The Law of Jante strucks hard

A couple of years ago I wrote a Swedish post about the Swedish mentality, and specifically my own mentality. I had just decided I wanted to pursue my long over due dream of becoming a translator and/or writer, and I had also made up my mind of making my on-off relationship with my Thai boyfriend a long-lasting real one. I was going to move to Thailand, work as a translator/writer and find translation projects through the internet.

Of course I was terrified, but it all seemed so far into the future, since I had given myself 1 year to organise everything.

One day, after a long conversation with my father, whom I respect very much and I always appreciate his advice, although sometimes they might be to much opposite my way of living, I felt totally drained and truthfully sick of being a Swede. He has always been the one most opposed to my crazy stunts I’ve pulled over the years, and moving to Thailand – well, that wasn’t one of his favourites.

This particular conversation, though, made me realise how I was raised, and how many other people in our beautiful kingdom of Sweden are raised.

We are to believe nothing is possible and you’re too much of a failure to handle or deal with anything.

You’re supposed to abide in the ranks and not wish for too much, but instead be happy and content you have a job and don’t ever demand anything; in short – don’t take up any space what so ever.

In Sweden – The Law of Jante rules us all!

This type of living is all according to the so called “Law of Jante” , and these are its 10 rules:

  1. You shall not think you’re anything special.
  2. You shall not think you’re as good as us.
  3. You shall not think you’re smarter than us.
  4. You shall not imagine you’re better than us.
  5. You shall not believe you know more than us.
  6. You shall not believe you’re more important than us.
  7. You shall not believe you’re good at anything.
  8. You shall not laugh at us.
  9. You shall not think anybody cares about you.
  10. You shall not think you can teach us anything.

So, these are the invisible rules so profoundly rooted in the Swedish society, one hardly even know they’re there.

In addition to these rules, you shall also not believe you could do anything outside the norm, or outside of what’s normal for your family. That is, if for instance your father’s a carpenter, you’re better off being one too. Or at least stay in a similar business, and you’ll be fine. Or as in my case if my mother’s a clerk or a shop owner I’d better stick to the same business, i.e service occupations in general.

Why should you be better than your own family and why do you want to go your own way?

Why should you want to do something other than the things your family’s done? It was good enough for them so why isn’t it good enough for you?

The point is it’s got nothing to do with some things not being good enough, but everyone’s different. People are not born exactly the same; just because this one is my sister it doesn’t mean I like the same things she does, or want the same things. It doesn’t mean that she likes what I like either. We are sisters, but we’re not the same.

People are different, so why should family members be exactly the same?

It’s expected of you to walk exactly the same path as your family members once did and to be exactly the same as them and to have the same dreams. If you deviate too much from the pattern it’s the family members duty to make sure you get back on track again; since you’ve spent your whole lives together, then of course they instinctively know what you want out of life – what makes life worth living for you. It must be the same they want out of life, right?

I knew there’d be conflicts when I announced my plans to my family, and I knew none of them would understand my longing to get away from this place, nor my desire to work with something stimulating, and to be able to feel purpose in life. I need something that makes sense, I can’t be happy or satisfied with only having a salary in the bank account every month, and going to work at a place I don’t really feel I belong.

What if I fail?

What if I don’t get any work as a translator and I can’t support myself? These were questions (and of course being me I have to admit reasonable questions) my father asked me when I announced my plan. My answer was simple:

if I don’t try I will never know.

When my father left me that day, it dawned on me how incredibly blisteringly bad my self esteem really was/is – I didn’t believe in myself for a single moment.

The law of Jante struck me, with such force I got scared I wouldn’t be able to go through with my dream. Out of pure fear of everything; of failing as a translator, of losing Oh or finding out we’re not right for each other, of fear I can’t stand to live in a strange country without my family and friends.

There are so many senseless excuses I can make up, I can keep going endlessly.

Just like I’ve been doing my entire life. Making excuses for myself so I shouldn’t have to live my life. The total lack of belief for my own self was not a fruit of poor raising, because I’ve had a great childhood and my parents – well I’ve got nothing bad to say about them, but they are human too. It’s not as easy as to blame a single one thing for the outcome, there are so many more steps in a person’s life which can all lead up to this point when I realised I didn’t believe in myself. Another one is a long, really shitty relationship where I completely lost myself, but that’s for another time. My point is Jante, and the whole Swedish society.

Before this day I hadn’t really reflected on the way I was raised, and I’m not passing any judgments here on the raising topic, neither, but it’s now very clear to me that these are the rules I’ve been living by – my entire life. Up to this day, because now I’ve abandoned them.

Today I live by my own rules. Last August I did go through with my plan, as you know. With a 26 kg suitcase I left my home country to seek happiness in Thailand, and just last week I returned to Sweden. For a while.

I can also say I now have a lot more confidence in myself as a translator and a writer, and also as a person. Through blogging (amongst other things) and you, my wonderful readers, I’ve realised that I can succeed with anything I want, as long as I’m willing to work for it, and as long as I’m willing to go through some failures to get there.

Living in Thailand with my fiancee made me realise this is what I want, this is the life I want, and now, having had a taste of it, I’m willing to work even harder to get it.

I only need to remember my new motto (I traded in the Jante rules):

Anything is possible, as long as you want it badly enough!


5 thoughts on “The Law of Jante strucks hard

  1. Thank you for sharing your struggles with your father, his mindset, and the struggle to follow your dreams!! I am a Dane, and have had the same kind of father as you! He was less outspoken, but had the same mindset nonetheless! Your blog helps me see why I struggle too! Thank you, Charnette!


    1. Hi Merry,
      Thank you for your comment. 🙂 I’m happy to hear that you appreciated my post and could relate. That’s really the whole point of my blog. What happened with you; did you go your own way or are you still struggling? Take care!


  2. Wow, just wow…

    I came across this blog after googling The Law of Jante. I’d never heard of it before despite having some Scandinavian heritage (I’m American). I recognize these traits in both my Swedish and Norwegian lines, but I always thought it was a generational thing– like that Hemingway quote about “living in quiet desperation.”

    Thank you for the honesty and insight. Good on you girl for having this great blog. I wish I had some translation work to pass your way.


    1. Thanks. 🙂 Now my Jante-cheeks are blushing. 😀

      It is slowly starting to fade away – the hold of the great and powerful Jante, so maybe one day we’ll finally be completely rid of him! I hope. 🙂


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