“Do not think you’re anything special”: Coming to terms with the Jante Law

The Jante Law is a cultural and social code in Denmark, which still highly influences the way people interact with one another. While not actually a “law” in the legal sense, the Jante Law is an unspoken set of rules first identified by Norwegian writer Aksel Sandemose in his novel “A Fugitive Crosse his Tracks” from 1933, which is set in a fictional town in Denmark called Jante. And it goes like this:

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

Pretty harsh, isn’t it?

However, hardly any Danes take the Jante Law literally; it’s more of a common understanding when interacting in a social context. And there are advantages to this. The Jante Law promotes humbleness, modesty and equality between people, and thus Danes are generally more likely to play down their accomplishments, and simply say “Oh, I do alright” when doing well in school or at work. On the other hand, the disadvantages of the Jante Law are much more pronounced than the advantages. People tend to use the Jante Law as an excuse for not being successful in life, and some might even be ashamed of their hard earned successes. People might even impose self-censorship when exchanging new ideas and thoughts, which then might lead to a lack of innovation and progress.

In the last decade the Jante Law has been much less pronounced in society than before, and a new trend has started to emerge. The youth of today wants to break free from the influence of the Jante Law and is simply saying “F**k Janteloven” in order to stand by and take pride in their achievements. Examples from the entertainment industry are the musical duo Nik & Jay who got on everyone’s nerves in the early 2000s by claiming to be “rare” and that they were “changing the concept of music”. Another forerunner in the anti-Jante Law movement has been handball player turned coach Anja Andersen, who famously wore this shirt to a game.

There is still some controversy connected to the Jante Law, and I’m sure some of you readers out there have an entirely different experience of what it is and what it means.

So, when and how have you encountered the Jante Law in your life?


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