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The Law of Jante – explained

August 16, 2018 | Leave a comment


The Law of Jante explained

Our Bronte writes quite a bit, not only cookbooks. In her book Nørth you can find lots of articles about Scandinavian life in general, including how we live, love, dress, dream and why our walls are always white. North can be bought here and of course also on Amazon.

This article is similar to one in Nørth (but not the same).

The Law of Jante
Lately, in the UK media, people have been asking themselves if this Law of Jante that exists across Scandinavia is the secret to living in a harmonious and happy society. Clearly, this set of cultural and society rules are a little more complex than simply looking at them and assessing whether they would fit elsewhere. To understand how the Scandinavian society works – and why – we need to go a bit deeper.

The Laws of Jante go back to a fictional book by the Norwegian writer Axel Sandemose. In his brilliant book from 1933 called A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks, he writes about the Danish town called Jante and the unwritten social code that defines everything in it. This novel describes the author’s alter ego, Espen, a sailor who sets about discovering himself through his childhood in a town. In fact, what Sandemose really did was document this social code that was present all over Denmark and Norway and to an extent Sweden, too. Across all of Scandinavia, this peculiar set of ‘laws’ or rules exists. Not mentioned, but always there, silently enforced by everybody in unison. These are known as ‘The Laws of Jante’:

The Ten Rules of Jante
1. Don’t think you are anything special.
2. Don’t think you are as good as we are.
3. Don’t think you are smarter than we are.
4. Don’t convince yourself that you are better than we are.
5. Don’t think you know more than we do.
6. Don’t think you are more important than we are.
7. Don’t think you are good at anything.
8. Don’t laugh at us.
9. Don’t think anyone cares about you.
10. Don’t think you can teach us anything.

Janteloven (the Laws of Jante) aren’t that unlike most countries’ cultural codes that silently ensure some sort of peace and common ground is upheld. However, because the laws were actually formalized by Sandemose, these cultural values became much starker and obvious when seen in print.

To understand how they are applied so strongly in Scandinavia, you need to look at our general culture: Scandinavians love being equal in everything – from what we do in our work to how we like to live in our homes. Nobody is to have too much more – or less – than everyone else. We like having the same car as the neighbours, we like earning similar salaries. We like not having a huge class divide –it makes us feel like the world is a fairer place when things are shared between us.

It goes back and touches a bit on the concept of Lagom, too – from the old Norse word meaning ‘Laget om’: around the group. We share what we have so that there is enough for everyone and this creates a balance between everybody. It means we are all sort of on a level playing field and it makes us content in our daily lives. It is how we preserve harmony and social stability, to an extent. It has existed for many years, even before it was written down – and can be found in old sayings such as the Swedish proverb: ‘Noble deeds are done in silence’, for example.

Many people, when they first hear about it, think the Law of Jante is something that is consciously applied. We do not, however, have Jante-enforcement officers hanging around street corners, trying to catch people out who are getting too big for their boots. The reality is much more subtle: it stirs. It sits inside every family, every work place, every school, every person. It is engrained in us from a young age – to a lesser or bigger extent. It is simply part of the Scandinavian way of life – and most people don’t spend time questioning its existence.

The Law of Jante is not so much about people not wanting to see you drive down the high street in your new fancy Aston Martin, though. Scandinavians can absolutely appreciate someone’s good fortune. Instead, it is much more about making sure Benny Hansson down the road doesn’t feel bad that he doesn’t have an Aston Martin. The first would be simple envy, but it goes deeper than that: By stepping outside the social norms we have created, the invisible barriers that define our sociality, then you make Benny Hansson feel bad for not buying an Aston Martin. You break the group, you break the rules and if we’re all going to live together in harmony, we need to consider eachother’s feelings. And thus, the Law of Jante is reinforced. By the way, you see very, very few flashy cars in Scandinavia.

It is different to Tall Poppy Syndrome in that the latter is all about knocking the poppy down, stop him being too big for his shoes – whereas The Law of Jante is still about the group and not making others look bad. It’s not about you, you know.

