Tag Archives: Nørth

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.

Top Scandi Superstitions

October 26, 2017 | Leave a comment


Top Scandi Superstitions

Every culture has superstitions – and of course, Scandinavia is no exception – in our countries, old wives’ tales and superstitions still reign today. Everybody knows about not walking under a ladder, not putting new shoes on the table and not opening the umbrella indoors, but Scandinavians have a few of their own unique ones. Here are some of the best. Feel free to add your own in the comments – we’d love to hear more!

The black cat
In Scandinavia, a black cat is unlucky. In Sweden and Norway, if a black cat crosses your path, you have to spit three times to ward off evil spirits. An alternative is to just say ‘tvi-tvi- tvi’ over your shoulder instead. Either way, to be avoided.

A wonky slice of cake
In Denmark, if you cut a slice of cake and it falls on its side as you serve it, the recipient will end up with an all-round crazy mother-in-law. In Sweden, if the cake falls to the side as you accept it, you’ll never get married. Slightly contradictory if you put the two together. Either way, you’ll either not get married or your life will be made hell by a bonkers mother-in-law. Lesson: do not eat cake.

Flags after sunset
In Denmark, if you forget to take the flag down from the flagpole in your garden, you’re said to be raising the flag for the Devil. You don’t want to be THAT guy.

Keys on the table
In Sweden, you must never put your keys on the table; it is considered very bad luck. Once you delve into the history of this, however, the origin of this superstition is that, back in the day, prostitutes used to indicate their availability by placing their keys on the table. After a while, it became bad luck to do so, seeing as people would not want to be thought of in that way. Even today, a Swede will hand you back your keys if you place them on the dining table (but few will know why).

Break a leg
In Norway, instead of saying ‘break a leg’ , people say ‘tvi-tvi’.

The number thirteen – Scandi version
In Norse mythology, twelve gods were invited to dine at the table in Valhalla. Loki, the mischievous god and shape-shifter, crashed the party and made it thirteen – and everything went to pieces. Lots of fighting. Baldr the Beautiful (god of joy and gladness) was killed with a mistletoe arrow because Loki made Hodr the Blind do it. As Christianity took hold in the centuries that followed the Vikings, the old Norse legends were reinforced in the form of the Last Supper, Jesus and Judas and thirteen at the table.

Touch wood
People all over the world like to touch wood to prevent bad things from happening or tempting fate. In Denmark, if you’ve said something to tempt fate, you knock three times under the table (under, never on) and say the numbers ‘syv-ni-tretten’ (‘seven-nine- thirteen’) – one number per knock. It’s a sort of double security with some lucky and some unlucky numbers in there. The number seven is thought to be lucky, nine is the number of worlds in old Norse mythology and thirteen is generally considered unlucky. In Sweden, people say ‘Peppar, peppar ta i trä’ (‘Pepper, pepper, knock on wood’) to be extra-safe. The knock on wood/touch wood superstition has pagan origins, from the spirits and creatures who inhabited the woods – knocking on tree trunks would awaken them for protection.

Read more in Bronte’s book Nørth – out now in all good bookshops. Go on, have a peek here – it’s rather informative.

How to Queue

October 12, 2017 | Leave a comment


How to Queue

There are rumours that British people are really good at queuing. This may be so – but the Swedes especially take it to a whole different level.

People in Scandinavia generally like order in things. Things should have rules and rules should be followed. This is, of course, why the rules were made in the first place and it keeps people happy. Except when it comes to queuing. Here, the Norwegians and the Danes take a side step and let the Swedes proceed at full, organised speed.

Danes and Norwegians, with all the good intentions, know the queues are for the greater good. They will stand and follow the queue, whilst simultaneously trying to work out how to beat it in a nice, fair (undetectable) way. This is the same in England: People know the queues work, they know they should follow them, but still want to try and get ahead (although nobody would ever attempt cheating). Not so in Sweden, where the underlying belief is that if one person should suffer in a queue, everyone should suffer and we must stand together – and queue. Fair wins.

People in Sweden do not spend more time queuing than anywhere else, it is just very organised and everybody have to do their bit.

The biggest queue you will ever encounter in Sweden is the queue at the state run alcohol shops, Systembolaget. These, especially at high seasons, can run extremely long – and there are no ticket machines. If you are ever planning to buy alcohol for Christmas, it is highly recommend you plan your purchases far in advance and get there as soon as the shop opens. Like several weeks before.

