Understanding the law of Jante is essential to understanding the Nordic mindset.
A set of behavioural norms said to be found throughout the Nordic nations, the term itself was started by Aksel Sandemose, a half-Danish half-Norwegian writer that grew up in Denmark.
In his book A fugitive crosses his tracks he discusses the laws impact on human relations, with the word Jante coming from a fictional town. In fact the town of ‘Jante’ was a reference to where he grew up in a small community on the island of Mors.
The ten laws are as follows:
1. You are not to think you are special
2. You are not to think you are as good as us
3. You are not to think you are more intelligent than us
4. You are not to think you are better than us
5. You are not to think you know more than us
6. You are not to think you are more important than us
7. You are not think that you are particularly good at anything
8. You are not to laugh at us
9. You are not to think that anyone cares about you
10. You are not to think that you can teach us anything
Think of them as the ‘ten commandments’ of the Nordics. They probably have roots in the Lutheran religion, the form of Christianity popular throughout the five Nordic nations and which puts a particularly strong emphasis on communal responsibilities, humility and modesty.
They are also part of the reason why the Nordics developed societies with some of the lowest levels of inequality in the world. As displays of wealth are strongly frowned upon it makes it easier to create an ideological base from which such systems of taxation and redistribution can work.
An example of Janteloven can be found in the profile of Per Meldgaard, one of the co-founders of fast food delivery service Just Eat. His website is written in a very drab black and white style while his Twitter is similarly modest, describing himself simply as a ‘Dane living in Spain’.
Of course what is bizarre is that Janteloven coexists with a culture of entrepreneurship. It would seem that while it is OK to build up a business and make tens of millions of pounds from it, you must make an effort to be particularly downbeat and quiet in your demeanour if this is the case.