Thoughts from Denmark


My visit to Denmark last weekend lasted a mere 30 hours, but tiny Aalborg (spelled Aalborg rather than  Århus because the Danes didn’t have the right typewriters at some moment, but also quite a controversial issue to do with anti-German sentiments etc…) was easily explored thanks to some lovely guides.

On the way I was reading preparational material: “The Almost Nearly Perfect People” by Brit Michael Booth. As I had no former experience with Denmark I was mostly struck by several things he wrote about: the incredibly high tax levels (up to 70% of a monthly pay check); the Danish word kaerste is used for both ‘taxes’ as well as ‘darling’.

Also, there were some remarks and anecdotes on Danish safety, society and equality and that people from different classes weren’t as socially seperated – both looked at from a positive as well as negative way. I got to know the notion of Jante Law, according to Wikipedia “the idea that there is a pattern of group behaviour towards individuals within Scandinavian communities that negatively portrays and criticises individual success and achievement as unworthy and inappropriate” .

The following ten rules were first published in 1933 by Aksel Sandemoose to describe this Scandinavian mindset.

1. You’re not to think you are anything special.

2. You’re not to think you are as good as we are.

3. You’re not to think you are smarter than we are.

4. You’re not to convince yourself that you are better than we are.

5. You’re not to think you know more than we do.

6. You’re not to think you are more important than we are.

7. You’re not to think you are good at anything.

8. You’re not to laugh at us.

9. You’re not to think anyone cares about you.

10. You’re not to think you can teach us anything.

Discouraging thinking a lot, yet still intriguing.

It seems rare to have a set of social norms spelled out that radically and to get baptized (categorical imperatives and golden rules just do not have the same dimension to me). I doubt that Danish people make their every decision based on it, yet the term Jante Law seemed to ring a bell to everyone.

Reminding me of a very different video of 70 years later, maybe Jante Law could be the next export hit to a very individualistic society after LEGO and Skype. Whether that is better or not – we are not to think. Or are we?