When you look at how the Law of Jante is applied across cultural norms in Scandinavia, it is perhaps also easier to see how many democratic social policies have been easily accepted. It is not because of you; it is because of others around you: The greater good, all of us and our collective social happiness. Enough to go around for us all – and we can all live happily ever after.

Things are changing, however, as the world gets smaller and our cultural norms are shifting slightly with the influence of the more capitalist mindset of the have-it-all and the look-at-me-how-great-I-am culture. We’re all a bit more bling and we are brave enough to stand out more. The Millenials are changing the rules faster than many generations before them – and with every me-generation that has followed, the rules are being blurred more and more. In the big cities, the laws of Jante are often now seen as a bit of a myth. People who have built successful businesses are ok to talk about it now and, by and large, being successful is ok (as long as you don’t claim all the praise for yourself). As long as you share your new-found status and wealth with society, you are fine to have it.

Indeed, you can easily still spot Janteloven still in use in everyday conversation with Scandinavians from any of the countries. If a Scandinavian person is singled out for doing a really good job, they will immediately say it was only possible because of their team and dismiss personal efforts. Thinking of running for class rep? Wait for someone to nominate you. Just hit a number one in the charts with your new song? You only got there because people bought the record. It is never just about you, it is always about us.

You are free to do anything you want and can in Scandinavia – as long as you don’t appear different to any of us and stand out. Ever. And perhaps forget about that new shiny Aston Martin for now until you understand the social rules. Because if you over step these rules, well, then don’t think you can come here and teach us anything. Do you think you’re better than us? You’re not. Don’t think you know more than we do… and so it continues.

Bronte Aurell

Photo taken from North: How to live Scandinavian by Bronte Aurell, photo by Anna Jacobsen.

How to count in Danish.

November 2, 2017 | Leave a comment

How to count in Danish

(also known as ‘how to confuse Swedes’)

While the Scandi languages are very close – we can all understand most of each other’s languages, especially after a few beers – there are certain areas where things just stumble and everybody is left lost. This causes all sorts of awkward situations. One such subject is counting in Danish numbers, because Danes count in something called vigesimal – which is basically counting in twenties rather than tens (not dissimilar to the French).

First, the basics: The ones, then the tens…

In Danish: En, to, tre, fire, fem, seks, syv, otte, ni, ti.

Swedish and Norwegian follows a logic structure of counting:

10 in Swedish is Tio. Twenty is Tjugo. Thirty is Tretio. Forty is Firtio. Fifty is Femtio. You see where we’re going with this – logically, adding ten (tio) on the end. It’s similar in Norwegian.

Now, the same in Danish: The singles are fine – and then…

10 = Ti
20 = Tyve
30 = Tredive
40 = Fyrre
50 = Halvtreds
60 = Tres
70 = Halvfjers
80 = Firs
90 = Halvfems
100 = Et hundrede

To understand, we need to look at the old word sinde, which meant ‘times’ (as in ‘multiply’).

We also need to understand that the root of the numbers work on twenties rather than tens. So, 60 is tres – coming from tre(3)-sinde-tyve(20)=tresindetyve=tres(60), [shortened to tres].

Eighty follows similar patterns, as it is of course 4 time 20 = fire(4)-sinde-tyve(20)=firsindetyve=firs(80)

Still with it? Okay, let’s complicate it a bit now. The halves.

Halv 3 = 2½, halv 4 = 3½, halv 5 = 4½
This means you take the twenties and then half of twenty, for example:
50 is Halvtreds = 2 x 20 + 10 (the half) = halvtredje-sinde-tyve – shortened to halvtreds (50).

70 is Halvfjers = 3 x 20 + 10 (the half) = halvfjerde-sinde-tyve – shortened to halvfjerds (70).

90 is Halvfems = 4 x 20 + 10 (the half) = halvfem-sinde-tyve – shortened to halvfems (90).

