The Law

We’re having visitors from New York, and they brought with them the brilliant Time Out Copenhagen guide. Here’s a quote:

If you ever find yourself wanting to open a can of worms in the company of Danes ask them about Janteloven, the Law of Jante. Jantelov is a uniquely Danish phenomenon created by the misanthropic writer, Aksel Sandemose. His 1933 novel En flygtning krydser sit spor (A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks) is set in a fictional Danish town called Jante. Based on his experiences of small-town Danish life, Sandemose depicted Jante as a suffocatingly law-ridden rown for oppressively small-minded people (and the writer eventually upped and left for Sweden). (Lars: Norway, wasn’t it?)

Jantelov essentially distils Denmark’s collectivist, conformist, homogenous nature and blends it with Sandemose’s unique outlook. Its basic tenets include: “Thou shalt not presume that thou art any wiser than us” (no. 3); and “Thou shalt not presume that thou are going to amount to anything” (no. 8). Generally, “getting above oneself” is frowned upon; instead, modesty and understatement is the accepted norm.

Though it is a fictional creation, many Danes still genuinely believe Jantelov to be a Medieval creed. You should never underestimate the influence of Janteloven – it pervades all of Danish society, much to the irritation of the current queen who has spoken out against its self-defeating influence. It is why, for example, everyone drives egalitarian Peugeots as opposed to exclusive Mercedes (the preserve of taxi drivers). If a Dane does buy a Mercedes, he should be prepared to put up with friends asking “How much is the fare to the aitport?”, by way of a joke. As hard as it might be for foreigners to understand, Danes genuinely find it embarrassing if one of their friends exhibits their greater wealth in such a way.

In other words, Danes are masters of the tall poppy syndrome, though they prefer to describe it using an old Danish proverb: “The higher up a monkey climbs, the more you see of its bottom.” (Though exceptions are made for the Danish football team, Victor Borge, and other popular heroes.)

Though Jantelov is more closely adhered to in the provinces, do not be fooled by thrusting, cosmopolitan Copenhageners who claim it has no place in their modern lives. Scratch the surface of the city, and Jantelov isn’t far beneath.

See also how this is influencing me.


Andreas Ryge

Another description of Danes I've also came across a discription of Danes, that described them as a bottle of ketchup. I can't remember the exact phrase, but it went something like this: At first you get nothing, but when you get to know them, It'll come poring out.
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Bernt Corfixen Sorensen

Mr. Bernt C. Sorensen http:www.cashbuilder.com/denmark.html My first personal contact with the law of Jante was in school where it often occurred that bigger boys would say: “Du tror maaske du er noget” translated: "perhaps you think you are something special", which in other words are to say you think you are better than us. These were fighting words which meant you had to fight often until blood was flowing, in my case usually from the nose. It was not until my nose had been broken so many times that it had permanently disfigured my face I finally managed to gain my school mates' respect and friendship. My father, who worked hard and was a good provider for his family, successfully spurred his sons on to work towards making something worthwhile of themselves. Personally I soon realised that to reach my ambitions goal I would have to emigrate. Hence after graduating from the business college “Tietgenskolen” in 1956, without anything other than a single ticket plus the clothes I was wearing I travelled to Australia onboard an emigrant ship. My first job was cold canvassing electric appliances from door to door. Then I took on a selling job for a British company where I gradually advanced to become International Marketing Director, a job necessitating an average of 300 days of international travelling per year. As is natural with so many travelling days it would be impossible to live a married life, had it not been because I had my British born wife with me as my constant travelling companion. After several debilitating attach of tropical diseases and 11 years of constant travelling, my wife became both mentally and physically so ill, that doctors demanded she settled down in a home of her own until she had regained her health sufficiently to travel with me again on a part time basis. As my wife had no family of her own who could look after her, and I still had a mother and four brothers in Denmark, it was decided to inquire with the Danish Authorities whether it would be possible for my wife to get the required home in Denmark. The permission was granted in writing by the Danish Taxation Authorities, whilst at the same time I was given rules in regard to the number of days I could visit her per year without becoming personally taxable to Denmark of my foreign earned income. During a visit to Denmark in July 1984 I was stopped on the road by the police, and in spite of having adhered 100% to the rules given me, and without having done anything wrong whatsoever, I was incarcerated in solitary confinement for three months until my case was being dealt with by the court. During the court proceedings I was found not guilty of the original charge that I should have been in Denmark longer than permitted, but only to be found guilty of a trumped up charge introduced at the very moment the judge passed sentence, thereby being effectively prevented from preparing my defence. It was during my case I for the first time learned that although the Law of Jante is an unwritten law in the legal system, it was still used by the prosecution to get me convicted of a crime I had not committed. The method used to get me convicted was simple enough, the prosecutor (a woman) put pictures of my foreign registered car and my wife’s home in front of the jurymen and the judge, she furthermore perjured herself by lying about the way I lived, my job etc. The countries where I had worked and the hotels where I had stayed became holiday resorts. The court was told that I was a member of Danish clubs I did not even know existed, and that I was a regular customer in Danish shops where I had only made a single purchase. Because of my frequent use of certain hotel chains, companies such as Inter-Continental Hotels, Holiday In, Crest Hotels and others had provided me with special VIP cards which ensured quick in and out bookings plus up grated accommodation to double more luxurious rooms at the price of cheapest rate or single rooms, naturally I therefore always booked the more comfortable double rooms with the bigger beds, as it did not cost me anything extra. Although this was innocent enough and had absolutely nothing to do with any charge against me, it made the prosecutor claim that I was cheating on my wife by having another person with me in hotel rooms. These claims were designed to slander my moral and character in order to create antipathy against me in the eyes of the jurymen and the judge. The many false claims were easy enough to disprove, but I was unable to disprove any of them because of two reasons; Firstly, because up to the actual court hearing I had no idea of the many lies and slanderous claims the prosecutor would advance against me. Secondly, even if I had known, being incarserated in solitary confinement I had no chance of disproving the false claims. In the appeals court where I met up with all the counter-proof, I was merely told that these matters had already been dealt with in the City Court and could therefore not bee taken up anew in the High Court. That is the Law of Jante at it’s worse, furthermore it is violations of Human Rights.
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