|Skrivet av Cyndee Peters|
Compliments are gifts, really. They allow us to see the value of what we do through the eyes of others. Some are grand, well spoken or something as simple as a pat on the back. If you have been in Sweden for a while, I’m sure you have noticed that compliments are something Swedes in general, have difficulty with. This includes both giving and receiving.
Many Swedes are so embarrassed when complimented that they become tongue-tied and blush like school girls. Something as simple as saying “that dress looks good on you” or “great tie” can throw perfectly normal Swedes into utter confusion. I have friends who have given long speeches, denying their worthiness when all they needed to do to end their discomfort is say; “thank you”.
As an American this has always been too weird for me. And although my husband Lars (he
suffered from it too) tried over and over to explain it to me, I still didn’t get it, nor did/do I accept it. Here is how Lars explained it to me.
There is something called “jantelagen”.
It’s a little complicated, so bear with me here. Jantelagen is originally a Nowegian concept (Janteloven) from a book written in 1933 by Askel Sandemose, En Flykting korsar sitt eget spår, in which he describes life in a small town called Jante.
The inhabitants of Jante live by a set of unwritten rules called the jante-laws which purpose it to keep everybody,native and visitor alike, in their place. I‘m still not clear as to how or why, these laws later came to be embraced throughout most of Scandinavia, as a way to regulate peoples’ behavior.
I have lived in Sweden for a long time and have seen first-hand what jante-laws can do to people.
These laws when enforced and obeyed are brutal and can be devastating to the spirit.
It’s not so much whether you yourself believe in them or even know they exist. It’s has more to do with the people you encounter and what these laws mean for them. There 10 of them here are a few in Swedish and my “loosely” translated English equivalent. Wikipedia is my source.
I hope you find this as un-nerving as I do.
I have personally encountered these laws several times through the years and they have on occasion knocked me back on my heels. I don’t know which was more devastating to me; the intensity and swiftness by which these laws were enforced or the authority with which they were wielded?
You just had to be there!
And many times this had absolutely nothing to do with the color of my skin. It was because I was an outsider with something new to bring to the table.
Before we all get on our high horses and ride home. Let‘s be honest and admit there are versions of these laws where we come from, too. Some of these jante-laws phrased in another way, remind me strongly of Apartheid or the segregation laws from my own country.
Laws, un-written or not, that infringe upon the quality of our life, invade our spirit, harm our body, stifle our creativity, limit our livelihood … disturb our peace of mind are a threat to all. They’re often discreetly woven into the very fabric of nations, cultures, the workplace, schools even our own families, it is up to each of us to decide to whether to live by
them or not.
As my good friend Eric Bibb sings: “Don’t you ever let nobody, drag your spirit down”.
This article is the property of Cyndee Peters AB, Stockholm, Sweden and may not be used
or duplicated without the expressed permission of the author.
www.cyndeepeters.com March. 2009