Still here?

Now remember that no Danes will ever count in the full words – they will only use the shortened version. Also, few Danes understand the logic behind the numbering system, meaning some teachers find it hard to teach maths to younger children, due to this structure – let alone explain it to a foreinger, let alone a drunk Swede stranded in a bar in Copenhagen trying to pay for his beer.

Also, just in case you need something else to set the system aside from say Swedish: In Swedish, you count with the tens first – then the singles. Example: Femti-fyra = 54. The same number in Danish would be Fireoghalvtreds, i.e. the singular number first. So, four-and-half-twenty-times-four-and-a-half-kill-me-now.

Lastly, you need to know that the Danish numbering system is not hyphenated like it is in say, English. So, 95 in English is ninety-five, and the same number in Danish would be written femoghalvfems (five and half fives – the og (and) linking the numbers together to form the final number.

How about ordering four half threes of eggs? 54. Or maybe we’re counting the pigs on the farm – there are three half fives (93).

In short, the Danish numbering system stems from counting in twenties and half twenties – and looking to make anyone who attempts to explain it wish they had never attempted to do so.

It is a constant source of amusement and confusion to the Swedes and Norwegians that Danes can actually work out how to count in the first place.

Next week: how to say 1st, 5th, 10th, and 40th in Danish. This is when it gets really complicated.

This week’s homework: Find a Swede or Norwegian and ask him to count for you in Danish and watch him squirm with uncomfortable feelings.

How to swear in Scandinavia

January 20, 2017 | 1 Comment

How to swear (a little bit)

Look, it’s not our job to educate you on the worst swear words. That simply isn’t a nice thing to do. We do live in Britain, after all, where swearing is frowned upon. So, we’ve made a little handy list of the most common, less offensive ways to adding bad Scandi words to your everyday life, if this is what you’re after. 

You can start with these and then move on to the strong stuff, if you so fancy. These words are, by and large, relatively safe to attempt and will bring giggles from your attempts in our native languages, rather than a slap in the face. We hope.


  1. Add ‘shit’ in front of everything – the word is ‘skide’ (soft d). Anything you add ‘skide’ in front of becomes negative. Skide-work, skide-cleaning, skide-everything. Although if you add skide in front of the word ‘godt’ it means shitty-good, which is a really positive thing.
  2. Satan. The devil. ‘For Satan’ means for the devil. It’s okay to say this in front of grandma, she probably does that, too. Sentence: Aj, for Satan, hvorfor blew Trump president? (‘For the devil, how did Trump become president’?). You can also use ‘for fanden’ which means the same but it’s a nicer word to say ‘devil’ than using the name Satan. If you want to be really nice about it, replace Satan with ‘Søren’ which is a guy’s name. Poor Søren.
  3. Kraftedeme. This is a baddie that you shouldn’t really use because it literally means ‘cancer eat me’ – it’s awful to say such a thing, so people don’t. Except they do when they forget what it really means, because its such an old saying that people don’t always remember. Used to emphasise a point, as it ‘I kraftedeme don’t want to go to work to day’. People have mostly forgotten the origin of the word, so anyone who does use it likely won’t link it to illness.
  4. Pis.  This just means ‘piss’. Everything can be ‘pis’. Just used on it’s own. ‘Argh, I missed the re-run of Eurovision on telly. Pis!’
  5. Rend mig i røven! – this basically means f*ck off. Literally, it means ‘run to my ass’ but it’s used as a way to say f*ck off.

It’s worth noting that for some reason, Danes (including people on Danish radio and also really young kids – even aged around 5-6) have adopted to swearing in English, using mainly the words f*ck and sh*t. This sounds incredibly rude to a British person, but to Danes, the words means very little so they carry on and dollop a good unhealthy dose of F*ck and Sh*t in their every day language. To most ex-pat Danes returning to Denmark after a few years in Blighty, this means there is a month long period of re-adjustment where they spend most of their time in toe-cringing situations when the guy at the local super market uses the word f*ck to describe being out of bacon flavoured crisps. It is entirely normal, though, to swear in English in Denmark.

