Rules that restrain

Janteloven

M. Michael Brady
Asker, Norway

Janteloven

Photo: Poul Krogsgård
A bronze plaque in Nykøbing, Denmark, commemorates Aksel Sandemose and his Jante Law.

Restraint in fear of recrimination lies deep in Norway, as persuasively argued by Aksel Sandemose (1899–1965), a Danish-born Norwegian experimental novelist. He went to sea in his youth, jumped ship in Newfoundland, and worked in a lumber camp before returning to Denmark to take up writing. He settled in Norway in 1929.

Published in 1933, En flyktning krysser sitt spor (A fugitive crosses his tracks) contains Janteloven (the Jante Law) that controls the citizenry of Jante, a fictional small town symbolic of the conventional society of his childhood: “You who have grown up elsewhere can never fully appreciate the inevitability of the Jante Law. You will find it amusing and will never know its deadly oppression of working-class youth in Jante. With the 10 rules of the law, Jante holds its people down.”

Norwegian original:

1. Du skal ikke tro at du er noe.

2. Du skal ikke tro at du er like så meget som oss.

3. Du skal ikke tro du er klokere enn oss.

4. Du skal ikke innbille deg du er bedre enn oss.

5. Du skal ikke tro du vet mere enn oss.

6. Du skal ikke tro du er mere enn oss.

7. Du skal ikke tro at du duger til noe.

8. Du skal ikke le av oss.

9. Du skal ikke tro at noen bryr seg om deg.

10. Du skal ikke tro at du kan lære oss noe.

English translation:

1. You shall not believe that you are something.

2. You shall not believe that you are equal to us.

3. You shall not believe that you are wiser than us.

4. You shall not imagine yourself better than us.

5. You shall not believe that you know more than us.

6. You shall not believe that you are more than us.

7. You shall not believe that you are capable.

8. You shall not laugh at us.

9. You shall not believe that anyone cares about you.

10. You shall not believe that you can teach us anything.

Janteloven has become part of everyday lore, so much so that there’s an entry on it in Norsk Ordbok, the Norwegian desk dictionary. The name Jante has become a verb: å jante means to overbearingly impose janteloven on others. Scandinavian social psychologists and management theorists now quote the Jante Law as an example of self-imposed restraints on human progress. The applicability of its 10 rules may well be more widespread.

This article originally appeared in the November 16, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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