Shy Norwegians

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)

Ancient Norway

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.

2010 FK Participants

“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:

  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.

If that’s not enough, the most infringing one for me is the 11th rule…

  1. 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.

Cultural Diversity

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??


15 thoughts on “OPPRESSIVE!! OPPRESSIVE!!

  1. I like the blog! Keep writing because you have a way with words! As for this post, I feel like I got myself a piece of Norway right there.Its wow! Congrats patience!

  2. Janteloven!A set of cultural Norwegian practices! Very practical in the Norwegain context! That’s the one of the best things they could have! A common thread that unites them as a nation! It somehow keeps their identity intact.However, one would argue with globalisation, individuals would be expected to embrace both-the universal as well as the home-made cultural personality!

    1. Talk of Identity King Nzomo!! Great to read your feedback! Nice to see the other side of what you think about Janteloven, while I sincerely feel those are oppressive rules that should not be in use in any given nation!

  3. Wow…what a marvelous collection of the norske demeanor!! Am indeed thrilled by these bizarre findings that you have already noted; and narrated them with the desired prose. They are indeed very oppressive; as they directly curtail individual success or achievement in any given arena.Africa could be worsened by such inapt laws.
    Probably you have also learnt that most foreigners keep complaining of the many obstacles involved when raising a child in Norway…the janteloven remains the issue that cannot be put on the back burner, even by the natives here.They have to abide by that daily.But to a lesser extend, I have to admit that it has made them to have a very secure nation…a rebel may not survive here; his deals will be unmasked as fast as possible by the neighbours.It is good you used the term ‘shy’ that sums up their behavior..wonderful!!.Anyway, when driving, do not attempt to hoot to them-as they may get confused on the road…Thanks Patience; from the excerpt above-you have just given me an impressive 2011 collection !!

    1. Davies, thanx! It is always great honour to read from you and to see from your point of view! Tha fact that you have been here long enough, I am always excited to see what you think about my stories. I agree with you if such rules were to be put in place in Africa, it could be worse. Keep reading, will be making other observations and posting my stories!! Thank you and Happy New Year!

  4. This is a nice blog post Patience, It was brilliant of you to research on the inter – cultural differences that might have been determined by the past, I can imagine if these “rules” were placed in most countries, It could have been something else, all he best as you continue writing other posts, this is also a 2011 hit, carry on Patience !!!!

  5. My dear,
    Am bewildered, shocked, surprised….name it!!! The idea is pretty oppressive as some Norwegians have rightfully put it. Why would anyone take pride in being shy? National shyness? STRANGE!!! Having stayed and studied in Malaysia for several years, I can only say that people are veryyyy different. In that part of Asia, people are proud….so to speak. They hardly want any association with black people, even taxi drivers speed off when stopped by blacks! Anyway, i guess the best we can do is take people as they are and present themselves. Its hard to change what one believes, but it is possible to change that belief. I rest my case!!!

    1. Strange, thats what I found it to be! But you know, about the shyness as you say it is just a belief which of course has some origin, it is upon them to decide on what to do with it. The Janteloven, the younger generaton of course is very anti-janteloven and basically do not believe so much in it, though they confess that it lives within them! I love your reflections about your stay in Malaysia. Thanx Lucy, keep reading and posting your feedback.

