Janteloven Working With Norwegians

What is Janteloven (The Law of Jante)?

One of my most jarring experiences doing business in Norway was when I first encountered the Law of Jante, or Janteloven. While discussing why a Norwegian business was not excelling, a colleague of mine simply shrugged their shoulders and proclaimed “Well, you know, Law of Jante”. Jante?

What is Janteloven? The Law of Jante in Norway - Working With Norwegians

What was Janteloven?

He sat me down for an hour and laid out a cultural anomaly that colored how almost every Norwegian (and more broadly Scandinavians) operate, both in business and in life. The Law of Jante is a social concept created by Danish / Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose in his 1933 book A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks. You may be familiar with a similar concept used in other parts of the world called “Tall Poppy Syndrome”.

In Janteloven, individual success is discouraged and, in many cases, considered inappropriate. Instead, society encourages the good of the collective over any one individual. This has shaped Scandinavian culture over many years and helped to create the peaceful, modest, and homogenous society of today.

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 imagine yourself 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.
The Rules and Laws of Janteloven

About Janteloven

Janteloven is a social concept that originated in Denmark and was popularized in Norway. It is a set of unwritten social rules that emphasize the importance of modesty, equality, and avoiding standing out or showing off. The term Janteloven translates to “the law of Jante” and is named after a fictional town called Jante in a novel by Danish author Aksel Sandemose.

The concept of Janteloven has both positive and negative aspects. On the one hand, it promotes a sense of community and discourages arrogance or excessive self-promotion. It emphasizes the importance of treating others with respect and avoiding the kind of self-centered behavior that can damage social relationships. This can be seen as a positive force for social cohesion and harmony.

However, the downside of Janteloven is that it can also discourage ambition, innovation, and individuality. In its strictest interpretation, Janteloven can lead to a culture of conformity and discourage people from pursuing their goals or expressing their unique qualities. This can limit creativity and stifle progress, as people may be hesitant to take risks or challenge the status quo.

Janteloven can also create a sense of insecurity and a fear of being judged or criticized by others. It can be difficult for individuals to stand out or pursue their own path without feeling like they are violating the social norms of Janteloven. This can lead to a lack of confidence and a sense of self-doubt, which can be detrimental to personal growth and development.

Despite its limitations, Janteloven continues to play a role in Scandinavian culture and society. It is often seen as a reflection of the values of social democracy, emphasizing the importance of collective welfare and social equality. It is also a reminder that success should not come at the expense of others and that everyone deserves respect and dignity, regardless of their achievements or status.

In recent years, there has been some pushback against the strict interpretation of Janteloven, with some arguing that it can be too limiting and discouraging for individuals. This has led to a more nuanced approach, where the positive aspects of Janteloven are emphasized while still allowing for individuality and ambition.

In conclusion, Janteloven is a complex and multifaceted social concept that has both positive and negative aspects. While it can promote social cohesion and discourage arrogance, it can also limit creativity and discourage individuality. It is important to find a balance between the positive and negative aspects of Janteloven and to encourage both collective welfare and personal growth and development.

Janteloven Book

One of the most famous books that explores Janteloven is “A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks” by Aksel Sandemose. Sandemose was a Danish-Norwegian writer who explored the theme of Janteloven in many of his works. “A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks” is a semi-autobiographical novel that tells the story of Espen Arnakke, a young man who leaves his small town to seek his fortune in the big city.

Throughout the novel, Espen struggles to reconcile his desire for success and recognition with the cultural norms of Janteloven. He finds that his ambition and individualism are not always welcome in the small town where he grew up, and he struggles to fit in with the collective mindset of his community.

The novel explores many themes related to Janteloven, including the tension between individualism and community, the role of humility in social relationships, and the importance of conformity in Scandinavian culture. The characters in the novel are portrayed as complex and multi-dimensional, with their own struggles and desires that are often at odds with the expectations of their community.

Criticism and Contemporary Interpretations

The Law of Jante has its fair share of critics who argue that it stifles individualism, creativity, and personal ambition. Some believe that Janteloven can lead to a culture of mediocrity by discouraging people from striving for excellence or standing out from the crowd. Critics contend that the principles of Jante can hinder economic growth and innovation by suppressing individual talents and aspirations.

However, proponents of Janteloven argue that it fosters a sense of community, shared responsibility, and humility. The focus on equality and social welfare has contributed to Scandinavian countries consistently ranking among the world’s happiest nations. The Law of Jante can be seen as a counterbalance to the individualism and materialism that pervade other cultures.

Janteloven in Modern Day Norway

Despite its criticisms, Janteloven continues to be present in modern-day Norway. In some ways, the phenomenon has evolved with the times. While the principles of humility and egalitarianism are still highly valued, there is a greater acceptance of individualism and ambition in modern Norway. Many Norwegians are now proud of their country’s achievements and their own personal successes, which would have been discouraged under the strict interpretation of Janteloven.

In fact, some Norwegians have taken Janteloven and turned it into a positive force for change. For example, the “Ja til Mer!” (“Yes to More!”) movement has emerged as a way to challenge the restrictive aspects of Janteloven and encourage Norwegians to pursue their dreams and ambitions. The movement has gained a following among young people, who are eager to challenge the status quo and create a more open and dynamic society.

