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Nordic FAQ - 2 of 7 - NORDEN
Section - 2.6 The essence of Nordishness

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   The Nordic states, cultures or languages are of course very different
   if judged by us Nordeners ourself. :->> But seen from the outside the
   cultural characteristics are not more different than we all well could
   have belonged to the same nation. Not quite seriously, I here use the
   unconventional term "Nordishness" for the characteristics of us - as
   if Norden had been one state or nation.
  2.6.1 What is Janteloven?
   The word "Janteloven" occasionally pops up in s.c.n, often with no
   hint given as to what it's supposed to mean since apparently it's
   common knowledge in most Nordic countries. Not so with the rest of the
   world, however, or Finland for that matter, so a brief explanation
   warrants a place. It derives from the the novel "En flygtning krysser
   sitt spor" ("A refugee crosses his tracks") by the Norwegian/Danish
   author Aksel Sandemose. The book takes place in an imaginary Danish
   small town called Jante, based on Sandemose's hometown Nykøbing Mors.
   The book is about the ugly sides of Scandinavian smalltown mentality,
   and the term "Janteloven" meaning "the Jante Law" has come to mean the
   unspoken rules and jealousy of such communities in general.
   The form and style of the Ten Commandments in Norwegian are
   "straight," i.e. unencumbered by the "thous" and "thys" of the older
   English translations of the Bible. I've made the assumption that
   Sandemose deliberately chose 10 laws and that his style was
   intentionally reminiscent of the Ten Commandments. It's also
   interesting to note that the Ten Commandments (and the other laws of
   Leviticus) are often referred to as Moseloven (or the Mosaic Law) in
   Also, there are some messages that are implied in these laws that are
   not explicit.I've included those in brackets so as to convey the
   meaning better, although they should properly be construed as
   editorializing on my part.
   This translation of the Jante Laws was suggested by Leif Knutsen
   (except that I replaced "venture to think" with "to presume", as
   suggested by someone in the group):
  The Jante Law
    1. Du skal ikke tro at du *er* noe.
       Thou shalt not presume that thou art anyone [important].
    2. Du skal ikke tro at du er like saa meget som *oss*.
       Thou shalt not presume that thou art as good as us.
    3. Du skal ikke tro at du er klokere en *oss*.
       Thou shalt not presume that thou art any wiser than us.
    4. Du skal ikke innbille deg du er bedre enn *oss*.
       Thou shalt never indulge in the conceit of imagining that thou art
       better than us.
    5. Du skal ikke tro du vet mere enn *oss*.
       Thou shalt not presume that thou art more knowledgeable than us.
    6. Du skal ikke tro du er mere enn *oss*.
       Thou shalt not presume that thou art more than us [in any way].
    7. Du skal ikke tro at *du* duger til noe.
       Thou shalt not presume that that thou art going to amount to
    8. Du skal ikke le av *oss*.
       Thou art not entitled to laugh at us.
    9. Du skal ikke tro at noen bryr seg om *deg*.
       Thou shalt never imagine that anyone cares about thee.
   10. Du skal ikke tro at du kan lære *oss* noe.
       Thou shalt not suppose that thou can teach us anything.
  2.6.2 A Nordic national character?
   Since nordishness can be depicted only in contrast to other cultural
   patterns, the following features have been collected among immigrants
   to Sweden, as representative for their impression of their new
   compatriots. The cultural anthropologist Åke Daun has written quite a
   few articles and books on this topic in the Swedish language. The
   following is an attempt to concentrate the most important of his
   Many point out how they never get invited to neighbors or colleagues.
   This is easy to interpret as a suppressed hostility, i.e. as
   xenophobia or discrimination. To a limited extent such interpretations
   might be justified, but it could also be explained by the social
   pattern among the Swedes. Also Nordeners can be good colleagues - year
   after year - without this making them meeting privately. We tend to
   draw a clear border between our private life on one side with a few
   close friends and a bunch of relatives, and on the other side social
   contacts with others. To one's home one receives siblings with
   families maybe an old schoolmate or some friend since the childhood,
   and maybe one or two "recent" friends with their families, for
   instance a former or actual neighbor or colleague.
   But it's typical how this circle is rather narrow and additionally
   stable over the years. A consequence is that it's rather hard for
   newcomers to a town or a village to break into such a narrow circle,
   particularly for aliens.
   This feature is enforced by the strong tendency among Swedes to
   achieve socio-cultural homogeneity. Another typical Nordic feature
   contributes to this tendency: the wish for conflict free encounters in
   the private life.
   Swedes are particularly prone to achieve consensus in attitudes and
   opinions, and avoid socializing with others than like-minded people.
   Confrontations are regarded as particularly unpleasant. Nordeners are
   not curious enough to balance for this fear for the different. We do
   also not believe ourselves to be interesting enough to wake the
   curiousness of others, and to compensate for this there must be food
   and beverages, and maybe particular activities, when meeting others.
   Another feature worth to note is shyness, which is particularly
   prevalent among Finns and Scandinavians. People feel inhibited around
   others one doesn't know well, and one is very observant on one's own
   behavior since it is regarded as very important to control which
   impression others get of oneself. Among less well known people, one
   gets extra careful since it is harder to anticipate their perceptions
   and reactions.
   Another reason to not visiting others and not inviting others is the
   high requirement one wish to comply to regarding food and cleanliness
   when foreigners visit one's home. To feel comfortable with foreigners
   at home, one needs a long time for emotional and practical
   A sign of the borderline between the private sphere and work is the
   Nordic resistance against small talk about private matters with
   strangers, which has been reported to be a great hinder in business
   contacts in foreign countries.
   The lack of passions strangers might perceive in Nordics is surely
   both reflecting a genuine trait and the fact that most strangers don't
   meet Nordics in a context the Nordics would regard as private and
   unrestrained (except for drunk appearances - see section 2.10!).
   Rational reasons have a strong precedence over for emotional reasons.
   Emotions are not at all disapproved in all contexts, but they are
   regarded as "pure" emotions of no further value than to signal one's
   general unhappiness with life or fate.
   Quietness is regarded as the commonly accepted norm, and noisy fellows
   are strongly disapproved. Vociferous stubbornness is deemed as very
   ill-mannered. As is interrupting and talking in the mouth of others.
   The Nordic ideal is to think twice before one speaks, and to utter
   only one's most firm beliefs, and only when there is a considered
   intention. What one says is remembered for ages, and if one says
   something stupid or "wrong" it will be proof of one's stupidness and
   general incompetence,
   ...and can be used against one in encounters ages afterward...
   To be kind and good-natured is important. One prefer to be quiet or
   agreeable instead of uttering an opposing opinion, unless one really
   aims at hurting.
   Leaving the professional ethnologist Åke Daun aside, we can note how
   the Norwegians and the Finns, who gained independence first in the
   20:th century tend to be much more nationalistic than Danes or Swedes.
   Tor Slettnes points out how Norwegians are generally strongly affected
   by their own culture. Norwegian national romanticism has of course its
   roots in the independence movements from Denmark, Sweden, and German
   occupants, and is much more accepted and appreciated by Norwegians
   themselves, than by outsiders. Because nationalism often (in Germany,
   Sweden, USA etc) has been a political taboo, later to be picked up by
   anti-establishment semi-nazi groups, citizens of these places might
   find the Norwegian national pride hard to swallow.
   ...oh, and I almost forgot! Nordeners usually think we are very good
   at upbringing children, condemning the "cold" and unfriendly attitudes
   to children in for instance France or the UK. Spanking of children is
   not acceptable anymore, and actually unlawful in most countries.

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