Danish Diaries – We are Equals

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Danish Diaries – We are Equals

I sometimes still cannot believe that it has been more than four months since I came to Denmark. Every day, there is something that I keep learning. Even though I wish I could write down and share everything, it is humanly impossible. Still, there is a lot to share. Talking of sharing, we live in this crazy world of social media where it exploits the human nature for the need of appreciation. In general, we would all like to brag at least a little. You must be wondering by now why I’m talking about something that is common knowledge. That is simply because today’s topic is the legendary Janteloven (pronounced Yan-de-lo-ven) or the Law of Jante.

The same for everyone because average is okay!

It might not seem legendary to anyone outside the Scandinavia, but this concept is widespread in Denmark. First, it is not a law in the constitution of the country. A social idea that children learn pretty early in their life and carry over as adults. Many even say that this the reason for Denmark being repeatedly voted as the world’s happiest country (talk about being consistent in a good way!)

Children are given the space to adapt socially first and then academically

The history of this Law belongs to literature. The Jante Law as a concept was created by the Dano-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose who, in his novel, A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks (En flyktning krysser sitt spor, 1933), identified the Law of Jante as ten rules. Sandemose’s novel portrays the small Danish town Jante (modelled upon his native town Nykobing Mors as it was at the beginning of the 20th century, but typical of all the little towns and communities), where nobody is anonymous. Sandemose wrote about the working class in the town of Jante, a group of people of the same social position. He expressly stated in later books that the social norms of Jante were universal and not intended to depict any particular town or country. It should be understood that Sandemose was seeking to formulate and describe attitudes that had already been part of the Danish and Norwegian psyche for centuries. The power of literature is mind blowing – a fictional concept was brought to life. Not just to play a small part but the centre stage of daily living. It consists of 10 rules almost like the ten commandments which are as follows:

1. Du skal ikke tro, du er noget. (You’re not to think you are anything special.)
2. Du skal ikke tro, at du er lige så meget som os.(You’re not to think you are as good as we are.)
3. Du skal ikke tro, at du er klogere end os. (You’re not to think you are smarter than we are.)
4. Du skal ikke bilde dig ind, at du er bedre end os. (You’re not to imagine yourself better than we are.)
5. Du skal ikke tro, at du ved mere end os. (You’re not to think you know more than we do.)
6. Du skal ikke tro, at du er mere end os. (You’re not to think you are more important than we are.)
7. Du skal ikke tro, at du dur til noget. (You’re not to think you are good at anything.)
8. Du skal ikke le ad os. (You’re not to laugh at us.)
9. Du skal ikke tro, at nogen bryder sig om dig. (You’re not to think anyone cares about you.)
10. Du skal ikke tro, at du kan lære os noget. (You’re not to think you can teach us anything.)

The story of Aarhus portrayed on the Central Church for all to see and learn

It seems insane to us that you cannot consider yourself unique or plaster your child’s achievement onto the world. A very alien concept even to me when I heard it for the first time. On the other hand, it explained why Danes would not talk about their personal experiences like conquests in spite of having amazing experiences! In a podcast by Kay Xander Mellish, author of How to Live in Denmark, she talks about raising children with the Jante Law. The following is an excerpt from that podcast:

Ice skating or Art for fun – your choice in Denmark

“The Jante Law is part of all Danish education. There’s no elite education here, no advanced, or gifted and talented programs. If your child is better than the others on an individual subject, his job is to help the students who are not as good. If you come from a very competitive society – the US, the UK, China, India – that can be a bit of a shock. There’s no competition in Danish education. The kids work in groups. There are no competitive schools you have to fight to get into. There’s almost no standardised testing until the kids are 15 or 16. And there are relatively few tests within the daily school lessons. In Danish school, your child’s social life is considered what’s most important. Does she have friends? Can she get along with the other kids in the class? Does he like to go to school? Does he fit in? The idea is that if a child is socially comfortable in school, if he or she wants to go to school, then academic success will follow.”

Follow your passions without judgement

The assumption popping in your head right now is a dark picture of conformity and nothing spectacular coming out of this system. You could not be further than the truth. I meet people every day who do what they are passionate about without being judged about it. I really cannot decide what people do just by looking at them. It sends out this powerful message that you can be different, you can be you, and that uniqueness is not brought under scrutiny because of the Jante Law. Danes are ambitious, and there are successful Danes all around the world. Only thing – they are not carrying a swagger and a halo around them. It puts people around them at ease (it is a personal observation and experience). I could enter the first class not having students and teachers have a load of expectation about me but rather build myself through the semester.

Ironically, this reminds me of the concept of ‘taking the middle road’ that is taught in Hindu and Buddhist philosophies. Accepting that being average is a very reassuring practice, and anything that you receive above that is a happy experience. It also means that you can achieve to better yourself rather than to compete and put down somebody else. Maybe it won’t be implemented in the constitution, but I would love to carry it with me for life! Vises naeste gang!

About The Author:

Athmika Ramachandra is currently continuing her post-graduation studies at Aarhus University, Denmark under student exchange programme of Manipal University Media and Communication Department. Athmika is Gold Medallist in BA from Mangalore University, enjoys photography, listening to music, reading novels and trying out new food. A bitten travel bug Athmika cherishes writing and poetry and she is the granddaughter of Late Padyana Gopalakishna (Pa.Go), Veteran Journalist & Kannada Columnist of yesteryears from Mangalore.

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