At the same time, Janteloven remains deeply ingrained in Norwegian culture, particularly in more traditional and rural areas. The phenomenon can still be seen in everyday interactions, where people tend to be modest and reserved about their achievements. For example, it is considered impolite to boast or show off, and people often downplay their own accomplishments.

Overall, Janteloven continues to be a complex and evolving cultural phenomenon in modern-day Norway. While its principles of humility and egalitarianism are still highly valued, there is a greater acceptance of individualism and ambition. At the same time, the phenomenon remains deeply ingrained in Norwegian culture, particularly in more traditional and rural areas. As Norway continues to evolve and change, it will be interesting to see how Janteloven adapts to the times and how it will continue to shape Norwegian society in the years to come.

Janteloven in Scandinavian Society

The Law of Jante has shaped the social fabric and values of Scandinavian countries, including Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. The concept’s influence can be observed in various aspects of Scandinavian society, such as work culture, education, and politics.

Work Culture: The Law of Jante promotes a sense of equality and cooperation in the workplace. Scandinavian work culture is characterized by a flat hierarchy, where managers and employees work closely together and contribute to decision-making processes. The emphasis on teamwork and collaboration is a reflection of the Jante values, which discourage individual competition and self-promotion.

Education: The educational system in Scandinavian countries embodies the principles of Janteloven by emphasizing equality and inclusiveness. Schools focus on fostering a sense of community and teamwork among students, rather than highlighting individual achievements. This approach nurtures a strong sense of social responsibility and empathy among children, preparing them to be conscientious citizens.

Politics: The political landscape in Scandinavia reflects Janteloven values as well. Policies such as universal healthcare, free education, and robust social welfare systems are designed to promote equality and a high standard of living for all citizens, regardless of their socioeconomic background.

Janteloven Pronunciation

The pronunciation of Janteloven is relatively straightforward for English speakers, with the emphasis on the second syllable and the final “n” pronounced as a “v.” It is important to note, however, that Janteloven is more than just a word; it represents a cultural and societal value system that can take time to fully understand and integrate into one’s behavior.

How does Janteloven affect business competitiveness?

The Law of Jante also adds a unique angle when it comes to being competitive in business in Norway. You’re likely to find there’s actually not much competition in just about every industry. Consumers usually have some choice, but not an overwhelming degree as is often found in other markets. For example, there are typically about two real options for any product. Often those limited options are even owned by the same company, so it’s more of an artificial choice. You’ll find a lot of monopolies in Norway.

In fact, Norwegians really don’t mind monopolies at all. Even their state-run wine store is called the Vinmonopolet, or the Wine Monopoly. They literally have so little shame about it being a monopoly they put it right in the name! You see, often Norwegians don’t understand that this is counter to how the majority of other business markets work. Monopolies are usually considered bad for business. To the Norwegians it’s just more efficient to have a single provider who does a good enough job. They prefer this to many competing producers who have to constantly one-up each other. The Law of Jante strikes again.

Dig a little deeper and you see even more of the Janteloven in advertising. This makes it especially tough to advertise and sell your product. How will a consumer know your offering is better if you can’t directly tell them so? Many of the tried-and-true advertising techniques found in Western markets simply don’t work in Norway. Those play on the emotions of envy, greed, and even fear. In Norway, you’ll need to focus on other attributes in your advertising instead. You have to talk about the quality of your product and point out that those who use it are content but not exuberantly happy. You cannot say that your product is better than others nor that buying your product will make your consumers better people. Instead tell them or show them that the consumer will be made content. Your product is good, but never exceptionally better than others. If a Norwegian describes your business or product as “nice” it means it’s probably going to be a massive success.

Janteloven in Advertising

Bad-mouthing competitors, be it in advertising or even private meetings, is also highly discouraged.

To truly respect the Janteloven in your business advertising you need to do one very specific thing: have other people say why you’re the best or your product is superior. CEOs shouldn’t stand up and claim superiority but instead they should focus on getting all of Norway to say that the product is acceptably good. Word-of-mouth marketing is everything in Norway. For example, the typical Norwegian will be highly skeptical of you and working with you until their friends or family have first validated your offering. Once that happens, Norwegians begin to build trust and are open to engage with something new. Otherwise, there is little risk tolerance in Norway and that is especially true if that product or a person claims to be better. However, if just a handful of Norwegians speak highly of something, news tends to spread very fast. That’s one of the advantages of working in a small country.

How does Jante Law impact setting expectations in Norway?

When it comes to Norwegian business culture and the Law of Jante, I have found one thing to be universally true: Norwegians will always set expectations fairly low. They will almost always exceed those expectations, but it’s important not to over-promise anything or promise things you know you will not manage to do. Remember: you are good at what you do, but you are not to be exceedingly better than others. In Norwegian business it’s actually significantly more important that you follow through on what you say you’ll do versus boldly promising amazing results. In other words: don’t be too American and you’ll be just fine.

2 replies on “What is Janteloven (The Law of Jante)?”

American here living in Sweden and we have Janteloven here also. I am noticing a trend among some of the millennial and younger now (me being a millennial myself). I am seeing more starting to challenge these concepts. It will be interesting to see what comes of this in the future.

“The pronunciation of Janteloven is relatively straightforward for English speakers, with the emphasis on the second syllable and the final “n” pronounced as a “v.” ”

No, the first syllable (YAN-tuh) is emphasized. With the “en” at the end of Janteloven it is translated as “the Jante law” and if the “en” is not pronounced, it would be “Jante law”.

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