Because it has no meaning in the Danish language, kids also swear at school, at home and to their grandmother – in English. They’d likely never do it in Danish, though.

You may encounter the expression “f*ck dig” which is the Danish way of saying ‘f*ck you’, except in a way that doesn’t really mean anything.

Yes, we know. Un-curl those toes now, it is perfectly normal.


  1. Fy flate (fy faen) – literally, for devil. Meaning shock/annoyed/angry expression (like English f*ck)
  2. Dra dit peppern gror (dra til helvete) – go to hell. You’re an idiot, go where the pepper grows.
  3. Helsikken (Helvete) – Similar to fy flate, shock/angry. ‘Helsikken heller, for en smorje!’ ‘Helsikken, what a mess!’ If you want someone to go to hell, which seems to be where most angry Norwegians send people, say Kjøss katta (kiss the katt, means go to hell) – mainly in northern parts of Norway. If you’re angry at someone up north, thell them to ‘Kiss the cat!’
  4. Søren klype (F*ck sake) – Søren (the name) is a change from Satan, like in Danish.
  5. Fy Farao – similar to fy flate – fuck.
  6. Fytti katta – A version of fy faen – Fytti (from fy, meaning bad/shame), the -tti added for emphasis or it could be for linguistic reasons, ending on -tti easier in many cases. Katta – the cat. So, here’s the cat again and this time he’s very bad. Similar to ‘f*ck’ – if your angry, ‘Fytti katta’.
All three languages have many similarities in their daily swearing and it is easy to see how connected we all are when you look at our less nice ways of saying things.
  1. Fan – the devil. Used all the time by Swedes. You may also hear Satan, which is stronger, but fan is everyday cursing. Is it bad? No, your boss might well use Fan. And your mother.
  2. Helvete – hell. Again, quite a normal ‘nice’ swear word in Swedish, that just means ‘hell’. Add it together with ‘fan’, though and you have a stronger curse – För fan i helvete! – For the devil in hell! – which would be ‘You missed the bus? For the devil in hell, how annoying’. ‘Dra åt helvete!’ means ‘go to hell’.
  3. Jävla – damn. Used in every day speak, it literally roots in ‘devil’, too. Yes, Scandinavians mainly swear about the devil, have you noticed? You can add jävla to everything. Jävla this and jävla that. Not too strong.  It’s usually the only Swedish curse words the Danes will know so they will add it to say ‘Jävla Svenskar’ and mutter this under their breath when they encounter a drunk Swede in a bar in Copenhagen. It makes them feel like they speak fluent Swedish and that the message has been well and truly delivered (Yes, we know. Sigh. But Danes…) ‘Din jävla idiot!’ is more freely translated: ‘You stupid idiot!’
  4. Skit. This means sh*t. Exactly like the Danish ‘skid’, except in Swedish, Skid mean to ski and has nothing to do with sh*t, but it does confuse Danes when they go skiing in Sweden and there are signs for the Skidskola (sh*t-school), but that’s another story altogether. Just as in Danish, ‘skit’ can use use in front of any word to make it negative (skit också – sh*t too) etc – and if you add ‘bra’ – which means ‘good’ – in front, meaning ‘really great’ (lit:  ‘shit-great’).
  5. Skitstövel: Lit. ‘shit-boot’. Offensive term used to describe a person, like “as*hole”, “f*cker”, or ‘bastard’.
  6. More specific words that are not nice include rövhul (asshole), kuk (c*ck), knullare (f*cker).
    It’s worth mentioning that both Swedes and Norwegians will also use English curse words frequently, but no where near as frequent as the Danish use them.

And that concludes our short helpful curse guide. We accept no responsibility for people getting annoyed with you for swearing in our languages.

17 Little ways to annoy a Scandinavian person

October 16, 2014 | 49 Comments

So, if you happen to work next to one of us and we have irritated you by borrowing your stapler one too many times, here are little ways you can get back at us.

