We Need This “Law” in Denmark

I bet you read about Denmark being the world’s happiest country more than once, although in the last “happiness report” it ranked 3rd following Norway and Switzerland.
Denmark is also the country where citizens pay extremely high taxes, but are happy to do so as they receive a large number of benefits. These benefits include free education, student grants, childcare, health care, and so on.

After living in this small and flat Scandinavian country for six months, there is one important aspect of their culture I have noticed: the adherence to social norms. In fact, if you visit Denmark and end up anywhere but Copenhagen–the capital, so, not the best expression of the country’s culture, a few things will stand out:

An all-black closet

The biggest one among these, is that all Danes look and dress the same. They have a passion for black clothing, and it is one of the first things that catches your eye when travelling to Denmark. The phrase “once you go black, you never go back” might be the best one to describe the country’s dress code. Many joke about how all Danes look like they are dressed for a funeral, by sticking to the all-black trend, however they know how to style it well and elegantly. So, unless the Danes you meet are rebels who refuse to stick to the norm, it is extremely likely that they will be wearing a black jacket, black pants and Nike trainers (black ones, obviously).

Denmark: Where Showing Off is (Really) Uncool

Behind the all-black dress code, hides the biggest and most interesting aspect of Danish (and Nordic) culture. If you happen to travel up here, whether it is for leisure or work, you ought to know that Scandinavians never tend to stand out. Just to put things in perspective, Denmark’s neighbouring country Sweden bases its culture on one word: “lagom”, which has no direct translation to English. It essentially means “not too much and not too little” and it lies at the heart of the country’s manners, where nobody feels like they’re better than anyone else and there is little to no attempt to show off through fancy cars or expensive brands.

Janteloven: The “Law” Behind Great Dane Behaviour

This pattern of group behaviour within Denmark, Sweden and Norway has a name – Janteloven (Danish for “Law of Jante”), which negatively portrays the attitude towards individuality and success. While living in Denmark, I took advantage of the free, state-run Danish language classes. During one of these, my teacher explained that there are two sides of the same coin when it comes to Janteloven. While on one hand it is positive that nobody tries to feel better than others, on the other hand it draws people to never be fully happy about their achievements (maybe this was her personal opinion, but to be honest it makes perfect sense to me). So, taking it back to the Danish dress code, it is easy to understand group-belonging dynamics within the country.

A Hidden Gem

The Law of Jante is also what has led a Financial Times columnist to describe Denmark as “boring”, however classifying it as the world’s top nation for economic perspectives.

However, Denmark should be one of your next travel destinations. For many of its aspects, it is one of Europe’s hidden gems. It remains quite tourist-free (if compared to London, Paris and Rome) and Copenhagen, its capital, is an incredible dynamic, green and young city.


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