude of the Danish towards this moral code – is a contributing factor to that also.
The concept of Janteloven might look old and dated right now, but the fact that it has helped this group of people build such a strong community, from their small-town settings to the bigger country scale, shows how relevant the code will continue to be for the foreseeable future.
How does the Jante law fare in today's world?
The world is evolving as we know it, and the law of Jante should be applied according to that evolution also.
Norwegian and Danish residents, among other countries in Scandinavia, enjoy some of the best successes and growths in the world. It is, thus, little wonder why they are usually so far up in the happiness index.
If the Danish people do not start to take their advancements to the world, though, they might not be seen as equal to the bigger nations that are making the waves.
This equality is what the new generation of youth athletes, creatives, artists, and more in Danish societies seek – and it is easy to see how the Jante law looks limiting to them.
Here, managing expectations better is as simple as being proud of your achievements as part of a larger group that helped make it happen, staying modest in celebrating your wins, maintaining a simple lifestyle that reflects your background, and contributing your quota to growing the community.
Even if there wasn't anything called the law of Jante, such self-awareness and good nature are relevant to making the world a simpler yet better place overall.
Meet a Dane Today
For a country that has its word for its kind of coziness (hygge), approaching Danes might sound like a herculean task. After all, they all look to have closely-knit groups that anyone else cannot break into.
The truth is, the Danish are as accommodating, warm, friendly, and welcoming as can be. They keep such small circles so that they can regulate what happens and maintain quality relationships that give them a sense of coziness. Thus, it might look like they are not seeking you out – or they don't want to make new friends.
Whether you are a visitor, expat, or resident who used to think the Danes won't warm up to you, drop that thought today. It takes approaching one to see how friendly they are, even though it seems they are rooted and set in their ways, as evident in the following of an unstated rule like this one.
The best part? Danish people welcome diversity and inclusion, so you don't have to bend your principles to fit in. As long as you do right, you are welcome with any Dane.