Friday, January 21, 2011

"Don't think you are anything special."

I sometimes have the impression that there is nothing you can not learn from books these days. After Dale Carnegie's works, there have been published a great number of different self help books about issues like how to be happy... how to be more efficient in school... how to become a better story teller... how to spare money... and how to act in a different culture than yours. I think books from this last category have a dubious character - it definitely has a certain charm to discover the intercultural differences yourself but in given situations a list with things to pay attention to on it, can be lifesaving...
I don't want to get into all my personal culture schocks that I have experienced since July (I might want to do it later) but there is one thing I was thinking about a lot lately. It's a bunch of rules (I would say 'unwritten' but they are very much 'written', indeed) that were put down by Danish-Norwegian author Aksel Sandelmose in a 1933 novel. The rules are the following:
  1. Don't think you're anything special.
  2. Don't think you're as much as us.
  3. Don't think you're wiser than us.
  4. Don't convince yourself that you're better than us.
  5. Don't think you know more than us.
  6. Don't think you are more than us.
  7. Don't think you are good at anything.
  8. Don't laugh at us.
  9. Don't think anyone cares about you.
  10. Don't think you can teach us anything.
Don't think you are anything special. YOU. Capisci? - Thank-you for these rules, Aksel Sandemose
After I was first confronted with the rules, I didn't really know what to think. Bragging is not cool, obviously, but I think there is a gyllen middelvei (happy middle way) between for example rule no.1 and being big-headed. However, whenever I was asking my Norwegian aquintances about the importance the Janteloven (because this is what it's called, Jante Law in English), everyone was unanimous about how important it was in society. No wonder, it appears in the upbringing of children from very early on.

In fact, the Jante Law is that important that in 1994 (which was the year of the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway), author Inge Eidsvåg introduced the three main Norwegian values that characterizes the life of Norwegians maybe the most and one of them (among equality and respect of nature) was moderation - a notion that includes Janteloven as well. The 'law' has the strongest position in Norway and Denmark (I don't know so much about other countries in Scandinavia, but for the Icelanders I was talking to about this, was the Jante Law completely unknown).

I think these rules are in many ways not very conform with what the 21st century craves from a person so I was not particularly surprised to hear that a so-called Anti-Janti (Anti-Janteloven) exists stating the exact opposite rules - it is hanging on the wall in many Scandinacian homes as a trial to break free, as a rebellion against this hommage to sweet mediocrity.

I think it definitely pays up to think sometimes that you are something special. (Anne Geddes meets van Gogh)
So for those planning to come to Norway or Denmark without wanting to purchase a cultural guide to Scandinavia - get prepared! And not just because this is what you have to expect from the Norwegians. Also (and more importantly) because this is how you have to act yourself. When in Rome... do as the Romans do.

No comments:

Post a Comment