11 August 2011

The Jante Law

Honoring evil with attention is a merely a way of enabling it. For this very reason I have been avoiding the most obvious of subjects, when it comes to Denmark: the Jante Law. Nothing pains me more than even speaking its name, or spelling out the ridiculous commandments, but despite my efforts it flourishes like never before, so let's face the sucker head on:

The Jante Law
1. Don't think you are special.
2. Don't think you are as good as us.
3. Don't think you are smarter than us.
4. Don't tell yourself you are better than us.
5. Don't think you know more than us.
6. Don't think you are more than us.
7. Don't think you excel 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.

You encounter the effect of these "commandments" on a daily basis. When someone makes it big in for example sports, music or movies they are saluted. For all of five minutes they are one of us. And then it hits: one misstep and they get their nose rubbed in it forever. The full extent of the Jante Law is especially felt by those returning after years abroad, who quickly learn that speaking of ones accomplishments is simply not done. It is considered as rude as farting in public. If you want to blend in and build a network, you must understate everything and if need be practice false modesty.

It is not like we are the only ones enforcing the Jante Law, apparently it is widespread in our fellow Scandinavian countries too, and in other parts of the world it is known as the Tall Poppy Syndrome. But it is almost religiously enforced in Denmark. In many ways it is the complete opposite of the United States, where people cheer you on, and where tooting your own horn is even encouraged. Success is shared, and is rigthly considered contagious. But here?

August 11th 2011

Intet glemt, intet tilgivet

Jagtvej 69

Don't think you are special, don't tell yourself you are better than us, don't think you can teach us anything...

It was so beautiful.

Link to Obey's own footage at the Street Art News blog.

(Warning: getting through it without violating the eighth commandment is impossible)

***** for the record*****

I am and have been for preserving the Youth House every step of the way. Selling and tearing it down was a disgrace, one of the biggest and arguably most expensive mistakes the city ever made. Previous posts on the Youth House here, here, here and here.



Following his attack Shepard Fairey set things straight with a two post recap of his trip to Copenhagen.

Part one, good (on ObeyGiant)
Part two, bad (on Huffington Post)


  1. Wow, that was fast. Yesterday I was just the white paint (the highest stain). I see this kind of behaviour everwhere - I remember how pissed off I was when someone did it to a very cool Banksy's work in Bristol - but I think that in some sense it can be advantage:) I mean learning enjoying things as they last, not being attached to the effcts of our work, and see art as a dynamic, fleeting phenomenon, not as something concrete and tangible, belonging to this plan of existence. Otherwise our fuse might get blown too easly;)

  2. Hi Martin, it was super fast, it evolves constantly, nobody can seem to agree on what is best for this wall. An old man standing next to me as I was shooting called it necrophilia. I am not sure which layer of it he was referring to, maybe all of them.

    Of course you are right, I am going to bust an artery if I keep worrying about things outside my control. At least I got to see it done, it was so beautiful.

    And destroying a Banksy? Here goes another heart attack..

  3. Den sag bliver bare ved med at udvikle sig...jeg har snart mistet overblikket.

  4. Ja, det må være som Martin siger: vi må glæde os over det vi fik. Det var helt vildt fantastisk at stå op af sådan et rødt chock.

  5. Ja - er glad for jeg fik et billede af det oprindelige, også selvom det kun er på telefonen.

    Til gengæld er det jo så absurd at nogen overfaldte ham i fredags!

  6. Og det er netop det der er så typisk Jante. Så massivt ondt i røven over andres succes, det bliver ikke mere provensielt end det. Flovt.

  7. Ja, jeg har virkelig skammet mig den sidste uge. Og blevet så sur, hver gang nogen har talt på vegne af Nørrebros borgere, som om vi alle var imod!

  8. Åh, præcis! Dem der råber højest bliver hørt. Så er det godt at man har en blog man kan brede sig på. Jeg elsker det stykke peace stadigvæk, det er som om at fuglen triumferer trods alt.

  9. Ja. Det er også sådan man skal tænke! Tak fordi du har brugt din blog i denne her sag, det har været rart at følge med!

  10. Åh, selvtak. Det er dejligt at vide at andre også interesserer sig for det samme. Jeg elsker den her blog helt uhæmmet, haha.

  11. Shepard wrote a great article about the whole thing here.


  12. Hi Anonymous,

    for the utmost accuracy, I am going to refer to Fairey's own blog post:


    I am going to find a spot for that link in one of the next posts. Just to set the record straight.

  13. Ah, just now realize it is the same post we are talking about, it has just been published on Huffington Post's page. So there.