  6. Do not take that Janteloven as the set of rules they start from. It is an exaggerated set of principles that can help you somewhat to understand why Norwegians are what they are. There are many other social, historical, natural and political reasons that explain them better. The main reason Norwegians are what they are is that they have extremely low self-esteem. They think that nobody respects them, they think, whatever you say and no matter how hard you try, that you think that they are worthless. If you say, for example, that Norwegian has similarity to German language, they may take that as an insult, and if you are polite and make some good remark they will probably ignore it. All the time I keep in my head that they have low self esteem so every insult, every understanding of reality, every unusually aggressive, highly impolite, and rude reaction pass through that filter first in my head before I react. Because they do not think anything about themselves, they insist on putting you down as well. Higher you are, more obvious their bad opinion about themselves becomes, and they simply do not know what to do with that. Several companies that offered me a job insulted me the way that freaked me out. I refused several offers only because of that. Almost without exception an interview would come down to “now we have power of you, now we will examine what you really are!”. They intentionally wanted to humiliate me, although that affected their job directly, because I refused the job they offered in the end (the fact that they offered the job meant they did not see anything wrong in their behavior). Most of the time their excuse “you don’t speak Norwegian” sounded like “you are a foreigner and I or we do not like foreigners”. It is a huge problem that they do not understand even the basics of correct business communication. Every communication in that direction is “all people are murders, rapers, thieves, criminals, choose which group you belong to”. It is a serious communication problem. I still do not know how dangerous it is, except that even if you pay a service very high, they will not hide their disrespect towards you, so should I say, that disrespect is – very expensive. The problem is that whatever they should do, they believe they are showing you respect you did not deserve, even if it is their daily job. Sometimes, only force and a direct complain can help, sometimes showing some respect, smile, openness, but that is for that moment only. However, it helps me finishing the most simple daily tasks. The simplest thing or problem with, for example, your credit card, your bus ticket, your bank payment will be brought instantly to the highest possible alert as if you are a criminal who killed somebody and nothing is going to help you, because “they finally have found what they were looking for, a proof that you are a bad person, now they are going to show you”.
    Sometimes, I get the vibe “this is our country, we can do here whatever we want”. This is true, although I do not understand why they are bringing that up every now and then.
    However, if you find a real job, something you can really work on, ignoring as much as possible what is going on around you, that helps. Nature helps as well. Somebody would insist on learning Norwegian, I would say that not knowing it, or not using it can protect you sometimes. Ignoring the language helps you staying away from social problems, and you can better ignore their gossiping habits.
    They will never change. I agree, it hurts why they are that way, most of all why they are that way to themselves. What they are actually doing all the time, is trying NOT to make social and communication waves, otherwise they know what is coming. To some extent, they are socially deaf. A stranger cannot avoid, by definition, making the waves. A stranger cannot sit and wait for social service if he or she has no job. We have to work something, we have to show some real value, otherwise nobody is going to pay us. That sometimes very important change we have to make, is something Norwegians cannot understand. Why didn’t we just stay at home and leave them alone? And there are so many open positions in Norway. Explore, try, challenge, you may, but not in Norway, as if Norway needs no high power Internet, electricity, mobiles, water supplies, buildings, and all that even more because they want to invest the money they have. That all huge task is going to be done by whom exactly and by which way of thinking? With its money and intentions, Norway is like having Olympic games every month. Yet, at the same time old habits, old inner mental state ask nothing to be changed, none of that to happen. Why don’t we all just leave them alone?
    All that talking behind the back, constant and very bad, is something that does not hurt me as long as I tend to stay out of their social circles. I do feel bad that they have urge to do that all the time, as if I do not know they are doing it, which is really a childish belief. I guess they believe that the gossip gives them some secret power over you.
    Somebody would say, why did you stay in Norway then? Well, every country has issues, and simply I got a job here. As long as that goes, I have no reason to leave. Sure, some decisions I will make based on the above, especially warning other people about problems they might face here. But if you care not about your ego, if you stick with a professional behavior, that can help. Sure they will hurt you from time to time, but believe me most of the time it has nothing to do with you. It would be nice if I could have an open and relaxed social life, but that is not going to happen.
    If you can remember that whoever is humiliating you has no good opinion about himself first, and take your persona out of the equation, that will give you a platform to live a correct life here. Anything else, do not ask. Probably more than a century will pass before anything changes in Norway. A good thing is that if you ignore them, they will feel quite nice, so use your time for something else. Do not think you are offending them by ignoring them. And again, there is nothing you can do about them having an extremely bad opinion about you. If they could, they would think something better about themselves first. But, eventually they will stop once they see it does not affect you the way they would like. But, they will keep trying. I would like if they would allow me to love this country, but they don’t. So I love it their way, behind the back, so they wouldn’t know (don’t tell them that – it is between you and me). However, I do understand them so I can isolate myself from all that if I need to. So far, it is very time consuming and emotionally draining, and expensive, but not impossible.
    At least, I warned you. And do not think the problem is less serious than what I explained. It is very serious.

  7. I am very strongly opposed to the Norwegian concept of Janteloven simply because it is only penis envy and jealousy disguised as “humility”:

    As someone who has been married to a Norwegian “defector” for over a decade and has lived in Norway for multiple years that the negatives of Janteloven far excede any ACCIDENTAL positives that may have arrived from it’s practice. If one were to remove the BS Scandinavian propaganda from Janteloven one would be left with what is essentially an attempt to turn jealousy and envy into a virtue. Janteloven is far more used as an excuse for dragging better people down than pulling lesser people up. It doesn’t matter if it’s excellence in the work place or simply a family member with stricter moral/ethical values, the Norwegians use Janteloven as a permissible for trying to drag that person down or take way from what they are doing. Does someone contribute more than you? Try and play it off like there is secretly something in it for them. Does someone have a more strict moral/ethical code than you? Try to find ways to make them feel guilty, feel ashamed, or if all else fails just start a vile rumor about them. Despite what the Norwegians try to present themselves as with their false propaganda, they are in FACT a selfish, self absorbed and self centered society that places emphasis and priority on their own egos far above the other things we westerners feel are important, like family, honesty, hard work, the freedom to think for oneself, etc. If one where to sum Janteloven up into one phrase it would be “Don’t you dare try to think for yourself and out shine me”.

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