Posted by: Sarah | October 15, 2010

Jante Law – The Underlying Rules Of Norwegian Society?


Yesterday my friend Line reminded me about Jante Law and I realised that I hadn’t written anything about it on the blog.  To be honest I didn’t know much detail about it until I researched it this morning!  Anyone who visits Norway will almost certainly get a good feel about the Norwegian people – they are good-natured, humble and very friendly towards the English – makes such a nice change given the frosty reception we get in some countries :-)

This attitude may have something to do with Jante Law (or Janteloven in Norwegian).  This term is used to describe a pattern of behaviour that’s often associated with Scandinavians – humility.  Underlying it is the desire to see all people as being on an equal footing – that you shouldn’t ‘think big’, criticize others nor flaunt wealth/financial achievements as it can be portrayed as inappropriate. 

The poet Aksel Sandemose put these rules into words in 1933 and they go something like this…

  1. Don’t think you’re anything special.
  2. Don’t think you’re as much as us.
  3. Don’t think you’re wiser 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 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.

 Apparently there’s and 11th rule…

  • Don’t think there’s anything we don’t know about you.

I need to find out more about what Norwegians think about Jante Law.  I personally think some of them are a bit harsh but I like the humbling mind-set that Norwegians have – seems to keep harmony among communities.  However, in countries like the UK, when it comes to job interviews you really have to be good at selling your skills and achievements in order to stand out from several candidates.  I did wonder whether I could start a little ‘personal brand coaching’ business in Norway but not sure it would be appropriate now.  Fascinating insight into the culture.

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Responses

  1. As a Norwegian myself, I don’t particularily like the Jante Law. Like you said, some of the rules are a bit harsh. The second someone starts to stick out and dare to be different, or becomes successful, they are almost immediately considered big-headed or weird.
    Oh, and yes, the eleventh rule most certainly exist, especially in small towns.

    • Great to hear from you and thanks for the comment. You’re so right…I do sense that Norwegians don’t like to be too different for fear that people may talk. Such a shame. Everyone we’ve met have been absolutely wonderful. Someone once said “If someone asks you how you’re feeling…you normally just say fine. Doesn’t matter if you feel great. Doesn’t matter if you feel terrible. Just say you are fine”. Very funny :-)

  2. Back to this whole interview thing – how do you stand out without being branded big-headed?

    I’m working with Norwegians at the moment and I’m wondering how you go about convincing a manager for a payrise/promotion!

    • Can’t help with that one Phil since I haven’t actually worked for a Norwegian manager but I know exactly what you mean. I do get the impression that Norwegians are pretty straight up when it comes to talking about performance and salaries though. Since everyone knows what everyone else is earning (because of the public tax record) they seem less secret when it comes to annual negotiations.

  3. Very interesting….thanks for the reply!

    Your website is very helpful for me! I’m British too – so different this culture!


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