Sweden’s Unwritten Law: Jante

If you want to know what drives Swedish psychology/mentality it can’t be summarized with two words: “Jante Law”.

What is it?

The Law of Jante is a pattern of group behaviour towards individuals within Scandinavian communities, which negatively portrays and criticises individual success and achievement as unworthy and inappropriate. The Jante Law as a concept was created by the Danish-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose, who in his novel A fugitive crosses his tracks identified the Law of Jante as ten rules. Sandemose’s novel portrays the small Danish town Jante (modelled upon his native town Nykøbing Mors as it was at the beginning of the 20th century, but typical of all small towns and communities), where nobody is anonymous.

Generally used colloquially as a sociological term to negatively describe an attitude towards individuality and success common in Scandinavia, the term refers to a mentality which de-emphasizes individual effort and places all emphasis on the collective, while discouraging those who stand out as achievers.

The term is often used negatively.

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

The ten rules state:

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

An eleventh rule recognized in the novel is:

11. Don’t think that there aren’t a few things we know about you.

In the book, the Janters who transgress this unwritten ‘law’ are regarded with suspicion and some hostility, as it goes against communal desire in the town to preserve harmony, social stability and uniformity.

These 11 principles or commandments form the “Jante’s Shield” of the Scandinavian people.

One thought on “Sweden’s Unwritten Law: Jante

  1. So true. A strange thing this “Janteloven”. I left my home country of The Netherlands with the thought its ways were petty. Only to find out that things are way worse than in my old country. After 12 years in Norway ( with maybe the strongest influence of that “law” of the countries in Scandinavia..) I found a new respect for the freedom in Holland (…although there are forces breaking up this spearhead of civilization, as Holland has been dubbed.)
    Most, I dare to say all, foreigners here in Norway bond big time over the frustration with this mentality and the destructiveness for the evolution of society into a more harmonious kind. At the same token it can be seen as a learning process, to be used as a platform to jump into better times. I have a part to play in that also, as we all have.
    As with the rest of what is happening in/to this world. Peace.

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