Upon entering a Swedish shop, Government office or any other place where queues might potentially form, one must take a number from a little machine. These are the same numbering machines that were used in the UK in the eighties, but by and large disappeared a few years later and replaced by old fashioned honest queuing. These tickets machines are actually a Swedish invention. They are found in every sort of shop, from the cheese monger to the butchers to the pharmacy and the local government office or even your rental car place. Anywhere that potential queues might form, there will be a machine. Even if you are the only person there, you take a number because nobody will see you until your number flashes and they call it out, like Bingo.

If you go to a place and see a massive line, you are allowed to take a number and leave the shop, planning your return later – if you time it to perfection, you win the game. If you are 15 seconds late, you miss your window and you get to take a new number and start again. There is no mercy if you play the Russian Roulette of Swedish Queuing.

One area where ticket machines have avoided being installed is at bus stops. Here, the Swedes are on their own in the nature, without the safety of little pieces of paper with a number on it.

In this situation, an orderly queue will form, but you will not know it is a queue because there is an unwritten law that you must keep a space of at least 1,5 metres to the next person, as to avoid any possible conversation or interaction or – god forbid – small talk about the weather. This spacing of people causes extremely long queues along the train platforms or bus stops, sometimes stretching entire platforms. They do not look like queues, but do not be fooled: They are. You must follow the system as to avoid the angry cough or “The Stare”.

Once the bus arrives, people huddle closer and try to remember the place in the queue. If you go wrong, you will hear the angry cough. Nobody will say anything, but you will know they know – and that you know they know. So you try to will fit in, because it matters. This is Sweden, after all: It’s for the greater good of all. Destruction of society could well start with a bad queue – don’t risk it.

Like this kind of stuff? Read more like it in Bronte’s book Nørth – out now. Get it signed from us.

How to give your apartment the ‘Copenhagen’ look

October 6, 2017 | Leave a comment


How to give your apartment the ‘Copenhagen’ look

When you first go to Copenhagen and you visit someone’s apartment, you usually end up in awe … ‘Are they interior designers?’ you ask yourself. ‘What style!’ you exclaim, tearing up your insides as you try to forget about your own bedsit hovel with magnolia coloured walls. Then you visit someone else, and you think ‘Oh, this place looks quite like Søren and Sofie’s’. Third time around, you know: there is a ‘style’. It’s a thing.

Ten ways to make your apartment instantly look ‘Copenhagen’ fab:

1. Rip up all carpets and sand your floors. Then paint them white.

2. Paint all your walls white. Yes, all of them, white. If there is a shade of white called ‘Scandinavian white’ or ‘Ringsted white’ or ‘Vesterbro white’, go for that, it’s probably whiter and better with even more white added, so go for that.

3. Paint all your skirting boards and doors white.

4. Remove all curtains and traces of curtains, because you no longer need them. If you can’t live without window coverings, add some (white or neutral) stylish blinds, but make sure that, when they are rolled up, you can’t see them.
 It must look like you have no curtains. Curtains are bad.

5. Get one colourful statement chair, ideally by a designer from Denmark. Anything with the word Jacobsen or Wegner is good. It will cost the same as a remote village, but it will be worth it because it’s just so beautiful and perfect. Buy a woolly sheepskin from a remote farm in Sweden and add this to said statement chair.

6. Have one normal chair next to your sofa where you add a stack of books or magazines with pictures of bearded men. Leave them there, in an ordered unordered fashion.

7. Put just one green plant in the window.

8. Your sofa must be a tasteful colour or stick to black. It must also be simple – none of this ‘all the way to the floor’ business. Legs – and nothing underneath. People must be able to see you have nothing stored under there and that your stylish white floors are also stylish and white under the sofa. Thou shalt not add too many cushions.

9. Add all or some of the following: one rug (can be colourful), one or two designer posters of designer things (drawings of chairs or statues). One standing lamp (tasteful, sleek). The coffee table must be in front of the sofa and it must have thin legs. Two candle holders (the metal kind, from Illums Bolighus) OR one Lassen candle holder, one Lyngby Vase and one Kähler vase. The bookshelf is allowed to be from IKEA, but must be ‘Is it really from IKEA or not?’

10. Hide your TV in a sleek hideaway “I never watch it anyway” place, or even better, don’t have one.

This is an extract from Bronte’s book Nørth – How to live Scandinavian, now all in all good bookshops – and also available in our shop and online. Photo by Anna Jacobsen.

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