In Sweden, you must not own a gun without license, slap your child or sell your neighbors car without permission. All this is written in Swedish law. One law that is not given by the state but yet followed by the majority of all Swedes is the law of Jante. It’s a law that is like carved in stone in the public awareness.
Jantelagen – law of Jante
Often times, when people at first have little and suddenly an excessive amount of something special – a lot of success, money or fame – they have the tendency to brag about it.
Swedes on the other hand remain relatively unnoticed when they reach something extraordinary. They are less prone to bragging. This is because they follow a common rule called the Jantelagen, literally translated: law of Jante. Basically it says that “You are not better than anyone else“.
Well, alright Jante, then let's not show off with our new car, house, job, number of record sales or fancy furniture.
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For example, just look at Swedish iconic people, like Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA, he still drove an old Volvo although he was super rich. Or the Members of ABBA, all nice people to talk to, no allures. The same goes with high ranked politicians of the country and even most members of the royal family. All friendly people who, despite their achievements or social position, have their feed on the ground and won't let you feel inferior when you have a chat with them.
No bragging rights
So what happens if you show off too much, say, after you received a good grade at school. Well, the people around you might give you slightly jealous, unhappy looks – thinking “vem tror den där människan han/hon är?!”, “who does he/she think he/she is”.
This is certainly something to consider when you come to Sweden and do something outstanding. If you want to celebrate it with others, just make sure you only tell it to those who won't feel too bad about your extraordinary achievement. Tell it to your dog for example.
I have met friends who regularly got the best grade at school or university, but never told their friends about it, instead they lied and said it was just the second best, fearing others’ jealousy and exclusion.
But don't only avoid showing off. It is an equally important part of the Jantelagen not to show too much self pity. Don't tell your friends and colleagues how much bad luck you had recently. Or how much pain you feel in your knees when you walk down the stairs. Tell them only once. Then, if Swedes want to know more about your back problems, they will get more involved and ask y0u where you get treatment or whether you have already taken an Alvedon.
Where does the Jantelagen come from?
The Jantelagen is not an actual law. It stems from a novel, En flykting korsar sitt spår (1933), written in Norwegian, by the Danish author Aksel Sandemose, in which he states the eleven rules from the village of Jante, a fictional place in Denmark which is inspired by Sandemose's hometown, Nykøbing.
Those who like to be a bit rebel like to call themselves being anti-jante or print “f*ck jante” on a t-shirt or write a similar comment on their Instagrams.
So, police won't go after you if you break the law, but major parts of the Swedish society might punish you with exclusion if you overdo it.
Bad news then for everyone who wants to move to Sweden and fancies golden Lamborghinis or long conversations about luxury spa experiences. Get a silver Volvo kombi and start talking about the ongoing renovation in your cottage house instead. But only if you do the handicraft yourself.
If you want to avoid any conflicts just do like everyone else: become a lagom Swede.
Find out more about the meaning of lagom, here
More about Sweden
- Swedish culture and traditions
- Traditional Swedish food
- Vacation in Sweden – travel tips
- Basic Swedish Phrases
- The Swedes' attitude towards sex
What are your experiences with the Jantelagen? Please comment below!