If you’ve spent any time travelling in Scandinavia, you probably heard of the concept of Janteloven or the Law of Jante. Known as Janteloven in both Danish and Norwegian, Jantelagen in Swedish, Jante laki in Finnish and Jantelögin in Icelandic, this concept illustrates a social code specific to the Nordic region.
The concept originated in the 1930s through a satirical novel “A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks” (En flyktning krysser sitt spor) written by the Danish-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose. The novel portrays a fictitious town called Jante, originally inspired by Sandemoses hometown on the island of Mors.
The city of Jante is populated by a small local community who lives under 10 unspoken rules:
- You’re not to think you are anything special.
- You’re not to think you are as good as we are.
- You’re not to think you are smarter than we are.
- You’re not to imagine yourself better than we are.
- You’re not to think you know more than we do.
- You’re not to think you are more important than we are.
- You’re not to think you are good at anything.
- You’re not to laugh at us.
- You’re not to think anyone cares about you.
- You’re not to think you can teach us anything.
These social rules narrate the everyday life of the citizens of Jante, and diverging from any of them is regarded as a punishable act. The hive mind of the collective of a small town is quick to judge any individual who stands out in any way, which is why the individuals are coerced into following these laws through fear. Any sign of individual creativity, self-esteem, aspiration, courage, critical thinking and humour is brought to the light only to be narrowed down to fit a tiny box ensuring no one’s ego is boosted enough to jeopardize the community. Rather than seeing this communal life as sympathetic and supportive, the author views it as discouraging, estranging and suffocating. In order for “us” to exist, there needs to be a few “me”, right?
Luckily for us, the 1930s are long gone and by now society has changed drastically, as did the concept of Janteloven which got softer and is primarily used to say “Don’t show off”, or “Don’t think you’re something special”. And although the fear and the strictness in abiding these rules have disappeared, it’s core idea still stands – the idea that we should focus on “us” instead of “me”. This is exactly where we can discover a link between Jantevolen and tourism.
In our era dominated by social media, travelling is often seen as a way to stand out from the others. Capturing photos from impossible angles, posing in front of the most famous attractions, showing off our perfect travel lifestyles – people will go to great lengths to make their lives seem perfect, often without really thinking their actions through. You shouldn’t start filming for your Youtube channel while attending a ceremony in a Buddhist temple, trespass a Synagogue just to snap a few photos or venture into an Icelandic storm without proper gear and winds of 30 m/s to continue your journey. You need to think things through – for you sake and the sake of others. That’s where you can learn from Janteloven. Respect the unspoken rules of the collective while focusing on your own self-development, as well as the betterment of your surroundings. Jantevolen (The laws of Jante) are to be kept in mind when travelling, especially when they benefit your safety and enrich the culture, environment and economy of the host country you’re visiting.
You create your own rules, but make sure they are responsible, sustainable and morally right.