Blame it on the Law of Jante!

The invitation said Sunday at 18.00 for dinner. First of all, isn’t it too early for dinner? Well, for the Nordic people no. It is the right time to finish the day with a nice meal. Besides, in the cold months (maybe six or more) it gets dark and cold pretty early. Second, what time are you expected to arrive at the dinner you were invited to? Nordic people hate unnecessary talking. It is obvious. 18.00 is the time of the dinner.

You are not expected to arrive much earlier (like what? A pre-dinner gathering? Nooo!) or later. The latter is considered very impolite. Only if your car broke on your way or there was a health issue, are you excused. A little bit only. These are all social norms in the Nordics. But what exactly are these social norms? And why especially the Norwegians stick to them so passionately?

Social norms are common understandings that determine how people behave. They are actually about what people know that others do or must do, in certain social situations. These unwritten rules are acceptable by the majority of society. Norwegians are no exception. They are among the world’s most loyal to social norms people. They have a certain way to behave and they appreciate that everybody else behaves the same way too. No deviation. Everybody must respect that. According to recent research, Norway is among the countries with the strictest social norms in the world. Along with India, Pakistan, Malaysia and South Korea.This can usually be explained by looking at a country’s history and nature. When people feel threatened like for example by other countries or natural disasters, that can destroy their society’s bond, they tend to stick to social norms. It is kind of a defence mechanism. Sometimes, it is even a shortage of resources like food. Looking at Norway’s history, one can identify these factors but cannot quite explicitly say that these are the reasons why. Most probably it is the Law of Jante.
Who is Jante?

No, Jante is not a person. It is a fictional small Danish town that Dano-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose portrays in one of his books, back in the 1930s. The behaviours of people in Jante, as presented in the book, served as the basis of the Law of Jante. But most probably they already existed as social norms in the Nordics.

The basic principle of the Law of Jante is conformity. Everybody is equal and not better, smarter or more important than others. Nobody is special and has the right to deviate from the norm. This is the governing law in the Nordics. And people do not see it as a rule that must be obeyed. On the contrary, Nordic people believe that this equality has helped them go through difficult times in the past and will do so in the future too.

This is the main reason why Norwegians are so strict with their society’s social norms. Everybody must follow them and whoever does not gets a red card and becomes an outcast. And maybe this is the reason why there are low crime rateslaw and order as well as a general sense of trust between each other.

Always remember to buy a ticket for the metro ride, although most probably you are not going to be checked by any conductor!