Think for a minute why most people of a given country, actually one of the richest and best country in the World would term themselves as shy? I am still in a quest to find out why Norwegians brand themselves shy, not that being shy is a bad trait, not at all, if anything I am actually very shy.
1.“ I am not very shy but we are brought up to believe all Norwegians are shy and I think I am a bit shy.” (Female)
2. “Yes I am, because as I grew up I was always told as a Norwegian you are born shy, it is in the genes.” (This one, made my day!) (Female response)
3. “It dates back from our childhood, Norway is a big country with very few people (about 4 million to be precise) so as a Norwegian you rarely learn to interact with many people and when you finally get to school, you meet other shy Norwegians and you all become one bunch of shy Norwegians and we all believed that´s our way of life.” (Male response)
4. “ You see when the rest of the other Norwegians are shy, who are you to think of yourself as the bold one?” (Male response)
I am sure all these are valid reasons or rather perceptions on how Norwegians view themselves and how they let others view them. The notion (US vs THEM) in application. The last response is what I was more interested in and looking for. During last months NRK´s Christmas party in Kristiansand, I had a very interesting conversation with my colleague, a Norwegian journalist who has been to Zanzibar, Uganda and Nairobi and basically seen the other side of friendly and wild people.
“I am sure you guys do not feel these parties, usually they can be more boring than this. You are used to very wild parties, loud and a bit jovial. This is the best we can be, I love it when I can go to the dance flow in Africa and dance the whole night without anyone questioning me or looking at me weirdly. You know, Norwegians for sometimes now they have been a slave to what is refered to as Janteloven, (Jante Law)which is a set of rules that have shaped most of us today, though we rarely admit it,” she lamented.
I could feel her bitterness as she explained to me the whole concept of Janteloven, apparently these are rules that are made and used by the Norwegians as a symbol of Norwegian modesty and social equality.
“I go to the dance flow and my girlfriends talk ill about me telling me that I am showing off. I don’t like it! I have disagreed with my girl friends about this on various occassions” said frustrated Ane. This one seemed very strange to me and had to do my research on it. I love being a free spirit, with no limit on my life and I like it when I can give my life my best at whatever cost.
“In Norway, you have to be carefully in whatever you do, you should not be an extreme, they will put you down. That’s why in this country we do not have a grading system in schools, like ranking at the end of a schooling term or semester.” Said another colleague.
Now, I had to find more on this Janteloven. And to my surprise, this was a shocking revelation. This term is used to describe a pattern of behaviour –humility, with the desire to see all people as being on an equal scale and woe unto you, you should not think of yourself as big, criticize others or flaunt wealth, educational or financial achievements, this is considered as inappropriate. This is why I am more than convinced that the shy nature of the Norwegians has something to do with the Janteloven. Read my words well, I did’t say everything, I said something. When I think of humility as a trait associated with the Scandinavians, the notion that we are all equal in all aspects, I would say it has been overstretched, limiting and oppressive.
In 1933, a poet Aksel Sandemose managed to put these rules down and they go like:
- Don’t think you’re anything special.
- Don’t think you’re as much as us.
- Don’t think you’re wiser than us.
- Don’t convince yourself that you’re better than us.
- Don’t think you know more than us.
- Don’t think you are more than us.
- Don’t think you are good at anything.
- Don’t laugh at us.
- Don’t think anyone cares about you.
- Don’t think you can teach us anything.
If that’s not enough, the most infringing one for me is the 11th rule…
- Don’t think there’s anything we don’t know about you.
With all of these rules in place, would you think anyone will walk with his head held high unless you are insane or maybe you have no clue on Janteloven. No wonder you will see most Norwegians walking with their heads looking down. I have been out to find if they know about the Janteloven and it’s surprising most know every detail about it. However, are very fast to refute any indication that they could be living under these rules and they say it does not guide their daily lives.
Maybe, maybe not. Everything that I have considered indifferent, as someone said, am in the process of learning that, it is just the Norwegian way! If this is to apply for the Norwegians themselves, then I think it is oppressive and if it this is to be applied by Norwegians to the foreigners, then I would say, this is very very oppressive.
It is Okay
I am also told, compliments are hard to come by. In most cases, you rarely receive feedback and if you ask for it, the best one you might get is ‘it is okay’ so don’t dig further because they will not even go into details. This for me I would say is implementing rule 9 (Don’t think anyone cares about you ).
Come to think of it, why wouldn’t anyone bother to give you feedback? I am happy that my boss constantly gives me feedback all the time and we both sit down to analyse my work as he guides me on how to go about it in the future. Same applies to my blog, I am always happy to get feedback about my stories and to see what you think of a given story, from your point of view, you as a reader.
I am one human being who thrives on feedback, accolades, criticisms, praise and appreciation. They shape me into being a better person. My take is, the room for improvement is always the biggest one around. I find myself in most cases asking, on a scale of 1 to 10, how do you rate my input on this! Once in a while it is always good to have someone confirm to you that you are doing a great job. Even if they are not saying it is bad, I don’t want to assume that it must be too good. If you care to tell me how I can do it better, then you help me improve. I am therefore warned that, for the Norwegians, it is not that they do not have any constructive thoughts, it is because they do not want to be seen to criticize each other, after all apply rule 4 (Don’t convince yourself that you’re better than me).
As FK participants coming to Norway from various parts of the World, we were warned on this, “During your stay here, always remember not to take anything personal.” Now I understand it better. But I am in a dilemma, this brings up a cultural clash. For me, when praise is muted it makes me think I am not doing something well enough. There is value in humility and also self-confidence in knowing and appreciating my abilities. So when I look at rule 7, (Don’t think you are good at anything. ) I get bothered. I know for sure I am not good at everything, but there are other areas that I am excellent.
Rule 10 bothers me too (Don’t think you can teach us anything. ) When we are all in a position to appreciate cultural diversity, I am sure, there is something I can learn from you as a Norwegian and as a Norwegian, there is always something you can learn from me as a foreigner. I am always willing to tell people something new about my country Kenya, but now I feel pressured to keep my mouth shut!
Rule 1 too, I find it very oppressive. I am a human being in love with myself and love to treat myself special, because I am, in my own sense of view and so is everyone. But why on earth will such a rule be invented, (Don’t think you’re anything special).
“I use it all the time we have disagreements with my fiancée, I recite all the rules just to keep her back on track and it works” said one of my colleagues at the office. Worse still I am told these are not just Norwegians Jante Law, they have actually been observed in most Scandinavian countries among them Sweden, Denmark and Germany. For sure. I will term them as very oppressive rules, and that’s why most Norwegians are fast to disown them. “We no longer use them Patience,” they tell me. They have been an eye opener to my quest of trying to understand why the Norwegians are shy. So my conclusion would be, I stand to be corrected, the very first generation of Norwegians that implemented the Jante Law, strictly adhered to them and fell slave of them. With such mentality, you can not dare even lift your head in the public eye. So instead, they brand themselves shy. If they say they are reserved, then I would have no problem with it, but when a whole country has shy people, it then leaves room for speculation.
Worthy mentioning, I am told for those who stands out and live in a small town it’s worse…Norwegian small towns has the loudest silence!…Amazing, for me I would think though Norwegians are privileged to live in one of the richest country, money is not everything, a more psychological encouraging atmosphere and an appreciative attitude in “The humankind” is most vital.
What do you think??