September 23, 2016
It is sad to say, but this post marks the conclusion to my epic Scandinavian adventure. From the dungeons of Danish castles to the heights of Stockholm’s cliffs, and all of the escapades I experienced in between, the eight days I explored Denmark and Sweden were among my most surprising and unforeseen, in the best possible way imaginable! I learned so much from my time in Scandinavia, including a great understanding of why they really are the happiest people in the world.
First off, you can never really comprehend the differences between cultures until you immerse yourself fully within them. Only there must your preconceived notions fall away, your comfort and ease be tested, and observation be your only guide. I felt that I was able to do this wholeheartedly in Denmark and Sweden, and I was grateful for what I saw and learned.
Scandinavian countries are known to be more egalitarian societies and are consistently ranked in the top ten egalitarian countries of the world. This may have much to do with the Nordic social model, which I talked about in this previous post.
Additionally, there seems to be a calm ease about Scandinavian life that gets misconstrued by outsiders. Looking from the outside in, I can see how they are often viewed as cold and hard to get to know, as I’ve been told. However, after visiting, and learning more about Janteloven, I have come to realize that the Nordic people live by a different set of standards than Americans, and this is where I became simply enthralled.
Janteloven is an unwritten but deeply felt and practiced Nordic code. This translates to Jante law in English, jantelagen in Swedish and Janten laki in Finnish. In the simplest of terms, Janteloven decrees that you have no human right to think of yourself as better than anyone I and you should be ashamed if you are trying. It is a hard concept for us Americans to wrap our brains around coming from our competitive way of life. However, with my own eyes I have seen that it promotes empathy, cooperation and partnership, instead of opposition and rivalry.
Venture capitalist Sarayu Srinivasan described it most eloquently in her 2012 article The Secret Scandinavian Ingredient That Makes Their Tech Good For The World when she stated, “This code, regardless of an individual citizen’s conscious adherence or acceptance of it, comprises a deep, omnipresent undercurrent of Nordic culture. The code prescribes egalitarianism, collectivism, homogeneity, and conformity as values to be protected and practiced by citizens. To subscribe to the notion of individual gain or individuality over the collective ethos; to consider oneself superior in any way; or to display any shard of elitism is distasteful, undesirable, and unacceptable…”
Scandinavians are recognizable for their effortless cool and impeccable style, and it infuses every part of their culture. From their kitchens to their homes and, most notably, their closets, they exude a certain poise and assurance. Sure, we love their exports: IKEA, H&M, those meatballs, to name a few, but when immersed in their culture and given a chance to speak and interact with them, their confidence is contagious.
Janteloven teaches that to be better than others or want what someone else has is not helpful or healthy for the collective, however, it has its downside as well. Jante Law doesn’t necessarily honor individuality or standing out in the crowd. But, in my opinion, the people of the Nordic region do not seems to be suffering too much. The similarities and differences between American and Scandinavian countries was interesting, and I what I have learned I will covet as a keepsake of my journey.
Although no people or country is perfect, Janteloven can be seen as a refreshing concept, depending upon how you view it. It was interesting to observe, for a few days at least. Of course, acquiring more about my Danish heritage is obviously very near and dear to my heart, and I look forward to so much more to come!
To read about my exciting trip from the beginning go here.
Next week I have some exciting announcements, so stay tuned for those!