Posted by Remo Giuffré on

What is Jantelagen and what does it have to do with oat milk?

The Swedish word “Jantelagen” (or the Danish: “Janteloven”) translating as the “Law of Jante” references a behavioural norm for Swedes (and in fact, other Scandinavians) to put society ahead of the individual, and not boast about personal accomplishment … stressing the importance of equality.

The Law of Jante promotes the attitude that everyone is equal, frowning upon any arrogance or beliefs of higher status, above ordinary existence.

So … that’s a NO to sharing wins, wealth and income; or publicly celebrating: mountains climbed, successful deals done or triumphant personal growth.  It’s all taboo according to the Law of Jante. 

The phrase and its laws derives from Danish-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose (1899 to 1965) and his satirical novel A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks published in 1933. In the book Espen Arnakke, the protagonist, reflects on his upbringing in the fictional small town of Jante (modeled on Aksel’s native town Nykøbing Mors) that upholds specific moral codes. 

The eleven rules that list the dos and don’ts of society dictated in the Sandermose novel are as follows:

  1. You're not to think you are anything special.

  2. You're not to think you are as good as we [ed: the society] are.

  3. You're not to think you are smarter than we are.

  4. You're not to imagine yourself better than we are.

  5. You're not to think you know more than we do.

  6. You're not to think you are more important than we are.

  7. You're not to think you are good at anything. [ed: bit harsh]

  8. You're not to laugh at us.

  9. You're not to think anyone cares about you.

  10. You're not to think you can teach us anything.

  11. Perhaps you don't think we know a few things about you?

Pretty hard core, right? The Tall Poppy Syndrome on steroids.

The satire intended by the author was quickly lost due to a rich cultural appropriation that continues to this day. As an example, Alexander Skarsgård blames his Swedish roots and Jantelagen as the reason he has gone to lengths not to display the Emmy he won for his Supporting Actor role in the HBO series Big Little Lies. Watch him deliver a pretty damn good summary of Jantelagen on the 10 November 2018 edition of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert HERE.

The rules have been adopted as a behaviour, influencing fashion, car preferences, the workplace and lifestyle choices. And indeed many now regard Jantelagen as a pillar of Scandinavia’s societal success.

Norwegian politician/educational advisor Kim Orlin claims to encourage this behaviour among youths and credits their high quality of life rating to these attitudes. 

And more recently Jantelagen is being credited for the market success of oat milk! According to Michael Lee, creative director at market-leading Oatly’s Department of Mind Control, explains: “There is a humility to our brand, which comes from our Swedish heritage and the idea of “Jantelagen” which is basically never think too much of yourself. Which we don’t. When we go out into the world, we just get excited that people actually want to talk to us about something as boring as an oat drink.”

They are using anthropomorphised puppet cartons of Oatly to spread this message. Check out THE NEW NORM&AL SHOW by Oatly on their YouTube channel HERE.

Even so, younger generations have been pushing back. In 2005, a Norwegian man was so determined to rescind the rules that he declared them dead, and even buried them under a gravestone. And more recently the Swedish media is increasingly filled with rags to riches stories celebrating individualism and entrepreneurial success. Not very Jantelagen. Its grip on the culture is apparently not what it used to be.

So now you know.

Wikipedia References: The Law of Jante  & Aksel Sandermose
Reference: Little Black Book How Oatly’s Spirit of 'Jantelagen' Conquered the World


1. Credit: Getty Images
2. Sandemose & Jantelagen. Image: Poul Krogsgård - Eget værk.
3. The Book That Made the Laws
4. Alexander Skarsgård on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert
5. THE NEW NORM&AL SHOW by Oatly TV. Helping society switch to plant-based using puppets.

6. Janteloven RIP. A Norwegian man’s wishful thinking, 2005.

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  • A great read. Cultural elements like the Jante concept are very important in the workplace. I’ve worked with marketing students from a Swedish university for more than 10 years and we discuss this with every group. The concept gets a mention on the “This is Pop” doco on Netflix in season one. There is an episode about Swedish music producers but really the idea applies more broadly. It is very much relevant in New Zealand as the tall poppies thing. I do think that social media is homogenising some of these concepts globally but the roots are deep.

    Jason Kemp on
  • There is a Swedish concept called “lagom” which must be derived from Jantelagen. It means ‘the appropriate amount’. So a CEO does not drive around in a Rolls Royce, but a mid-range Volvo because that satisfies his needs. When one builds a house it should never be bigger than one’s requirements or the neighbours’.

    Chris on

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