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Understanding a key element of the Danish job searching culture - The Law of Jante

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Getting a good job in your field of expertise can be quite challenging for internationals in Denmark. Luckily, there is knowledge, which can help you to better navigate the landscape of Danish jobs. One of the biggest factors is the so-called Law of Jante, which you can get a quite thorough intro to here.

Navigating the Job Market

You might ask yourself why it is so difficult to land one of those nice jobs where you can truly grow, evolve and really spread your wings in an exciting new country like Denmark and maybe even settle down here to start a family?

There are multiple answers to that question, but a lot of job coaching experts agree that it is worth trying to understand the Law of Jante when relocating to a Scandinavian country as an international, even if it is just temporary. Because this very subtextual thing is what lies between the verbally spoken lines in Denmark. It is almost like the glue that binds the very fabric of this society together, among other things. At least, nobody can deny that it is present here in one form or another, so paying attention to it is definitely a smart move.

For international jobseekers, understanding the nuances of the Law of Jante is crucial for a successful integration into Danish workplaces. The emphasis on modesty and equality may impact how achievements are communicated, which requires a delicate balance between showcasing skills and avoiding a perception of boasting.

In a job interview, for instance, you should focus on teamwork and collaborative efforts rather than solely individual accomplishments. Emphasize a collective approach to success, highlighting how your skills contribute to the overall well-being of the team. Being aware of the cultural aversion to individualism can help you navigate the job market more effectively.

The Law of Jante embodies the idea that one should never try to be ‘more’, try to be ‘different’, or consider oneself more ‘valuable’ than other people.

Building Connections

It may sound trivial and like something obvious for any job market in the world, but especially in Denmark, networking is an essential aspect of job hunting, and in Scandinavia, building connections requires a nuanced approach. Instead of overtly highlighting personal achievements, focus on shared goals and collective successes. Engage in conversations (not only over mineral water) that emphasize collaboration and mutual benefits, aligning with the communal values of the Law of Jante.

Unraveling the Law of Jante

So, what is this Law of Jante, or Jantelov, or whatever this notion is called that supposedly means ‘being the same’ as everybody else? Well, in his study from 2018, a researcher from the university of Gothenburg in Sweden, Stefan Dahlberg, he argues that the Law of Jante “embodies the idea that one should never try to be ‘more’, try to be ‘different’, or consider oneself more ‘valuable’ than other people”. The study goes on to examining how this phenomenon relates to the concept of generalized trust, and how can be perceived as a cultural tradition with all its potential impacts on the individual, positive as well as negative ones.

The important essence of the Law of Jante is that it comprises a social modesty code, or a set of unwritten rules, if you will, which foster a sense of equality and community. Rooted in the idea that no individual should consider themselves better than others, the Law of Jante aims to maintain a harmonious and egalitarian society. As you might have guessed by now, this presents a quite a contrast to cultures like in the US, where individual achievement and success are often celebrated and occasionally even praised to the point of arrogance as perceived by lesser individualistic societies.

The Jante mentality encompasses a complex understanding of equality, emphasizing modesty and humility in the face of success

Most Scandinavians value equality highly, and the Law of Jante subconsciously reflects this in the way that it discourages a person’s desire to boast and display their individual successes. It underpins benevolent policies aimed at supporting the least fortunate in society. However, this commitment to equality may also create a pressure to conform oneself to a normalized and potentially stifling existence where individual expression is downplayed or even kept in check.

Delving deeper into the intricacies of the Law of Jante, it might also be quite useful to explore its connection with trust, not so much at an aggregated cultural level but more on the individual level, because here a striking contrast emerges, where the Law of Jante as an individual disposition shows a powerful and negative association with trust. This implies that the mentality of Jante, instilled as a behavioral disposition, may play a significant role in shaping individual trust levels. For instance, Dahlberg mentions an example of a person who didn’t feel good about reading on the bus due to an underlying feeling that it might be perceived by the other passengers as a superior or better activity by appearing more intelligent.

The Flipside of Equality

While the Law of Jante is an important phenomenon to behold as an international job searcher in Denmark, and while it certainly promotes equality and conformity, there are also side effects to be cautious about. For instance, it can also be accompanied by a lack of tolerance for deviation from societal norms. I.e., the fear of standing out or being perceived as 'showing off' can create a subtle pressure to conform to conventional norms. This fear, rooted in envy and inadequacy, can hinder individuals from fully expressing themselves and pursuing their aspirations. And obviously, companies are very interested in you reaching all your aspirations to the fullest. It just has to happen adequately in Denmark.

Understanding the Complexity of Equality

The Law of Jante is not solely related to income equality. The Jante mentality encompasses a complex understanding of equality, emphasizing modesty and humility in the face of success. It doesn't necessarily correlate with preferences for income redistribution but is more aligned with an awareness that no one is entitled to special status based on wealth alone. Therefore, Jante sentiments are not as prevalent as one might expect. Also, this mindset is actually not unique to Scandinavian countries. Similar phenomena exist elsewhere too, such as the so-called 'tall poppy syndrome', which is a sociological term in Anglophone nations where successful people are heavy scrutinized and brought back down to earth. In Asian cultures, there is even a phenomenon that goes as far as saying 'the nail that stands out gets hammered down'.

Final thoughts

The Law of Jante is both a fascinating cultural phenomenon but also a potential challenge for international jobseekers in Denmark. However, by understanding and respecting the values embedded in this social modesty code, there is also a lot of possibilities here for you to navigate the job market more effectively and build meaningful connections in such a vibrant and dynamic society as it is the case with Denmark. Balancing individual aspirations with the collective spirit of equality will undoubtedly contribute to a successful and fulfilling professional journey in Denmark. As you navigate the Danish culture, being aware of these nuances can definitely contribute to building trust at both the individual and societal levels.

Source: Acta Sociologica, November 2018, Vol. 61, No. 4

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