1. Claim that Sweden, Norway and Denmark is all the same


Scandinavia is Denmark, Sweden and Norway. That’s it. Different countries, different languages, different cultures with some similarities. Finland is sometimes included, but officially, it’s not really Scandinavia.

And no, it’s not because we are small countries, either – you can fit the UK into Scandinavia about five times. So why do you still insist on telling us we’re all the same?

2. When you don’t remove your shoes before entering our house


Because we don’t like dirt being dragged all over the house. Except when there’s a party (although, please ask first and never wear heels on our nice wooden floors).

When you go to a Scandinavian house, expect to remove your shoes in the hallway. It will happen, unless we’re feeling too polite to mention it (unlikely: we’re quite direct, if you hadn’t noticed).

3. What? You don’t like COFFEE?


We drink more coffee than anyone else in the whole world. More than the Italians, more than the French… More than anyone. By quite a massive stretch, too.

We drink tons of it. Strong, delicious filter coffee. And we don’t understand why you can only have one cup a day when our veins are constantly pumping like a bad Basshunter tune. In short, we’re wired from morning to night.

4. Insist Danes are Dutch


Far, far away. Not even neighbours.

5. …and Swedes are Swiss

(wait, Switzerland is next to Norway, right?)


Switzerland is Central Europe. They speak 5 languages, none of which are even close to Swedish. Nothing to do with ABBA or Volvo or blondes.

6. Enter into a discussion with us about mixer taps versus single taps.


We will win that discussion. Even if you fight it, we will win it – passionately. There is no way you can win an argument with about the benefit of single taps. We invented Ikea, we are the kings of common sense design.

And don’t start on the carpet in the bathroom…

7. Tell a Norwegian that KitKats are better than KvikkLunsj


This is such an important point, even though it only really affects Norway. KitKats are so not even close to Kvikklunsj. Don’t compare them, don’t tell us KitKats are superior. Don’t go there.

8. Insist that Eurovision is crap, when we know that it clearly is one of the highlights of the year – alongside Christmas and Midsummer.

TO GO WITH AFP PHOTO "Entertainment-Swed

Without Eurovision, you’d have no songs to dance to at the office party. No Dancing Queen, no Mamma Mia, no Money Money Money. Don’t knock it: We gave cheese to you guys. Be grateful.

9. Do you have polar bears in Oslo?

nyhavnsicebear copy

Yes, of course we do. And also roaming the streets of Copenhagen. Some of us keep them as pets, next to our penguins.

10. When you sing the Swedish Chef song from Muppets.

Just don’t.

Say ‘bork, bork, bork’ and we die a little bit inside.

11. Well, you don’t LOOK Swedish/Norwegian/Danish…


I don’t? And you don’t look Welsh, either.

12. “You’re Swedish? I used to have a Danish girlfriend once…”

Wonderful. Read point one.

13. Schedule conference calls at 11 a.m. (our lunchtime)

We have lunch between 11 am and midday, if you let us. We just do.

Try not to interfere with our weirdness about breaks. This also includes trying to interfere with our need for coffee breaks (fika breaks) at least twice a day: One must make time for cake & coffee breaks.

14. Ask us ‘How are you’ and don’t wait for our answer.

Because, trust us, we WILL answer. In great detail and we don’t understand how to read your polite British nods of evil as we explain about our dodgy knee.

You don’t want to know about out knee? Don’t ask us, we won’t mind. It will remove a lot of social awkwardness for us if we just skip  the ‘how are you’ bit.

15. Be late. We hate lateness. Be on time, every time.


16. You’re cold? But you’re Scandinavian!

Yes, and we feel cold. Just like you. Our veins are not made of ice, they are filled with hot Basshunter coffee, remember?

17. Scandinavian? Do you eat herring, like, all the time?

Every day, all the time, breakfast, lunch and dinner.

(Just kidding: we only eat herring for lunch).

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