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About the Nordeners (the s.c.nordic FAQ)
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The home pages for the Usenet newsgroup soc.culture.nordic
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About the Nordeners

 



Subject: 2.6 

The essence of Nordishness

The Nordic states, cultures or languages are of course very different if judged by us Nordeners ourself. :->> But seen from the outside the cultural characteristics are not more different than we all well could have belonged to the same nation. Not quite seriously, I here use the unconventional term "Nordishness" for the characteristics of us - as if Norden had been one state or nation.

 

2.6.1 What is Janteloven?

The word "Janteloven" occasionally pops up in s.c.n, often with no hint given as to what it's supposed to mean since apparently it's common knowledge in most Nordic countries. Not so with the rest of the world, however, or Finland for that matter, so a brief explanation warrants a place. It derives from the the novel "En flygtning krysser sitt spor" ("A refugee crosses his tracks") by the Norwegian/Danish author Aksel Sandemose. The book takes place in an imaginary Danish small town called Jante, based on Sandemose's hometown Nykøbing Mors. The book is about the ugly sides of Scandinavian smalltown mentality, and the term "Janteloven" meaning "the Jante Law" has come to mean the unspoken rules and jealousy of such communities in general.

The form and style of the Ten Commandments in Norwegian are "straight," i.e. unencumbered by the "thous" and "thys" of the older English translations of the Bible. I've made the assumption that Sandemose deliberately chose 10 laws and that his style was intentionally reminiscent of the Ten Commandments. It's also interesting to note that the Ten Commandments (and the other laws of Leviticus) are often referred to as Moseloven (or the Mosaic Law) in Norwegian.

Also, there are some messages that are implied in these laws that are not explicit.I've included those in brackets so as to convey the meaning better, although they should properly be construed as editorializing on my part.

This translation of the Jante Laws was suggested by Leif Knutsen (except that I replaced "venture to think" with "to presume", as suggested by someone in the group):



  1. Du skal ikke tro at du *er* noe.
    Thou shalt not presume that thou art anyone [important].



  2. Du skal ikke tro at du er like saa meget som *oss*.
    Thou shalt not presume that thou art as good as us.



  3. Du skal ikke tro at du er klokere en *oss*.
    Thou shalt not presume that thou art any wiser than us.



  4. Du skal ikke innbille deg du er bedre enn *oss*.
    Thou shalt never indulge in the conceit of imagining that thou art better than us.



  5. Du skal ikke tro du vet mere enn *oss*.
    Thou shalt not presume that thou art more knowledgeable than us.



  6. Du skal ikke tro du er mere enn *oss*.
    Thou shalt not presume that thou art more than us [in any way].



  7. Du skal ikke tro at *du* duger til noe.
    Thou shalt not presume that that thou art going to amount to anything.



  8. Du skal ikke le av *oss*.
    Thou art not entitled to laugh at us.



  9. Du skal ikke tro at noen bryr seg om *deg*.
    Thou shalt never imagine that anyone cares about thee.



  10. Du skal ikke tro at du kan lære *oss* noe.
    Thou shalt not suppose that thou can teach us anything.

 

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2.6.2 A Nordic national character?

Since nordishness can be depicted only in contrast to other cultural patterns, the following features have been collected among immigrants to Sweden, as representative for their impression of their new compatriots. The cultural anthropologist Åke Daun has written quite a few articles and books on this topic in the Swedish language. The following is an attempt to concentrate the most important of his points.

Many point out how they never get invited to neighbors or colleagues. This is easy to interpret as a suppressed hostility, i.e. as xenophobia or discrimination. To a limited extent such interpretations might be justified, but it could also be explained by the social pattern among the Swedes. Also Nordeners can be good colleagues - year after year - without this making them meeting privately. We tend to draw a clear border between our private life on one side with a few close friends and a bunch of relatives, and on the other side social contacts with others. To one's home one receives siblings with families maybe an old schoolmate or some friend since the childhood, and maybe one or two "recent" friends with their families, for instance a former or actual neighbor or colleague.

But it's typical how this circle is rather narrow and additionally stable over the years. A consequence is that it's rather hard for newcomers to a town or a village to break into such a narrow circle, particularly for aliens.

This feature is enforced by the strong tendency among Swedes to achieve socio-cultural homogeneity. Another typical Nordic feature contributes to this tendency: the wish for conflict free encounters in the private life.

Swedes are particularly prone to achieve consensus in attitudes and opinions, and avoid socializing with others than like-minded people. Confrontations are regarded as particularly unpleasant. Nordeners are not curious enough to balance for this fear for the different. We do also not believe ourselves to be interesting enough to wake the curiousness of others, and to compensate for this there must be food and beverages, and maybe particular activities, when meeting others.

Another feature worth to note is shyness, which is particularly prevalent among Finns and Scandinavians. People feel inhibited around others one doesn't know well, and one is very observant on one's own behavior since it is regarded as very important to control which impression others get of oneself. Among less well known people, one gets extra careful since it is harder to anticipate their perceptions and reactions.

Another reason to not visiting others and not inviting others is the high requirement one wish to comply to regarding food and cleanliness when foreigners visit one's home. To feel comfortable with foreigners at home, one needs a long time for emotional and practical preparations.

A sign of the borderline between the private sphere and work is the Nordic resistance against small talk about private matters with strangers, which has been reported to be a great hinder in business contacts in foreign countries.

The lack of passions strangers might perceive in Nordics is surely both reflecting a genuine trait and the fact that most strangers don't meet Nordics in a context the Nordics would regard as private and unrestrained (except for drunk appearances - see section 2.10!).

Rational reasons have a strong precedence over for emotional reasons. Emotions are not at all disapproved in all contexts, but they are regarded as "pure" emotions of no further value than to signal one's general unhappiness with life or fate.

Quietness is regarded as the commonly accepted norm, and noisy fellows are strongly disapproved. Vociferous stubbornness is deemed as very ill-mannered. As is interrupting and talking in the mouth of others.

The Nordic ideal is to think twice before one speaks, and to utter only one's most firm beliefs, and only when there is a considered intention. What one says is remembered for ages, and if one says something stupid or "wrong" it will be proof of one's stupidness and general incompetence,
...and can be used against one in encounters ages afterward...

To be kind and good-natured is important. One prefer to be quiet or agreeable instead of uttering an opposing opinion, unless one really aims at hurting.

Leaving the professional ethnologist Åke Daun aside, we can note how the Norwegians and the Finns, who gained independence first in the 20:th century tend to be much more nationalistic than Danes or Swedes. Tor Slettnes points out how Norwegians are generally strongly affected by their own culture. Norwegian national romanticism has of course its roots in the independence movements from Denmark, Sweden, and German occupants, and is much more accepted and appreciated by Norwegians themselves, than by outsiders. Because nationalism often (in Germany, Sweden, USA etc) has been a political taboo, later to be picked up by anti-establishment semi-nazi groups, citizens of these places might find the Norwegian national pride hard to swallow.

...oh, and I almost forgot! Nordeners usually think we are very good at upbringing children, condemning the "cold" and unfriendly attitudes to children in for instance France or the UK. Spanking of children is not acceptable anymore, and actually unlawful in most countries.



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