In my previous post, I wrote about “lagom.” You can read about that here. This time, I am going to explain Jantelagen.
“Modern Day Vikings: A Practical Guide to Interacting with the Swedes” by Christina Johansson Robinowitz and Lisa Werner Carr (2001) explains Jantelagen as “a Scandinavian concept with the underlying theme of societally enforced humility and self-restraint. Expressed as a series of commandments, Jantelagen attempts to “keep people in their place” by discouraging vanity of any kind. One consequence of Jantelagen is the “Royal Swedish Envy”—there is a tendency to envy and thus criticize anyone who appears to be “too successful.”
Wikipedia describes The Law of Jante (Jantelagen) as “a pattern of group behaviour towards individuals within Scandinavian communities, which negatively portrays and criticizes individual success and achievement as unworthy and inappropriate. 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.”
When it comes to business, some people think Jantelagen is a threat to Sweden’s global competitiveness because it might discourage innovation and achievement. Others think it is no longer an issue because new generations of Swedes are discarding Jante.
I see the effects of Jantelagen on the culture in Sweden. Even if it truly is disappearing with every new generation, I think it is still firmly woven into the cultural consciousness. People want to wear the same colors (it’s those black jackets I’ve blogged about so many times), not show off wealth or lavish purchases, or be perceived as too ambitious in their jobs. One of the positive things about this way of thinking is that people think more about the group and less about themselves.