Jantelagen – Equality, Equality, Equality

I’ve been reading a lot about jantelagen. Jantelagen is a system of principles on behavior. Aksel Sandemose wrote his observations about his town (fictionally called Jante) in the 1920s. From here he observed how people behaved in society.

This principal is a fundamental of Scandinavian culture. Here in Sweden, many people consider jantelag as the reason why smart students don’t get ahead, companies don’t have brand values, people don’t care to do better.

How has jantelag affected you as a Swede and foreigner? Where do you think the system comes from? I wrote a long article about my views of jantelag, but before publishing I’d like to know what you think. Has jantelag destroyed or saved Sweden?

How has jantelag influenced your life?

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11 thoughts on “Jantelagen – Equality, Equality, Equality”

  1. As someone who has come from abroad to work in Sweden, I feel jantelag has definitely influenced Sweden.

    Swede’s rarely standout above the group. Most will go with the consensus, even though they may disagree, it’s important to stick with the status quo. I’ve called Swedes out in meetings, and it definitely makes things awkward for them being put on the spot infront of their colleagues.

    Lagom. As this word doesn’t really translate well to English, it could be “just enough”, “sufficient”, “in moderation”, “optimal”. Anyway, it’s enough, but not too much, and not too little, just right. It keeps everyone in check and balanced, as no one stands out further then the next.

    Think of it as “the tallest blade of grass gets cut first”.

  2. Andrew actually described it pretty well. I have the opportunity of being a half swede who lived abroad (brought up in American schools) half of my life and then lived in Sweden half of my life and honestly, I see both positive and negative aspects of this jantelag. An American friend of mine came to the conclusion that in the US it’s probably better to be Swedish so one doesn’t get carried away in the whole “must be better than everyone else” mentality, while here in Sweden it’s better to be an American so all the good things that Sweden actually offers comes to good use and not just gets taken advantage of by people who feel like it’s their right make demands for as little work as possible.

    Basically it’s good for foreigners to come here so that they can still work hard but skip the heart attack and it’s good for swedes to live abroad so they get pushed out of their little “lagom” box. :)

  3. The reason this concept survives is that Swedes have never been a minority group. Therefore they don’t need to overachieve to get ahead. I come from minority twice removed. My grandparents were minorities in Kenya, my parents in the UK and Sweden. I was brought up to believe in excelling and being ten times better than th.ethnically English guy to get ahead. Asians are a competitive bunch with survival instinct. Sometimes they prioritise career and finance over social and sporting development. Whilst I don’t think the Swedes will sing to the ‘Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother’ – they could learn a lot from it.

  4. What’s wrong with equality? If you don’t like it there is an easy solution — move to India.

  5. Swede. This post is nothing about equality. It would help to read the articles better! Though, if you want equality, can I move in and borrow your stuff? What yours is mine, and mine is yours right?

  6. At least one day per week the headlines of Aftonbladet, Expressen or similar papers look something like this:


    I have never seen such an obsession of who has the highest salary anywhere else in the world. Could this be because of the Jante in the swedes?

  7. Jantelagen has made me very very happy….

    ….living in Colorado! OK, so I haven’t had a vacation in 2 years, I work after dinner, my insurance cost an arm and a leg but, hey, noone goes after me when I accomplish things beyond the average. They (gasp!) congratulate me!

  8. This depends on the individual’s personality. Some people are satisfied with living a simple life with simple things. Some want only the best. Each to their own. But I think as a whole, it’s definitely better to be more competitive, or else how is society going to advance?

  9. @Kalle – Agree. I see these “100 Richest people of Södermaln/Vasastan/stockholm/malmö/insert city here all the time in the tabloids. Why do people care so much about what others make and where they live??

    @Swede2 – Have no idea what you’re trying to say…

    @Ann – Some amount of competition and difference would be my interpreting a more successful society. But then Sweden isn’t a competitive nation (internally at least) and they have done a fine job of being a developed country. Maybe we could do better in Sweden if people weren’t so obsessed about maintaining the status quo.

  10. To the contrary, Sweden is one of the most competitive nations in the world with some of the highest productivity rate. So anyone going on about jante harming Sweden’s business has no idea what they’re talking about.

    I’m Swedish myself and well-travelled and the thing most people realise is that the jante law is not unique to Sweden and Scandinavia. What jante actually is is what’s known internationally as “small-town mentality.” The jante law works in Sweden on a national scale only because Sweden is such a small nation. Look at any small town in the bigger nations in the world – what’s going to exist is a culture of conformity.

    Now, there are both positives and negatives to the jante law.

    – huge emphasis put on economic and social equality
    – respect for privacy of individuals
    – no one (including celebrities and the like) is put on pedestal – this is why celebs can move about freely in Sweden without being hunted by mobs of fans

    – creates a situation where too much personal achievement is frowned upon

    And that’s really the only negative and what people refer to when they speak of “jante-mentality”. But Swedes like me who’ve lived outside of Sweden can recognise the positives of Jante as well.

  11. Jantelagen day to day characteristics:

    Introvert nature, oppressed, socially restrictive, socially isolating, mistrust.

    The single most important reason why most (not all) Swedes are the strange folk they are, embarrassed about their self created/maintained cult..

    Definately worse off – Frankie says “Say NO to Jantelagen”

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