  14. Ohhh I didn't thought so, but I really miss the cheerfulness of the US. The french don't seem as bad as what you describe, but still, they put you down in a minute. Someone delivered me appliances today, and the way they were talking to me, I was thinking, did I do something wrong to that man? Then I realized, it is just the French way. I have obviously some adjustments to make, and I'm sadfor the Obey wall, it was great.

  15. Hi Carole, I love the cheerfulness of the US too, and I love meeting Americans when they travel. It took me a lot of visits to warm up to Paris, but now I sometimes miss it so much it hurts.

    The Obey wall was great, I agree, but the surviving part is still good. The tempers don't look to be calming down on this issue anytime soon, it is way out of proportion.

  16. As an American who is ethic Finnish, Swedish and Norwegian, I had never heard of Jante's Law until recently. It felt immediately familiar and comfortable to me. I don't think it is so negative and creepy and other may view it. See my comments below in CAPS:

    Don't think you're anything special. BE HUMBLE
    Don't think you're as good as us. ?? AVOID SMARMINESS AND INAPPROPRIATE ARROGANCE....
    Don't think you're smarter than us. YOU DON'T KNOW EVERYTHING.
    Don't convince yourself that you're better than us. HAVE HUMILITY.
    Don't think you are more important than us. EVERYONE IS IMPORTANT IN THEIR OWN WAY.
    Don't think you are good at anything. DON'T BE A BRAGGART OR THINK THAT YOU ARE BETTER THAN OTHER PEOPLE.
    Don't laugh at us. NOT ACCEPTABLE TO MOCK OTHERS.
    Don't think anyone cares about you. DON'T BE A WHINER. SUCK IT UP. DON'T IMPOSE ON OTHERS.
    Don't think you can teach us anything. DON'T BE PREACHY. STAY OUT OF OTHER PEOPLE'S BUSINESS.

    1. As an American NOT of Scandinavian heritage, (But who oddly enough, lives in an area full of Scandinavian-Americans), it's not that comfortable to me. In fact, it punishes success.

      When my family moved up here, we were dirt poor immigrants. We became successful in a short amount of time. Our culture values hard work and frugality, as well as being proud of the fruits of our labor.

      Guess what happened when we were proud of the fruits of our labor? The long knives came out. People secretly hate my family because of how we "brag". Well screw them, it's not our fault that we don't spend money on stupid crap like they do.

      Also... I used to be homeless 2 years ago. Now, I'm working multiple jobs, I have a place in the nice part of town, I own a bunch of high-end electronics, I own a closet full of designer suits, i have a designer watch, a nice car and a fleet of expensive bicycles. My old friends all hate me now. For the very same reason: I dared to celebrate my success.

  17. Hi pblack02,

    Every scripture is open for interpretation, it is nice that you think of it like that, but living in a country where the Law of Jante is enforced, I can only say that it is predominantly used for oppression.

  18. Ok, so now I'll go for my 3rd attempt to comment :-)
    pblack02: your interpretation is admirably positive, however not possible.

    What you - and probably (or so it seems) the majority of people debating the Jante Law - don't seem to know is that the Jante Law is not a law in the original prescribing sense. It is not similar to the ten commandments - as in rules you should follow.
    The term derives from a literary piece where it used descriptively to show how small societies (and all is relative - so this can also mean a whole country) act and think. It is a description of our behavioral pattern.

    We do not only enforce it. We create it - we add to the existence of the "law".

    Therefore you cannot interpret it the way you do. You can perhaps interpret our actions this way, but not the concept :-)


  19. I am an American living for the last 5 years in a small town in Iceland. For the longest time I couldn't figure out why this town was sooooooooooo dead! Nothing ever happens in this community of over 1000 residents. But discovering the Jante Law just about sums up perfectly the attitude and helps explain why no one dares to stick out, or change things or try something new. And while no one likes a braggart, Jante Law takes things to the extreme where nobody dares to be different and it is very oppressive. Thank goodness Reykjavik seems to be able to break out of the mold for the most part. I also lived in Denmark for about 3 years mostly during the 90s. I remember so well when fashion made a dramatic change from the colourful 80s to the monotone 90s. Suddenly EVERY shop only carried, white, black, and tan clothes and Doc Martin boots were all the rage. Everyone went for it like the obedient sheep that they are in Denmark when it comes to fashion. There was not the slightest feeling of freedom of expression unless you were a real rebel and didn't mind sticking out like a sore thumb. I hope things have changed there by now! Oppressive really is the only word for it.

    1. These days you can pretty much dress any way you please in Copenhagen. If anything, no one cares, and that actually takes away some of the fun. I always love to see someone experiment and dress up differently. When it comes to fashion, Jante takes a back seat, at least that is how I see it.

    2. Maybe Janteloven is not present anymore in the Danish fashion... but it is still in the everyday life.


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